The Good Place

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am who I am.

I am working on myself.

I am not a finished product.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think this is all about baby steps.

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Letter To My Therapist (That I Probably Won’t Even Show Her!)

So earlier in the week I was really struggling. I always feel particularly unsettled in the first few days after a therapy session. It’s a pattern I am so familiar with now that I’ve almost accepted it as part and parcel of this therapy, albeit an uncomfortable side effect. It’s as though seeing my therapist stirs EVERYTHING to do with my attachment issues up and then I walk out the room with a bunch of inconsolable children inside me and some angry teens and have to survive the week as best I can. It is utterly draining and emotionally all-consuming.

The attachment pain I feel is agony. It’s been especially bad since Easter break where the eating disorder stuff got a bit (ok, a lot) out of control. The ED stuff was certainly triggered by feelings of abandonment and rejection around the Easter break and not seeing my therapist for almost a month. I feel huge amount of shame just typing that. I am so embarrassed that I am so attached to my therapist that not having contact can send me into free-fall and latching desperately onto my teenage coping strategies like a life raft on a stormy sea.

I hate feeling like this. I hate not seeming to have found a way of ‘not feeling like this’ after being in therapy for such a long time. If anything these feelings are getting worse rather than better at the moment. I know, in part, this is because I am keeping a lot to myself.

My last post was about The Elephant In The Room or rather the herd of elephants that are wedged in the therapy room with me! I was largely talking about the eating disorder stuff being a current and big stubborn beast but there are others. One of the most persistent and long-standing (so far as this therapy goes) elephants is the one about being unable to talk about touch and holding in the therapeutic relationship.  We talked very briefly about it last year – basically it’s a no from her- and since then I have struggled to acknowledge this really massive problem for me. In fact I would go so far as to say it is ‘the issue’ that activates all of my anxiety in the relationship.

I need to find a way of feeling ‘more held’ and I know that part of the problem with not feeling held and contained is that I see my therapist once a week. Before my last session I had reached the conclusion that it was time to ask about incorporating another session into my therapy or, at least, a check-in (because that made a huge difference the other week) and so I text her to ask if we could talk about this. I basically said that I can’t do the work I need to do with one contact each week. It’s just not containing enough.

My therapist was agreeable to the idea of an extra session, in fact she had suggested this might be a good idea this time last year, but as things stood financially with me not working it just was never on the cards. I hate that mental healthcare is so limited by your ability to pay in this country! Anyway, since I have taken on some home-schooling and tutoring work it’s just about doable to have another session.

Unfortuantely, my therapist doesn’t have any times available at the moment. Ugh. She has said it could be several months until a slot becomes available and in the meantime she has not got time for a check in. You can imagine how that went down with various parts of me. I sat there and absorbed what she was saying with an ‘it’s fine’ face – I mean it is the way it is, she is busy. BUT omg! It stung.

It wasn’t so much the not having any regular times available for a session that upset me – there’ll be one eventually- as soon as one becomes free it’s mine. No. It was not having time for a check in that hurt the parts that feel like she doesn’t care about me anyway. Like, seriously, she doesn’t have time for a five minute call at the end of the week to settle the parts that are struggling, or won’t reply to a text and say ‘Still here! Look forward to seeing you on Monday.’

I know we don’t have a good track record with texting but I was kind of hoping that if we spoke about it a bit we could reach a mutually acceptable way of interacting that would help contain those feelings that get so stirred up in the week. As it stands I feel stranded and alone and like I don’t matter. I know I should bring these feelings up in session today but it all feels so raw and activated that I suspect it will become another elephant.

I’m struggling, too, because when she told me that she had no time for a check in she said that the other week when we spoke on the phone it was an usual situation because she had had a cancellation. This simply isn’t true. She doesn’t work at either of the times she offered me to talk that week. And whilst I understand she mightn’t want to make it a regular thing working outside her usual hours, that is what she did that week. It felt like a big gesture on her part that she was willing to help me outside her usual working day and now it feels like something has shifted… she did mention that she felt that the dynamic had shifted…so maybe she’s gone back to the usual frame. I just have no idea.

I really want today’s session to be connecting and holding because we have another break next week. I am going away on holiday but my therapist would also have been away so whichever way you look at it we would’ve had a disruption (again!). I am so rubbish with breaks and the last thing I want is to walk out of my session today feeling anxious and lost and little – even if that is the norm.

My therapist said to write stuff down and bring it to session last week and so that’s kind of what I have done. I splurged on the page on Wednesday – a five page handwritten letter – and have copied it below. Today it feels unimportant, or less potent, somehow. I don’t know whether or not I will take it with me and hand it over. I guess it would prevent a silent session but I am not sure I want to be so vulnerable.

I find this whole process so bizarre. I struggle so hard for the majority of the week, the feelings are huge, it is so painful, and then I get to the weekend and things semi-settle down. I guess part of this is because I know I will have my session on a Monday and so the parts that struggle settle a little in the hope/knowledge that they may get what they need in session. I think there is probably also a bit of resistance from some of the parts. It’s almost like ‘you weren’t there in the week, so why should I care or talk to you now?’ I know!! It’s not all coming from an adult place!

Anyway, here’s what I wrote. No idea what I’ll do with it!

What It’s Like On Wednesdays

Wednesdays are notoriously the worst day of the week for me. Something horrible happens in the pit of my stomach when I wake up and it stays all day. It’s hard to explain how utterly crushing this feeling is and to anyone that’s not felt it, it must seem crazy. I know, however, that I am not alone in this and at least a couple of my friends understand.

Every week in session I struggle to talk about these feeling because they are totally mortifying. It seems so stupid that a grown-up can feel so small at times and so unsafe. What’s even worse is that these feelings are triggered in relation to you. I can’t tell you how awful that feels. I don’t want to feel any of these emotions and I certainly don’t want to feel them about you. I don’t seem to have a choice, though. Believe me when I say have tried to rationalise out what I’m feeling, to make sense of it , in the hope that it might go away…but it doesn’t.

You tell me that the young parts have done nothing wrong and their feelings are ok. Sometimes I believe you. Sometimes the way you say it makes me trust that actually you aren’t freaked out by this and you can handle whatever I am feeling. Sometimes I can feel the barriers coming down and there is a sense of connection. The problem is that a lot of the time I don’t believe what you have said, either because it’s been a while since you’ve said it (I hate that I need so much reassurance) or because I sense something is different in you. I might be oversensitive but I notice when your voice is different and how you are sitting – and even if those changes are only subtle, the parts of me that have always had to be on guard start applying a narrative to what might be going on. I don’t know how accurate it is because you rarely tell me how it is for you.

I know that my ‘worst case scenario’ thinking doesn’t do me any favours here ,but if I feel like you are annoyed or frustrated with me I shut down even further. I do, absolutely, feel helpless when it gets like that. I wish you were able to actually see what’s going on inside me when we are sitting in near silence and I feel like you are giving up on me. I know it’s difficult to picture a set of small children all alone and separate from one another suffering varying degrees of upset but that is how it is.

You said before that sometimes it’s like being blindfolded with me, and you don’t know who’s there – for me it’s like being trapped on the edge of a ravine. I can see you, just about, on the other side, but I can’t reach out to you. You cannot hear me crying. At least I don’t think you can. The critical part of me thinks otherwise and believe that you simply don’t care that it is so difficult for me and despite what you may say, are as embarrassed about how I feel as I am and choose to ignore it. It’s easier that way.

So, frequently the session is fine-ish. I talk-ish. You probably think things are ok-ish. And yet more often that not I walk out of the room feeling sad and deflated. I am frustrated that I can’t tell you how bad things feel. for the young parts. I’m still not really sure you get what I mean when I say I worry about you giving up on me. It’s not a mild sense of anxiety, it is utterly debilitating. And sure, I get it, therapy will end one day, but the youngest parts of me don’t even feel like you’ve really seen them yet and so the idea of an ending feels hideous.

I walk away feeling all sorts of agony. I really believe that it is only a matter of time before you pull the plug on the therapy. I understand what has happened lately with all the GP stuff and eating disorder stuff. I know it’s important to have a safety net but I can’t help but feel like you’ve started backing away from me because actually it’s all too much. This confirms what I have been thinking for such a long time and that is painful.

There is, of course, a bigger more horrible side to these feelings and this is what causes me so much difficulty from week to week, and on breaks. I know that I’ve said it a million times before but I don’t think you really understand that I am not being dramatic or over the top when I say that for parts of me it feels like you are completely gone – like dead- in the week. I feel panicked that you have disappeared and are not coming back.

Adult me knows that this is unlikely to be the case but the child parts have had a lifetime of people disappearing: my dad was ‘gone’ when I was nine months old until I was three and a half; and then my mum was ‘gone’ Sunday to Friday between the ages of five and eleven – and even when she came back she was often ‘not really there’. Top that off with my dad dying when on holiday – it’s little wonder that I struggle when you are not there and on breaks.

It should feel like I am onto a winner if I can hang onto the sense of you being out the somewhere but even that isn’t straightforward because when I can’t see you I miss you. And because I miss you I feel massive amounts of shame and embarrassment. It really is like having all the sadness and pain of my childhood playing out week after week and it is really hard to manage. I am convinced that you find me irritating and think I am deliberately keeping myself stuck and you are reaching saturation point.

I don’t like feeling this way. I want to find a way to make things feel better between sessions. I want to find a strategy that helps to contain the feelings. That’s why last summer I asked you to send me a message. You said after the break perhaps writing a message on a card would help and then the fucking pebbles disaster happened. I really wanted to succeed in making a successful bridge to get through from week to week and it’s not really worked because I still have no real sense of you, which I guess should not be surprising when the words were not yours.

So when I feel disconnected, like today –hellish Wednesday- I cycle through all kinds of emotions. The little parts feel completely alone and unseen and the older parts want to run away and give up. The smallest ones want to be close to you, to close the space between us, and the older ones want to tell you to stop hurting the small ones.

I completely get what you are saying about therapy needing to take place in the session and that sending long messages isn’t a good idea. I don’t want to ‘do’ therapy outside the room but really every time I send you something it’s to check you’re there. Obviously getting no reply doesn’t help matters in the least. I don’t know how to get round this. I feel like I am drowning with this stuff and can’t see how to make it better. How am I meant to feel secure when my brain conspires against me all the time?

I get to session and all the little parts want you to notice them and yet you don’t for a really long time. I try not to disappear when I see you because I want to be able to connect but there is such a huge fear of being seen and then being rejected that something happens and I don’t behave in a way that I recognise as even being me. I feel embarrassed when I sit there saying nothing because I feel like you are automatically judging me negatively. Sometimes I want you to come closer to me because my head is telling me that you can’t bear to be near me. I’ve said before that the space can feel enormous and when things are bad it feels awful.

I have no idea how to get around this. Sometimes I want you to sit near me but I don’t ask and then shut down because the shame and embarrassment of needing physical proximity feels awful. So when this happens it triggers another level of hell. It’s like I must be utterly disgusting to you, you can’t even tolerate being near me. This feels horrid, especially to the parts that want to be able to touch you and can’t. I don’t think you have any idea how big an issue this has become for me. Week in week out I feel like I am re-enacting the relationship I have with my mum. Every session we have confirms to me that on a fundamental level I am untouchable and unlovable.

I struggle, then, to trust in the relationship because on a basic level I have confirmation that you don’t want me anywhere near you. It feels so confusing because I feel like therapy did ought to feel more nurturing and connecting and yet I can’t help but feel like it is impossible to get close to you. And then I wonder what I am actually meant to be doing! Like what on earth is a therapeutic relationship?

You said once that boundaries are not barriers and I have never really been able to get my head to make sense of it because if they are inflexible then how can they be perceived as anything but barriers? I seem to keep banging hard into boundaries and feeling like I simply cannot get therapy right.

I can’t help how I feel. It’s doing my head in. I hate that wanting to feel close to you causes me such high levels of anxiety but I hate, too, that I seem to be caught up in wanting something that isn’t available. Right now I have a lot of children’s feelings and nowhere to put them and so, instead, have been trying to shut them down by attacking myself. It’s not sustainable but there feels very few options out there.

I think I still want you to read the thing I wrote about ‘The Mother Wound’ because I think it sums up just what we’re dealing with. But perhaps not now….

And lastly, finally (phew)… last week you said you would expect that perhaps I’d be relieved to have a break next week given how things have been. This really surprised me. I’m staggered that I give off such a strong sense of not wanting to be there or that I discern nothing useful from the process – but I guess that’s because I rarely show you the vulnerable bits that actually want to be there, to be seen, and to connect because they don’t believe it’s possible and are scared of showing up properly only to be told to go away.

X

Oh, and actually, I’d much rather know the truth about how things are – I might not like hearing that I am annoying you or that you think this isn’t working but it’s actually better that I know. I can’t keep doing things the way I am/we are and so something has to shift. I can’t currently work out whether that is changing things and ‘colouring in’ or ‘leaving’ – because I have no clue where we are at. All I know is that the levels of anxiety and physical drain is really hurting.

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The Elephant In The Room

There are times when I feel like there’s not just ‘an’ elephant in the room in my therapy sessions but rather ‘a herd’ of elephants in the room with me. Some days there are so many jostling for position and distracting me that it can make it very difficult to do any work. I can’t even see or hear my therapist over and around the huge mass and racket that a number of metaphorical pachyderms generate in my mind.

I’ve been aware, for a long time, that there are some elephants that could do with moving on to make space for me and my therapist to work together. They’re quite stubborn, big buggers, though, and they don’t want to move!  It doesn’t help, either, that The Critic is doing everything possible to keep the elephants there…and we all know how powerful she is.

I know I can’t push the elephants out the door on my own, or persuade them to move on. I need my therapist’s help with this task. She knows there are elephants too. She mentions them a fair bit, but I don’t think she has always got an idea of which elephant is sitting between us on any given day; she just senses a presence. She tries to invite the elephant out of the shadows  –  she can’t miss my silence, she knows it’s there, but when I have an elephant’s trunk wrapped around my face acting as a gag I can’t say anything.

I’ve learnt over time that it’s not just as simple as my asking the elephants to ‘please go back to where you came from (so I can just talk about something else that is easy)’ in order for them to leave. I have to tell my therapist that they’re there, who they are, and together we have to coax the elephant into not feeling like it belongs in hiding anymore. We have to make friends with it, give it some attention, and then it gladly moves out for a bit, or sometimes even permanently (if we do a good enough job).

Whilst I want to set these massive beasts free because they don’t look at all comfortable in the small room, and I am certainly uncomfortable when they are there, it is not as easy as it might seem. See, the thing is, these elephants often feel threatening to me. Whilst The Critic is a fabulous ring master in this circus that is my therapy and can tell the elephants exactly what to do, I am less confident with them. I’m more of a cat person, really!

Part of the problem is that I worry about how my therapist will respond to the elephants when she meets them properly. I wonder (panic about) whether she will be able to help me with them or whether she’ll send me packing along with them when she finally sees just how destructive they could be. Some of the elephants are very young, vulnerable, and needy and just want to sit with her but know they can’t; others are absolutely raging and want to destroy the place.  It’s complex. Any one of them handled in the wrong way could result in a stampede.

Recently, after the Easter break, I was feeling brave/desperate/squashed and so I finally pointed out one of the long-standing, elderly elephants to my therapist. I felt a bit like David Attenborough as I described this twenty year old. Her name is Edey, or ED. Edey has been a near constant companion to me since my teens. She’s a skinny elephant and looks like she’s had a tough time over the years. My therapist knows of her but has never really come face-to-face with her before.

Edey is a shy elephant and frightens easily. So when she first met my therapist properly she was quite tentative and didn’t want to be fully seen. Little by little over the last couple of months she let herself be seen more by my therapist and I was able to talk about the problems Edey has. It was going so well. I felt like my therapist and I were, for the first time, really getting to grips with this massive elephant together. It felt like we were co-creating a plan for her. She was calming down, trusted my therapist, and was thinking about going outside.

And then something unexpected happened. My therapist took her by surprise and spooked her in a session and since then Edey has gone back to being one of the elephants in the room. My therapist and I both know she’s there, but for now I don’t feel like I can mention her because this sad, little elephant could be the one that gets me terminated from my therapy, or at least having to ‘work towards an ending’. And frankly there are other little elephants in the room who can’t bear the thought of that. Edey really couldn’t care less now. She wants to smash everything up and get all the others to join her and then march out the door.

I was worried about talking about Edey, in six years she’s rarely come up, despite having always been there with me, but after what’s happened (and yes, I know my therapist was just doing her job and has acted in my best interests etc- it’s not what has been done that’s the problem, it’s how it was done)  I am even more terrified about talking about some of the others. Edey is a tough old beast but some of the little ones are already so wounded that I am not sure they could handle my therapist treating them in anything but a gentle way.

Anyway, winding metaphors aside, I wrote my therapist a letter this week. I’ll type it up and post it on here, later. I am still unsure if I will hand it over on Monday.  This is a nothing post but I just had to write this because I saw this image on Facebook earlier and thought it was utter genius!

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Ultimatum

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So I realise that my blog has fallen by the wayside a bit these last few weeks (but I’m back now with a humdinger of a post!). I usually try and write something here at least once a week in order for me to keep some kind of regular record of what’s going on for me. I used to write a journal on my computer following each therapy session I had; the blog became a bit of a replacement for that – a sort of diary that the public can read (although I have been having some thoughts about that, lately, too – weird paranoia maybe? Or just a need to draw close and be private…I don’t know).

I’ve been so busy running around like a headless chicken or maybe, more accurately, with my head wedged up my vaguely anorexic arse, sorting my kids out, and tutoring most days that now there is very little time to actually sit down and reflect on what is going on in my internal world on the page (currently writing this from the edge of a swimming pool while my daughter has her lesson!). I haven’t not been writing because I’m short of things to say- far from it- my mind is all over the place and overflowing with the usual angsty crap: attachment pain, therapy worries, bad dreams, health, the eating (or not) stuff… and now, in addition to all that, I’m in a spin over my therapist’s ‘ultimatum’…

I have really missed my writing time. I so need it! Hence stealing time where I can now before I explode! A couple of hours each week to ponder and process, I am discovering, is more important to me/necessary than I thought. I need to try and find time for this but like so many of ‘my’ things, it doesn’t take precedence when there are so many other pressing things that actually have to be fit into the day. I do need to prioritise time for me, not just for writing, before I sink even further into quicksand I seem to find myself in.

Even if I write reams (maybe piles!) of emotional diarrhoea here (and having just proof-read this it does turn into a big splurge- sorry) and it makes no sense to anyone but me, I find the writing process really cathartic. It helps me get my head above water/out the sand a bit. It’s a good way of letting stuff out when all too often I feel overwhelmed or full of emotion.

I think some of why I find it so helpful might be that I actually sit down in one place for a block of time and have a hot (rather than luke warm/forgotten about) cup of coffee – it certainly can’t hurt! I was speaking to a friend the other day and I likened myself to a bee stuck in a jar. I am always buzzing around like a crazy thing. I don’t really stop.

Of course, I also have my therapy session on a Monday which is where I should get stuff off my chest, slow down, decompress, but more often than not the session stirs up more than it lays to rest and then I am left trying to make sense of it all on my own during the week. I find the first couple of days post-session extremely hard going and it’s no secret that I feel emotionally at sea and struggle for a good part of the time between my therapy sessions. I really haven’t got to grips with that emotional containment thing yet.

Actually, I’m having a hideously rough time this week and it’s crap right now, so I am looking forward to Friday and feeling like I am over the worst of the week. Having said that, usually I am pleased to get to Friday because it means it’s actually almost Monday…but this week I am not sure how I feel about my session on Monday. I am not sure if I am going to go yet. I don’t know if I can face it. Of course the little parts want to go and have some chance of reconnecting with my therapist but right now my teen part is off the chart raging, angry and let down. Underneath that, there’s also a real fear that I have broken my therapist and it’s all going to be downhill from here.

I’ll get to the point shall I?

Last week’s session (1st May) feels a really long time ago now. I can’t really remember what happened. I sometimes get this weird amnesia following a therapy session. Does anyone else? Like I have a vague idea of what happened or sense the general feeling of the session but it’s not clear exactly what happened. I usually have a very good memory for detail in my life and remember all sorts of useless information so I wonder if I am so frequently dissociated in session that I lose what’s gone on?

I do know that we talked about the eating disorder stuff – again. My therapist asked me how things were going and said that although I may not like her bringing the subject up, that it was too important for her to just let go – indeed she couldn’t/wouldn’t let it go. The session was fine. I told her how things were and filled her in on what was going on now (level of exercise, what I am eating, how I feel about my body, and the physical symptoms I was experiencing) and what it’s been like in the past. It was ‘the no-filtered version’ of life with an eating disorder.

I think she finally has an accurate picture of what it’s like  for me and she seemed to get it. I guess part of me was quite relieved for her to show she cared and build on the phone check in we had had on the Thursday night. I felt exposed but also like I wasn’t completely alone with this burden anymore. Yet again, I failed to bring up any of the issues about the attachment and the feeling disconnected from her but on the whole it was ok.

The week was a bit wobbly between that session and the one I just had on Monday (8th) – but when is it ever not wobbly?! I can’t suddenly let the cat out the bag about the anorexia and not be impacted by it can I? So, yeah, it was very bad in the early part of the week again. My tolerance levels were shot, my temper was short, and I was beating myself up in a big way. It wasn’t good. Some of it was undoubtedly hormonal but I know a larger part came not having really eaten properly in weeks: my blood sugar was low, fatigue was massive, and all the stuff that I just about have a handle on from week to week was suffocating me.

On Wednesday evening things felt so utterly overwhelming that I almost just got in my car and drove away….you know, just wanted to leave everything? I was done. It wasn’t good. I’d been having dreams about all the stuff surrounding my dad, friend, dog, all dying – upsetting as hell. I had also dreamt that my therapist had left me – nooooo. Oh and then I had a dream about my very good childhood best-friend, the one with metastatic breast cancer, and planning her funeral with her. It was a week where my sleep was filled with death and loss. The feelings crept into my waking life and I felt on the verge of tears every time I woke up, and every time I felt a bit tired.

Thank god for good friends with an ability to talk me down is all I can say. A twenty minute phone call was the difference between me falling off the edge altogether and regrouping and having another stab at moving forward. Things are on a knife edge.

By the end of the weekend I had reached a place where I wanted to really talk about ‘big stuff’ with my therapist and had steadily been eating a bit more each day which undoubtedly helped with my mood. Don’t get me wrong, there was still the voice telling me I was fat, and lazy, and can’t even succeed at an eating disorder… yeah, really!…and that is not easy to have doing the rounds in my head. But there was a part of me that was trying hard to hang on and not sink down into the place where I would, before long, have been passing out. Dizzy spells, cold hands and feet are enough. I was pushing myself too far. I know that how things have been since Easter is not sustainable. I was losing the battle with the eating and it wasn’t good. I wanted to unpick this properly.

I needed to explain why the attachment stuff feeds this kind of damaging behaviour and relationship with food and how things need to change – although I have no idea how to get round this myself but if my therapist at least has an accurate picture of just how bad it can feel we might be able to put a plan in place. The eating disordered behaviour simply masks other issues. Sure there is a large dose of body image stuff thrown in the mix but primarily not eating allows me to focus on something other than feeling the pain of neglect and abandonment. It temporarily shifts focus away from the Mother Wound.

Despite feeling embarrassed – mortified, even- that my young parts are so traumatised and get triggered every time I see my therapist, I think it’s time she heard the truth about how affected I am when I can’t see her…the real truth, not just the watered down insinuated version of things. I wanted to explain how I long to connect with her but part of me feels distant and like I can’t trust her. I want her to know that when I am not with her in session the young parts cannot cope at all and it is utterly overwhelming. I need her to know that breaks aren’t just ‘a bit difficult’ they are ‘a fucking disaster zone’. I wanted her to know that touch, or lack of it, has become such a huge issue for me that it’s massively impacting my ability to function in the relationship and is attacking my self-esteem.

I sit in session every week feeling like there is something wrong with me because we are so physically distant. I need more proximity if I can’t have touch because my mind tells me that my therapist doesn’t want to hug me because there is something disgusting and repulsive about me and she is only tolerating me because she has to. It must be the idea of touching me, even holding my hand, that is nauseating to her. It’s not the first time this physical rejection has happened to me and it’s hardly surprising it’s coming out in the therapeutic relationship now when so much of the work is about my mother. Yay for huge whacks of maternal transference with my therapist! Ugh!

For me, the ‘no touch’ boundary feels just the same as my mum refusing to touch me at fourteen saying ‘don’t hold my hand. People might think we are lesbians’. We’re twenty one years down the line and since then I’ve never had any holding from my mum (I mean there wasn’t much before that point either!) and the sense that ultimately ‘being a lesbian’ is a bad thing has stuck. Little did my mum know when she said her casually homophobic remark that I would turn out to be gay and those words branded into my brain.

I know it’s not my therapist’s job to physically hold me but I am not sure she realises how traumatising not being touched at all is for me. Every session with her reminds me that I am not worthy of her physical care – and might it be because I am gay? Is that the problem? I know it’s not rational. Adult knows this. But there are plenty of others inside that feel it to be absolutely true. The young parts of me want to be physically close to her and not being able to be feels utterly rejecting. How can a young three year old part make any sense of why an attachment figure won’t come close?

To my therapist, no physical contact is just a therapy boundary but to me it confirms everything I believe about myself as being unlovable, untouchable, and repellent to be true. That’s how it is. It’s hurting me. It properly makes my stomach ache and my chest feel tight and I want to cry when I think about it. It’s a big wound.

So yeah, with all that ready to air it was going to be a big session! I had reached that ‘now or never’ place. I was feeling brave. Go me!

So, I walked in, sat down, made some passing comment about the lovely weather and how I wanted to go to the beach – I’d actually been considering asking if maybe one day we could have our session on the beach seeing as it’s only about a five minute walk away. I looked at my therapist and immediately sensed something was up.

Fuck.

What was wrong?

My internal system went on high alert. My poker face went on. I steadied myself. I waited.

And then out it came…

We needed to talk about the eating disorder stuff and she said it couldn’t wait until the last few minutes of the session. She’d been thinking a lot since the last session about what I’ve told her since coming back from Easter break. She said that she was very very concerned about my well-being. She was worried about my low BMI. She was worried about the fact that my body is clearly struggling and shutting down. She was aware that the dynamic between us had shifted and that she’d fallen into being more like my mother and almost policing me by talking about what exactly I’m eating and suggesting strategies to eat more [sounds fair enough]

But then came…

She was not prepared to hold this level of risk and be so worried about my physical safety. It was not her job. She wanted me to go to the doctor, get bloods taken, have an ECG, and get weighed. She wanted the doctor to confirm I’d been seen and communicate with her. Or if I wouldn’t go of my own volition she wanted to write to my GP and ask for these things to be done. She wanted someone else to be responsible for my physical well-being. She needed a safety net.

She said I was either agree to all that or we’d have to work towards an ending.

After the words ‘work towards an ending’ I didn’t hear a great deal more. I shut down. Properly shut down. I was a mess inside, though. Like utter full-on flat-out panic. The young ones wanted to burst into tears right there and then. It felt like a hole had opened up beneath me and I was falling. Not seeing my therapist anymore would be akin to a bereavement. This. Cannot. Be. Happening.

The Teen part stepped up, though and waded in. Her thoughts?:

There we are then. Confirmation that when I let stuff out and trust someone with my shameful secret it backfires. I am too much for my therapist. I am too much for everyone. She isn’t prepared to work with me alone. She said she would be here for as long as I needed and now there are conditions attached. Why did I trust her with this? I’m an idiot. I fucking hate her.

Look. I (adult) absolutely get that what was said, and what came afterwards in the rest of the session, was coming from a place of care and it wasn’t only about my therapist covering her back. It is completely reasonable that she would need a safety net for if things get bad so she has somewhere to touch base and get me help if I needed it. It’s no different from when I saw her in the NHS and she had my details on record. But that wasn’t how it came across at the beginning of the session. To be given an ultimatum within three minutes of sitting down where the choice was ‘go on record about your eating disorder and enter into the NHS circus again or we’re done’ didn’t feel like much of a choice if I am honest.

I’m glad that she didn’t leave this stuff until the end of the session because we needed an entire session of talking about this stuff back and forth – as painful as it was. The moment she mentioned the possibility of ending I felt so sad and scared.

We like to convince ourselves that our therapists will be there no matter what. Well actually, I struggle to believe that is the case and am always feeling as though shit is going to blow up at any given moment so I best be vigilant. For me it’s been about trying to believe she is as good as her word. That she is reliable. That she won’t abandon me when the big stuff comes out. I was starting to believe that maybe she won’t leave and that as long as I need her she won’t let me go – hence finally telling her fully about the eating. It’s not true though. When it comes down to it, she can and will sever the tie. It is just a job to her. Sure she cares but she has to work within a framework and that means being hard line sometimes.

I get that she wasn’t actually saying ‘you’ve said x and now I am terminating you’ far from it, she said it isn’t her job to be neglectful and I’ve had too much of that from others in the past. She isn’t trying to let me down, in fact it is the very opposite… but the very mention of the ending sent me into orbit. I know it was probably a bit of tough love and she was maybe riding on the fact that my attachment to her is strong that I would help myself rather than lose her. I dunno.

Even though we’ve left things on ok terms I still feel massively unsettled now. I mean things were already a bit all over the place and now it’s like I am on very shaky ground. Unsurprisingly the eating is feeling really hard again now…because I feel out of control and like I am going to maybe lose the person that I need to help me.

The initial request/insistence that I must go and get checked out or work to ending has changed a bit/been negotiated over the course of the session we had. Somehow in amongst the teen shut down there were periods were I strongly advocated for myself. I have now given her my GP details and agreed that she can contact my GP if we discuss it beforehand. I’ve said that if she thinks things are bad she can act but I have to know about it first; I don’t want to suddenly get a call from my GP asking me to come in because my therapist has contacted them and me not be aware it was happening.

The reasons we got to this point are that I had been eating and had been looking after myself a little better this week. I was honest with her and said that things haven’t gone away but that I am not in immediate danger right now. I probably was the week before and so her reaction was entirely reasonable. She had cause to be genuinely worried about me last week. I was genuinely worried about me too. I told her I would tell her if I was slipping. I know that this is going to be a challenge because part of me is worried about ever bringing up this topic again.

I also reminded her that as part of my cancer follow up care I get full bloods taken every eight weeks and I get weighed (which I hate but I can’t really argue with). They monitor me very closely and so I said that if they are not overly concerned about my BMI (it has been mentioned but nothing done) or my blood chemistry then I think that’s good enough. She wasn’t aware I had such a thorough work up at the hospital so this went some way to settling her concerns.

I said that my eating disorder is definitely an issue, has been massively active, and it is absolutely something I need to work on but the idea of going back to weekly weigh-ins and GP appointments would actually make things worse for me. I don’t want to run away from this stuff anymore (hence letting her know about it) but equally I know what hasn’t worked for me in the past. If I get weighed all I want to do is chase the scales downwards – not maintain.

There were times in the session where I was really reactive and grumpy and shut down and dismissive and ‘I don’t care’ and ‘what’s the point?’ but she could see it was all a reaction to what she’d said. I’d sent her my post about the Mother Wound and asked her to read it because, actually, I know that this is where so many of my issues stem from. She didn’t have time to read it before the session and so I felt a bit irritated about that. Remember I was in pissed off Teen 😉 and when she offered to read it in the session I just couldn’t bear the idea of her sitting there reading the vulnerable stuff and then having no time left to discuss it.

I left the session. I didn’t want to go. I wanted to settle things properly and leave feeling better. Doesn’t work like that though does it?! Time’s up. We over ran by five minutes but I knew I had to leave. I drove home and had a good think about what had happened and then sent this text to her about one o’ clock:

Today felt really hard for me. Having had some time to reflect and untangle – actually the request for my GP details really is a non-issue and had you just asked for them and explained that it was because you feel like it’s important to have back up, I would’ve given them to you. I completely understand why it’s a good idea that you have them and it’s fine if we agree communication beforehand if it becomes necessary. The thing that shut me down/activated stuff was how what you said was delivered. It felt like you were giving me an ultimatum along the lines of – ‘see your doctor or we’ll have to work towards and ending’. All I heard was ‘we’ll have to work towards an ending’ and so every vulnerable part felt the rug come out from underneath me. This is the sort of thing I dread happening but am always sort of expecting, and why I am always reluctant to let stuff out. When it feels like things are so tenuous my instinct is to leave before I get left- hence how I was today. It’s been really hard opening up about all this stuff especially just after the Easter break when I feel like trust is an issue and still feel disconnected (I really missed you) – and to feel like that was essentially being me with ‘it’s too much’ (even if that’s not what was intended) is not easy. Unfortunately, there is a part that struggles to believe that this isn’t actually just about getting rid of me and there are other parts that feel completely bereft. Trying to be rational but it’s not always my strong suit. Anyway, that’s about it I think.

Of course there was no reply to that. And then I started second guessing myself. Texts haven’t gone well for us and after what happened at Christmas where she thought I was criticising her and nothing was good enough I wondered if what I had text might be read as another criticism of her rather than just saying how it felt for me. So at six pm I sent this (groan….when will I learn to just shut the fuck up and manage for myself?!):

And none of what I said in that message is meant as a criticism – in case it comes over that way –it’s definitely not my intention. It’s just what happened in my head when you said what you did. What I hear and what is meant can be quite a distance apart…which highlights to me just what a mess my head is. I wish this young attachment stuff would just go away but it gets triggered so easily. That part is always there listening, and then it doesn’t settle down and becomes another jumble of mess to manage. On the plus side, I’m delighted that you don’t feel I’m psychotic.

(We’d had a bit of a joke at the end and that was what the end bit of the text was about.)

Obviously, it’s been complete radio silence since those messages on Monday – which sucks. But it’s the boundary…another that I seem to have no say in. Ugh. It’s felt pretty rotten at times over the last few days and yet now I feel I can’t reach out to my therapist for help or support. I can’t text and ask for a check in or an additional session like I did a couple of weeks ago because I feel like I am already too much for her. It’s horrible. I need to work this stuff out with her more thoroughly and yet it feels impossible and so I am sitting on it all, brooding, and cycling through the whole range of emotions. I don’t like rollercoasters but I seem to stuck riding one right now.

This morning I woke up at 5am feeling sick after having another dream about my therapist leaving. I’m just about hanging together with rubber bands and chewing gum but it feels like I have done it now- I have broken the therapeutic relationship. I am frightened that I will go back in on Monday and she’ll terminate me. She’ll have had some more time to think and that’ll be that. It’s a complete head fuck. I’m trying not to get worked up about something that is unlikely to happen but unfortunately some of the parts have different ideas!

So that’s that. Nothing earth shattering or insightful – just how it is in the therapy and life of yours truly!

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Therapy Break – 1 Week In: Struggling to Find Peace

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I’m really struggling to find peace right now – both literally and metaphorically! It’s very early (5:30am) on Monday morning and I am trying to steal myself a little quiet time to write, collect my thoughts, and drink a substandard cup of coffee before the day kicks in and I am thrown fully into the demands of being a mum and wife with the family all on Easter break – which basically means shelving all my needs and doing my best to put a lid on my issues until bedtime when I can hide under the duvet and let the little ones have some time to be how it is.

This waiting is not as easy as it may sound – waiting all day to allow myself to really feel what’s going on inside feels exhausting, especially when right now my dreams are filled with my therapist and leave a lingering sense of being ill at ease for a good part of the day. I am experienced in ‘hiding’ how I feel, I do it week in week out, but sometimes it feels like a ridiculous amount of effort to keep up the appearance of being fine when I am really not fine at all. I am so not fine. Not at all. And whilst I don’t want to sink deep down into the pit of sadness that the young ones feel about being left, I don’t want to deny them space to express how bad it actually feels.

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Sadly, I am not just a mother and a wife trying to enjoy time off with my wife and kids (that on its own wouldn’t be a problem); I am also a therapy client with CPTSD on a three and a half week long break from my attachment figure (therapist) and I feel lost, alone, abandoned and desperately sad. Or rather, the little ones are struggling massively and all the old wounds are exposed, sore, and weeping; and yet again adult me is a fucking chocolate fireguard when it comes to self-soothing and nurturing the vulnerable parts.

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When it’s like this I need to write. Well, actually what I need is a nurturing hug that holds the child parts but that’s not possible now and even if I were to see my therapist it still wouldn’t happen…not touch rule…argh!… and so here I am, once again, trying to let it all out on my blog! I am not sure what to say, but I absolutely need to try and find words for some of how I feel because I am struggling. Really struggling. Have I mentioned that I hate therapy breaks before?! Ha. It’s so boring now.

It’s not even funny is it? It’s painful. I feel mental and unsettled and generally all over the shop.

Clearly, I’ve not found this last week particularly easy, but I think today is going to be especially hard because, whilst I have now effectively ticked off one week of this mammoth Easter break (well done me!), today signals my first ‘missed’ therapy session. In theory, today is just another day of the break; like any other day, it’s a day to try and make the best of things. I need to live my adult life as best I can, enjoy being with my family, despite struggling with the underlying feelings that the child parts have about being abandoned and their fear that something bad is going to happen whilst my therapist is away.

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It’s just not that simple, though. Today already feels bigger… harder… longer than yesterday because today is the day I usually go to therapy and today I can’t. My body clock is set to be in that therapy room at 10:30am on a Monday and, frankly, being anywhere else feels plain wrong! I can feel the anxiety rising in my body knowing that today I am not going anywhere. That today, I can’t let anything out or take anything in with my therapist.

Today I am here and I have to hold my shit together for myself. Yeah, sure, I know, this is no different to any other time, but usually I have a sense of being supported: I usually have a scaffold around my structurally unsound building (the one that I am steadily dismantling bit by bit in order to rebuild a better, more sturdy structure for the future). The thing is, for some reason the scaffolding has disappeared and it feels like bits of the building are now breaking off and rapidly crumbling away. Some people might say, the scaffold is still there, I just can’t see it right now because I am not looking in the right place; either way, my sense of things is that the building is breaking and it might completely fall down if I don’t get that frame back in place soon.

I wish it felt less desperate.

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Lots of people don’t like Mondays. Monday signals the start of the working week, the end of the weekend, and a stretch of time until the next rest period. For me, however, Monday is the day I hang on for each week, the day I look forward to, the day where I can go and be myself for 50 minutes and have someone listen to me and help me work through my issues (and man there are plenty of those!). It’s more than that, though. Of course, it’s partly about having a meaningful chat and unloading some stuff with a safe and empathic person but it’s about taking some important stuff in, too.

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Monday signals the day that the young parts get to physically see that my therapist/their attachment figure is ‘still there’ that she hasn’t ‘disappeared’ or worse, ‘left me’. It’s the day where I try and top up that supply of care and love and nurturing that leaks away each week between sessions.

Therapy consists of various types of work for me but so far as the attachment stuff goes: 1) is trying to refill my leaking bucket and 2) patch the holes that are in the bucket to stop the leak from happening in the first place. I’m talking just about the need for care and love and my inability to hold onto any sense of it. Of course we do lots of other work too. But right now I’m stuck in the shitty attachment spiral and so, of course, that’s what I am going to talk about today.

Sometimes I manage quite well in the week: the holes my therapist and I plugged in session hold reasonably well and so there is a slower trickling away of the content of my bucket. I feel ok-ish. I miss her, yes, but I can get through the week because there is still some ‘evidence’ of her care left in my bucket and I can see proof that we are ‘ok’. Sometimes, I can have a really good therapy session where my bucket gets filled right to the top and so it takes longer for the contents to slip away – these are the better weeks.

Unfortunately, on breaks I am onto a losing streak because despite plugging holes and filling up the bucket to the brim in preparation for the holidays, there are still areas of the bucket that leak. A longer period of time without a mend and refill opportunity means the bucket has more time to empty out. It gets even worse though, because the bucket is pretty empty there’s a great deal of slipperiness on the floor around me. When I’m approaching the desperate stage where my bucket is nearly drained, it’s not uncommon for me to slip and slide about, lose my footing altogether and then eventually fall on my arse, drop the bucket and lose all the remaining content I have been trying so hard to protect….

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I apologise for the long and winding metaphors today!…essentially, I am shit at breaks, I miss my therapist and I can’t maintain a sense of her.

Ugh.

Shoot me now!

To be honest. I don’t really have much to say other than I am struggling a lot. I know this is not an insightful or interesting read. It just is. It’s how I feel. I am moaning and whiny. I am stretched and struggling. I am very aware that the mother wound is starting to seep through my layers of clothing. To the untrained eye it’s barely perceptible, but for me…well, I’m exposed now.

I am going to try and patch myself up, keep calm and carry on. I cannot afford to sink down into that place where anxiety and depression lie in wait because I know who else is down there…and right now I don’t have the strength to battle the Critic. There’s still 17 days to go of this break and so right now I am trying to dig deep. I need some resources to stop the bucket emptying and the walls from disintegrating.

I’m going to go and grab my pebble and shove it over one of the holes in my bucket to stem the flow, or shove it in a weak part in the wall of my building to replace a crumbling part.

‘When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I.’

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Pebbles: The Transitional Object

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‘Small round hard stones click

Under my heels’

This is the opening of Tatamkhulu Afrika’s poem Nothing’s Changed, a poem I used to teach my GCSE students back in the day. The lines came into my head just now as I was thinking about the title for this post. For the longest time, ok, since September the words ‘Nothing’s Changed’ could sum up my predicament with the pebbles (and that’s about as far as the link to the poem goes I’m afraid!).

For those of you who aren’t up to speed with the ‘pebbles saga’ I’ll recap a bit in this post. Apologies, but this is a real ramble but I feel like I need to get it down because this blog is really just my therapy diary and the pebbles have been a big thing… ugh!…

It’s no secret that that I really struggle with therapy breaks; they have long been a stumbling block for me. It’s hard enough maintaining a sense of connection to my therapist between sessions but anything longer than a week without contact and the wheels start to fall off in a big way; the child parts have an epic meltdown (attachment pain sets in and I feel abandoned and rejected – oh and desperately sad and alone). It’s not much fun at all. My adult self is left holding the baby in a completely clueless way! It’s not lost on me that I can love and nurture my own kids but when it comes to my inner child I am utterly useless.

Sigh.

Last summer break was a bit of a shambles (bit of an understatement). Before the break I had told my therapist how difficult disruptions to the therapy felt and how much I was dreading the holiday this time. I’d never let on before how terrible breaks have felt. I’d suffered my way through the previous summer break and a disastrous Christmas one but knew I couldn’t go into another one and be ‘fine’. I plucked up the courage to ask if she could maybe send me a text with a message to help me feel connected to her over the break. She did. Phew! I’d been sweating about asking her for something like this for months (overthinking it!) but when it came down to it, it was fine…like so many of these ‘things’ I am scared to talk about! – I will learn eventually!

Unfortunately, though, despite asking my therapist and her trying to meet the need, the message just didn’t work! She sent me a text with a visualisation to do. I was supposed to imagine us together in the room and my letting out whatever was bothering me and then picture her responding in an understanding and caring way. The visualisation didn’t work because the parts that need her reassurance and care when I can’t see her are very young and the wording, indeed, the exercise just wasn’t pitched to the parts that needed it…the parts that need her.

I’ve moaned/talked about this episode in detail in another blog post so won’t bang on about it again here!

I’ve noticed as time has gone on, that any time I am asked to ‘imagine’ something, like the young ones being held it puts my back up. I don’t want to have to ‘imagine’ anything. I want the reality. I don’t want to have to imagine my adult holding the distraught child (yes I know I’m going to have to accept this is how it’s going to be…eventually!) but right now I want my therapist to do it for me. Ugh! And so when she encourages me to hold things for myself it somehow feels rejecting and like she doesn’t care.

(Look I make no bones about the fact that my rational side is not in the driving seat so far as my therapy goes!…and that’s why I need the therapy.)

When push came to shove I was unable to picture my therapist in the visualisation she’d crafted (and man I really tried! I wanted to do the homework right and for the result to be that breaks would feel a little easier); all I could picture was me sitting in the room and staring at her empty chair (I literally cannot hold her in my mind at all).

The little ones’ anxiety ramped up day after day, week after week. I kept trying to zone my mind into the room and put my therapist there with me but it just didn’t work. The further break went on the more the horrid attachment pain activated in me, and the shit started to hit the fan. I felt so alone. I felt abandoned. I felt like the relationship was worthless and a sham. I didn’t want to believe any of those feelings but when I have no concrete evidence to prove otherwise it’s amazing what a good job the Critic can do of undermining the therapy and the therapeutic relationship.

It’s awful that holiday periods feel more about survival than rest and recharge for me – and for a lot of us who struggle with this developmental trauma stuff. When I was a teacher I really looked forward to the long breaks and now I absolutely dread holidays! I’m glad that my therapist is looking after herself (kind of ;-)) and I wish that in this time I could also take a break from the therapy and live normally without my issues dragging along with me. Sadly, it’s just not how it is. The moment my therapy is disrupted by a break it’s all about ‘digging deep’, ‘hanging on’ and ‘counting down’… only 21 more days to go now….AAAARRRRGGGGHHHHH!!!! Shoot me now!

Last year, I came back from the summer break feeling desperately sad and disconnected and a bit angry (hello teen!). When I finally built up the courage, three sessions in, and told my therapist how bad things had felt over the summer and how badly the visualisation had missed the mark, she suggested that perhaps it might help if, instead, she wrote something to me on a card so that I had something physical to take with me to remind me of the relationship and connection when I can’t see her – a transitional object of sorts.

Whilst the young parts of me longed for something to cuddle, like a teddy or something soft, adult me was happy enough with her idea because words are important to me and so I felt like this could be a good stepping stone to help me move forward. Having something personal from her, in her handwriting would surely help me to keep her in mind when everything was beginning to spiral. Ideally it’d also help me trust that she cared when the Critic goes all out to undermine the relationship. That was the idea anyway.

I left that session feeling positive and motivated that, perhaps, finally the time between sessions and, even more importantly, on breaks might start to feel a bit less awful. The next week I came to therapy armed with two pebbles (from the beach where my therapist lives) and a sharpie pen.

My idea was that she could write the message on a pebble; it’d last longer than a card and it would have an additional significance because I already collect pebbles. To have something in my collection from ‘her’ beach might feel even more connecting – or that’s what I thought! In addition to all this it would be something physical that I could hold in my hand. I thought it was a good idea. She seemed to think so too.

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It all seemed so simple…

Only this is where ‘simple’ ground to a resounding halt and everything suddenly grew very very complicated. It’s been a real fucking mess, actually. It’s been a nightmare of tangled, fraught, communication/miscommunication and has been the catalyst for a load of my issues about feeling unlovable and unworthy play out. It’s been horrid and has really upset me. I mean it’s literally sent me to attachment trauma hell and stirred up every bit of agony I’ve been in holding for years.

Ouch.

It’s certainly not been ideal these last six months! I can step back now (sort of) and say that what’s happened is all part of the process. I can see that we’ve done so much work as a result of the pebbles on our relationship and on my deep-rooted issues.

I won’t lie, though, there’s a part of me that just wishes it could have gone easier at the beginning. I was already hurting, feeling lost, alone, and unsure of the strength and quality therapeutic relationship before ‘Pebblegate’ but the experience of the last six months has made me feel like I had been completely cast adrift. I can’t count how many times I’ve sat and wondered if I would even be able to work with my therapist much longer or whether I needed to walk away…I did go and see another therapist after the rupture at Christmas.

Painful stuff.

Really excruciatingly painful stuff.

I am usually really good at looking at things objectively. I am the ‘go to’ person for my friends because I see things from different angles and can see the wood for the trees. Unfortunately, I don’t seem able to extend that skill and rationality to myself when looking at how things are in the therapeutic relationship. I frequently view everything through a lens that distorts what’s actually in front of me – or rather gives me only a single view when usually, in life, I can see a kaleidoscope of colours and images.

In the therapeutic relationship I come at things from a traumatised, emotionally neglected child’s perspective. It’s no wonder, really. There has been huge deficit in holding and containment as I’ve grown up. My mum has been both physically and emotionally absent for a lot of my life and then, in my teens, when I lived with her, she became emotionally abusive. I guess once she and my dad has separated the rage had to go somewhere. I can’t tell you the amount of times the words, ‘I wish you’d never been born!’ have been screamed at me.

So, when it comes to relating to my therapist things are tricky. A whole load of maternal transference has been thrown in the melting pot and whilst I desperately want to believe that she (my therapist) cares for me and is safe because I do absolutely love her and want her to be reliable and safe for me, there’s a huge damaged part, or should I say, lots of damaged younger parts that approach the relationship with a pre-existing narrative #MotherWound. They can’t simply trust that she has positive feelings towards me. They believe that she is going to follow the script that my mother wrote all those years ago. they think that my therapist is only ‘tolerating’ me because I am paying her to do so. I am a burden to her. I am too needy. The relationship isn’t genuine. And if she had her way I’d just disappear. I am not wanted and I am not worthy of her time and care. It’s only a matter of time until everything blows up in my face.

It’s going to be hard rewriting that script when it’s been practised so many times over the years. I am word perfect now and as much as I am sick of repeating the same lines over and over again, it is difficult to believe that there may be an alternative version that could be enacted now instead of this damaging play I am stuck in. It’s hard to see that the person opposite me is not, in fact, the person who I’ve been acting this stuff out with for the last 35 years. I have placed my therapist in the role of the understudy and we are continuing with this drama, but actually, maybe now is the time to write a whole new script, a whole new play, and give space to all the parts that need to be seen with my therapist playing herself rather than my ‘stand in’ mother.

I guess over time this will start to happen more and more because there is a lot of the time when I can see my therapist for who she is; the problems only arise when something vulnerable or triggering comes up and then I am thrown back into the trauma response.

Anyway, back to the pebbles!

It’s been challenging to say the least. In the last few weeks my therapist has been asking me about the pebbles in every session and what we are going to do. She told me that she was happy to write something about her caring about me on them but had wondered if that would feel genuine enough for me? I’ve been completely thrown through a loop with this word ‘genuine’ for the last few months since she said it. When she’d mentioned about the message needing to feel genuine, I’ve heard that as her not wanting to write something she didn’t feel to be genuine for her, and therefore she couldn’t/wouldn’t say she cared about me on them.

However, when we finally unpicked things after I sent my mammoth ‘let it all hang out’ email the other week, it turns out she meant she wanted things to feel right for me, and that whatever she wrote should feel believable to me because I have such a hard time accepting anything positive from her. I automatically disbelieve her kind words and caring words or assume there’s a price attached to them — enacting that old script again. She didn’t want what she wrote to feel like she was just doing it to appease me. Basically she wanted it to be right and was aware that there was a lot of emotion tied up in all this.

Hallelujah! That is exactly what the young ones needed to hear. She cares and she wants the transitional object to be right.

The thing is, we’ve kept dipping back into this topic for the last few sessions and sometimes there’s someone else engaged not just the parts that trust her! When she asked me about when we were going to do the pebbles in the Skype Session we had the other day and being conscious that the break was fast approaching, I was pissed off. Not at her. I was cross that I couldn’t see her in person due to being snowed in. I was angry that I didn’t have any real privacy. And I was frustrated that the young ones weren’t able to connect properly. In those situations the teen steps up. The teen doesn’t need pebbles. She doesn’t need anyone. She can see how sad the little ones have been through the whole sorry saga and she is fucked off about it.

So in response to my therapist’s question about the pebbles, I told her that part of me just wanted to throw them back in the sea and give it all up because it’s been a fucking nightmare! She said that she understood that there was a part who was frustrated and had given up hope but that there were others who maybe still wanted something good to come from them. I conceded that this was the case, and we agreed we’d sort things out in our last session – Monday.

Last Sunday my family and I went to the beach – not my therapist’s beach, but one a few miles down the coast – also a pebble beach. The kids were throwing pebbles into the water, we made some cairns, and I came across a lovely pebble. It was an usual stone with a band round the middle…perfect for a message. I decided at that point that I would find some words, write them on the pebble, and give it to my therapist on our last session. I sometimes get these impulses to give her things or write to her!…and then freak out when the time actually comes to hand stuff over. lol.

I spent a while searching the internet for ‘good’ words on Sunday night. And finally alighted on these (this is not the actual pebble):

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‘When my heart feels overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I.’

I instantly loved them. Some of you may recognise these words as a psalm. I am in no way religious, indeed, I struggle with the church and the idea that I am somehow not good enough to be part of the fold because of my sexuality. To many I am merely a sinner to be tolerated (oh and there’s a wonderful story about at trip to Tennessee in there but I’ll save all that for another time!!). Frankly the church can go do one if that’s the truth! But still, these words are exactly right for what I wanted to say and reflect what I need and how I feel. So I used them.

Fast forward to Monday…and my last session before the break…

I sat down and almost instantly got out the perfect pebble and explained how I had come to find it on the beach, why I had decided to give her it, and how I found the words. We spent some time talking about it and then she asked me if we should sort out my pebbles that have been sitting on that shelf for six long bastard months (not her words obviously! Lol!).

I agreed, and then, something strange happened, but then on reflection it wasn’t strange at all because it’s what I do…

I broke with the plan we have been coming up with for all this time and told her that I wanted her to write those same words, the psalm, on my rock. And I did want that. Sort of. But I didn’t too. It’s hard to explain what happened but I think part of it was this: she had responded so positively to the stone and the words that I had chosen for her that I didn’t want to lose that ‘nice’ feeling and vibe that was in the room – the feeling of connection.

I didn’t want to suddenly descend into the difficult stuff that has plagued these stones for so long. I didn’t want it to feel awkward. I didn’t want a disaster to come about from all this heading stuff into the break. I didn’t want to leave empty handed again. And I do like the words… a lot. They are meaningful. I felt that they were good enough…at the time.

Only now I feel like I have compromised on what I really wanted from these stones, from the transitional object, and that was something direct from my therapist about how she feels about our relationship and how she cares about me. I wanted something personal and ended up with something adequate but not quite right. She’ll have no idea that this has happened.

When she had finished writing on the pebble she said that we should come back to it after the break and talk about how it is for me – i.e whether it does or doesn’t work to make things feel better during the break. I know that I need to tell her what the process was like last week and how I ended up not asking for what I really wanted for fear of leaving feeling disconnected. I think it’s important to do that. But, now, I am worried that she might feel like she can’t get anything right and get frustrated with me (totally my projection).

You see ‘getting it wrong’ is becoming a bit of a pattern. I asked for a text last summer, she did what I asked, and then I threw it back at her as not being good enough – I couldn’t do the visualisation and picked her words apart one by one. Then I text her at Christmas in distress, she replied because she cared, and yet because her words didn’t give me exactly what I wanted we ended up having an almighty rupture. And now this. I told her I wanted particular words on the pebble, she wrote them for me, and now I have to go back and say it missed the mark. She keeps trying to meet my need and yet for whatever reason it’s not quite working for me. At what point will she say that she gives up?

Anyway, I feel like I have exhausted ‘Pebblegate’ for now!

I will say this, though, despite not quite getting the right words on the pebble it does still feel soothing (a bit) to finally have it with words in her handwriting. It does help me feel connected to her because I can remember being in that session with her and others recently where I have had a positive and connecting experience with her…and that in itself reminds me that there is a genuine and caring relationship between us.

It remains to be seen whether this memory bank will be accessible to me, if, when the little parts start really freaking out. I already had a bit of a wobble last night talking with a friend so I am very aware that the attachment stuff is not very far below the surface right now.

Still, for now I have a small round hard stone in my hand and some lovely words on it…I’ll take that as a win for now. Things are changing!

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