Haunted

Today would have marked to the four year therapy anniversary of my coming back to work with Em after I’d finished my cancer treatment. It seems daft, really, keeping these dates in my head – especially now therapy with her is finished- but it’s always been a date that I’ve somehow marked, usually with a card and a message reflecting on our time together and thanking her putting up with me.

When we don’t know the actual birthday of our therapists, this date, for many of us, functions as a kind of birthday – I suppose the birth of the therapeutic relationship maybe? Either way, this date is important to lots of us. I wonder if therapists are even aware of this?

Anyway, had I still been with Em, today I had planned to give her a  gift in our session. On reflection, that would have been a terrible idea wouldn’t it?! But this was planned and bought way before Christmas! And I had no idea, then, that we would not be working together now. I’d been told therapy would end when I was ready for it to end, in a planned way- not abruptly.

Some of you probably remember the episode with the pebble a few years ago. For those of you who don’t, basically about a year into this latest phase of the therapy, I was really wobbling and had realised that my object constancy was pretty much non-existent. The time between sessions was hideous and breaks, well, they were an absolute nightmare. It was like the minute I left Em’s house she ceased to exist. I would panic that she had died (a hangover from my dad dying three days into a holiday – and so I always struggled on Wednesdays). I couldn’t picture her in my mind at all and the feeling that she was gone GONE also really tapped into the feelings I had as a child when my mum would be gone from Sunday to Friday. I missed Em so much that it physically hurt. It was awful! I just felt like I was stuck in trauma time whenever I wasn’t in the room with her.

I had read about transitional objects and it made perfect sense to me that we needed to try and help the young parts that were starting to emerge, and that an object or something that she had written might help me to begin to be able to hold her in mind. The young parts of me would really have liked something soft, something comforting to hold, like a little teddy or something but I knew Em would never go for it so never mentioned that idea. When I finally brought up how hard I was finding things after the long summer break she suggested her maybe writing something on a piece of card for me, or said I could bring a card in for her to write on… I should have known right then that it wasn’t going to work!

I still remember how sad I felt when she said that. Like of course I would like her to write me a holding message but why on earth would I want to bring something in for her to write in? The whole point with transitional objects is that it comes from them, it’s a symbol of them. Man it still upsets me!

Anyway, Em lives near the beach and I’ve always collected pebbles from various places I have been and I thought that maybe her writing a message on a pebble from the beach might help ground me when I was spiralling off into attachment abandonment doom. Having something solid to hold but also having some of her words felt like a great idea. In the end it took over six months for her to write on that fucking pebble. And even then I had to give her the words. The whole exercise fell so flat and actually just made things worse. Why was it so hard, after so many years, to simply write a personal message on a fucking rock? I mean I can join the dots now – and I did at the time too!

My Inner Critic had a field day, ‘She doesn’t care about you. There isn’t a relationship. She doesn’t feel any connection to you.’ And do you know what? Maybe I should have listened to that voice back then, and all the times since. Because it turns out it was right, wasn’t it? All the times I have felt like she wasn’t invested, not really, played out. I didn’t want to trust my gut. I wanted to believe that what I was experiencing was just the legacy of a lifetime of trauma and it was just negative transference. If I stuck at it, tried to put that niggling doubt to one side then I’d see it was me and not her.

Anyway, back to the gift that was meant for today! I have a friend who is a stone mason and I noticed he had started working with pebbles as keepsakes. One design he had was hearts in relief. The whole of the surface of the pebble is sanded away (or whatever you do with stone!)  and all that is left is two hearts. Being a lover of metaphor and analogy, it made me think of Em. What I wanted to say was that the hard surface of the stone, the layers of protection have finally gone, and what remains after painstaking work, is the relationship. It’s the relationship that is tough enough to see things through and it is through that strength that the work is able to be done.

I’m just too fucking sentimental for my own good aren’t I?

So, here’s the pebble that will never make it to Em.

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I feel a little bit heartbroken about it really. It’s another of those expressions of love from the youngest parts that feels rejected. I mean all of me feels so rejected right now.

I’ve been struggling to come here and write this post for a couple of weeks. Partly because what’s happened is so painful to even write – I feel a deep ache in my core even thinking about it, but it’s also because there’s a lot of shame and embarrassment floating about too. I almost don’t want to admit to what’s happened because I feel like a fucking idiot that’s walked myself into the jaws of a great white shark and then wondered why I am no longer in possession of a couple of my limbs and am bleeding out. I feel like I’ve brought this on myself and so really have no right to be so upset. I guess I just don’t want to hear, ‘I told you so’ because I have already beat myself up enough already.

But I can’t avoid it forever… so deep breaths.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that after writing the post about The Velveteen Rabbit that I had had a pretty strong internal reaction to it. I guess, finally expressing just how painful the ending with Em had been and how rejecting it had felt with what had happened with the gifts at Christmas kind of crystalised – it was no longer just a bunch of ideas and feelings in my head but actually a tangible, considered document and the reality felt pretty stark.

It felt shit that the one person that I really wanted to hear what I have to say is gone and has no interest in my feelings. It feels so unfair that I have so much to process and yet the person I need to process it with doesn’t want to know. There’s never going to be a repair and so it just feels like another injury that I have to carry only I am really struggling to accept that. You know what I am like – ever hopeful with a strong masochistic streak…

So a week after posting that blog I was really, really struggling. The young parts were fronting and I was at the point where I felt like I would do pretty much anything to be able to speak to Em (regardless of how bad it’s been and how crap the ending was). I felt so unsettled and actually just desperate. So, rather impulsively, I sent her a  text message with a link to the post on Sunday evening – I know. I know. You don’t have to tell me.

It was a pretty long text! I told her that I felt weird and anxious reaching out after what’s happened and asked her if she might read the blog post, that I would pay her to do it, and that it would mean a lot to me if she at least knew about what I had to say because sitting with it hasn’t helped. I thought writing it would help but actually I needed her to hear what I had to say. I acknowledged that she had said she’d never want to read a blog post again after reading the disaster Christmas rupture blog a couple of years ago because she was ‘not that masochistic’. I said that I was sorry if what I had said at the time had hurt her and that we’d never really properly discussed that rupture and how it impacted either one of us. I told her I missed her and that I was struggling to work through all these feelings about our ending without her because I can only imagine what she’d say. I said that I wished I had been able to share more of what was happening for me with her rather than putting it out here on the blog because really so much of what I write here is what needed to make it into the room.

It got a read receipt almost immediately. And then nothing. To be honest. I didn’t expect a reply. I just needed to say what I said. It was okish until Wednesday and then the grief and reality hit in a spectacular way (bloody Wednesday AGAIN! – maybe I should rename it ‘Crisisday’). I was sitting on my bed and not really thinking about anything at all when I noticed my chest was wet. I felt it and realised that the wetness was tears that had been falling. I didn’t even know I was crying – it was just detached water falling from my eyes.

And then whoosh, the floodgates opened. I connected with my body and my feelings and it was I was howling like an injured animal – I wish that was an exaggeration but it’s not. The tears fell in huge big drops, my nose was streaming, I was sobbing, convulsing through my whole body, at times I felt like I could barely breathe. It was absolutely horrific. I felt like I was falling through the black abyss and it felt endless. This must’ve gone on for the best part of forty minutes. The memories started piling in one after the other, Em, the room, the times when it has been good and supportive, and I just felt so much pain, so much loss, so much grief. The young parts wanted to die. Em is not coming back.

It was so overwhelming. I’ve sort of known this was coming for a few weeks – after reaching out to Anita at the end of May when these feelings started to swirl about again. I think on this particular Wednesday it was like a volcanic eruption. Pressure has been building for a long time and it was inevitable that eventually I’d blow spewing emotional lava, ash, and dust everywhere.

Don’t get me wrong, Anita has been amazing throughout this. We’ve talked a lot about what’s happened with Em and she has listened with such compassion and care. But she can’t make it better, and these feelings have to come. I need to feel them rather than run from them. It’s just so much harder not being in the therapy room because it’s not as holding online and I don’t feel like I could let this stuff come in this way via a screen – I think in person I could – maybe. So in some ways I feel like my grieving has been on hold. I’ve rationalised it but I haven’t expressed it – got it out my body – felt it. And I really need K for that too! I miss my craniosacral sessions!!

I guess facing up to the reality the Em is really gone – forever – keeps coming in waves. I cried a lot at the beginning, like this  being totally overcome by the feelings and I had no filter – it just came out. The difference then, I think, was that I was also in shock. That extreme crying got less over time. I rarely cry myself to sleep now whereas at the beginning I cried every night for weeks. But I don’t not cry because I am over it – clearly I’m stuck right in it! The feelings still aren’t fully processed. They are not gone. But it’s not quite so fresh. I have to get on with my day to day life but in some way I’m also stuck in limbo. Actually, it’s like being haunted. I can’t fully get away from how bad it feels and I carry this inside me like some kind of negative spectre. A dementor.

I think the idea is that we are meant to internalise our therapists as a positive influence, we are meant to internalise their care, their voice, the way they treat us so that we can then model that for ourselves. It’s like replacing a shit load of negativity with a positive inner parent. Only that’s not what’s happened with me. I now have an additional voice telling me I’m not important and unwanted. It’s fucking agony… and yet I still miss her.

After I came out of my hysterical crying state I text Anita – she must be sick of me texting her by now. I told her I was in a really bad place and asked if she had any time available over the next couple of days so I might bring my Friday session forward. She text me back immediately and said she had a session in half an hour if I wanted it. I took it and then got in the shower and pulled myself back together a bit. Part of me wanted to stay in my PJs and have the session from underneath my duvet but I managed to get washed and dressed and semi-presentable although my puffy eyes showed what a state I was in.

By the time I got online I was much better than I had been- although to be fair it couldn’t have got much worse! I felt sad when we started talking but I wasn’t tearful. I was able to talk around what was going on – feelings of hopelessness and about losing Em etc but I didn’t tell her about the fact that I had sent Em the link and that she hadn’t replied. It was because I felt ashamed, I think. I felt stupid for reaching out. And I guess, in a way, I felt a bit disloyal – like I have Anita now so why am I so desperate to be seen and understood by Em? Why do I hope that I am somehow going to get the ending with her I needed? Why can’t I just let it go?

We talked a lot around how this ending and relationship has really unsettled me. How it is a huge loss etc. And when I finished the session I actually felt really calm. Almost like that morning an almighty storm had battered and drenched me to the skin, but it had moved off and cleared some space inside me and Anita had helped dry my off and patched me up. I felt like I had released a lot of pain and grief and it felt good not to have it all stuck inside me. To be seen and understood when I am in that kind of pain used to terrify me. I felt like it would mean an automatic rejection or abandonment. I would be too much for the other person. But Anita is solid as a rock. I genuinely believe she is going to be there to help me through this.

So, I felt much calmer as the week moved on and I was aware of the upcoming full moon. My best friend bought me Yasmin Boland’s ‘Moonology’ oracle cards for Christmas and they have been one of the best gifts I have ever received. I absolutely love them. The artwork on them is beautiful and I’ve always been drawn to the moon. I have kept pulling the same three or four cards out for months and months on end. Lately I pulled the same card ‘Full Moon In Capricorn (the end of a tough cycle approaches)’ four times in a row in succession (same day) whilst asking the same question …which statistically is absolutely ridiculous!

The general message in all my cards this year has been that the end of a significant period of difficulty and anxiety is about to happen. We were headed into a full moon eclipse on the 5th June and so I decided to do a three card spread for a change, basically asking about the situation with Em – the cards run from left to right, the first signifying the past, the middle the present, and the third the future. Apparently it’s good to do these things at certain moon phases so there was no time like the present!

I pulled these cards for the first time:

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South Node and North Node feel a bit brutal in their bullet messages (stop obsessing about someone or something!) but I think they’re right – especially in the longer note!:

(PRESENT) South Node – Don’t let the past hold you back: The South Node, like the North Node, is a karmic point, but it’s opposite to the North Node and relates to the past, perhaps even to past lives. Whatever you’re going through and whatever you’re asking about, there’s a chance that age-old programming and conditioning is stopping you from achieving all that you might. Do you feel stuck in something? This card will often come as a sign that the situation or relationship you’re asking about has somehow become suffocating, even toxic. It suggests that someone (you, even) need to be released, there’s some kind of addiction going on or an unhealthy attachment that needs to be sorted out.

(FUTURE) North Node – Step out of your comfort zone: There’s a strong feeling when you get this card that it’s time to leave the past behind somehow, because you are headed in the right direction. If you want to be happy and fulfilled, you need to get going towards doing the thing that scares you (within reason!). This card is all about living your life-purpose, which is possibly what you’ve asked about. It’s urging you to do something different with your life and your direction, to take action. So are you willing to follow through and lead the life you incarnated to live? If you finally find the courage to make the leap, there’s a good chance you’ll come to ask yourself, ‘Why did I wait so long?’

So, there I was feeling calm and peaceful, in tune with the moon and then Friday afternoon Em text me!

Fuck.

My zen went straight out the window!

I really hadn’t expected a response at all especially nearly a week later. So it came as a bit of a shock. Obviously, I had hoped she might engage with me but I didn’t hold out much hope and after my big outpouring of grief on the Wednesday I felt less like I needed a reply.

This is what came:

Dear RB,

I have read your blog about the Velveteen Rabbit and there’s no need for you to pay me for this. I would like to acknowledge that I’m aware of how difficult our ending has been for you and I wish you well for the future.

Em

I think I must have stared at the screen for about five minutes.

My fucking impulse control is piss poor and I quickly replied:

Is there really no way of coming back from this? Please can we talk?

Immediate read receipt. Then nothing.

Fair enough. I guess she read the blog, she hasn’t charged me for it, unlike all the other times she’s read something outside the session! Part of me is a bit like, why bother though? Why waste your time on 7000 words if it means nothing now.

I felt a bit unsettled over the weekend. I didn’t expect to hear anything back from Em. She’d seen my message and that was that. She only works Monday and Friday and never communicates on weekends but what was there to say? She wasn’t going to talk to me and so I carried on.

It threw me through a loop, on Sunday, seeing her name flash up on my phone. I was having a barbecue with my family. My mum had come over with her husband and we were all chilling out in the garden. I probably should have ignored the message and waited until later to read it. But I didn’t. I went inside under the guise of needing the loo and read the message.

Fucking sucker punch.

I guess I knew it was coming. I just hoped that perhaps with a bit of distance she might have seen that this is a shit show for me and I need a better end and agreed to talk.

Dear RB.

Thank you for your communication. I have read your blog and had already read ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’.

I am very sorry, but, as I have already explained to you several times, I have gradually come to the clinical decision that I do not have the expertise not training to continue with the therapy. We have done some good work together, but it has slowly emerged that the therapeutic work that I have been able to provide for you has now gone as far as it can go. Therefore there is no possibility of resuming the therapy.

If you wanted to continue to work on yourself and to build on the work we have accomplished, I would suggest that psychoanalysis might be worth considering. I say this because of the nature of the transference within the therapeutic work we have done. Also, psychoanalysis is suggested by the interpretations of ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ in your blog. If you wanted to take this forward, the best website to look for a psychoanalyst would be http://www.bpc.org.uk

I hope I have made myself clear and therefore I hope that you now understand that there is no need nor reason for you to contact me further and I would therefore be grateful if you would not contact me further. I wish you well for your future.

Em.

So yeah, that felt really good – NOT. Still, it is what it is. And I should have known better than to hope she might actually just talk to me about it. Surely, she can’t be happy with the way it ended. It all felt so defensive and triggered back in January. I don’t want to resume therapy really, I just want some closure, some answers, it to feel less bad!

Still, it was not easy going back outside after that and having to pretend like I’d just nipped inside to pee. I felt like the floor had dropped out beneath me again. I didn’t cry. I just felt sick. It was the final paragraph that really hurt… ouch. I know I walked myself right into that rejection, but like I said, I don’t need ‘I told you so’ because I’ve beaten myself up about it enough already! I just wonder what the hell I have been doing for the last 8 years!

Fortunately, I actually have two really patient, attentive, and caring therapists in my life right now and processing this with Anita and K has been as good as it can be. I’ll continue with the fall-out from this in my next post as this is looooonnnnggg already!

‘These feelings won’t go away
They’ve been knockin’ me sideways
I keep thinking in a moment that
Time will take them away
But these feelings won’t go away
These feelings won’t go away’

-Citizen Cope

Old Patterns: Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That really is fucked up.

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

Part 2 to follow.

 

 

Rage Cycles

So, here I am again sitting in the hospital waiting room waiting to find out if all is still well in my body. I’m always nervous as I wait. I suppose it’s not surprising, really. I have no reason to believe I am not still in remission but then I never imagined I’d have had an enormous tumour growing in my chest at the point I got diagnosed so I’ve learnt to not take anything for granted so far as health goes. You never know what they’ll say.

The stress of these appointments never lessens. As I sit here, in the same waiting area for patients undergoing treatment, I cannot help but be plunged back three years and remember how terrible it was undergoing my own gruelling treatment. Twelve chemotherapies spaced two weeks apart – horrendous…and then the radiotherapy to round things off.

I feel sick, it’s totally psychosomatic of course. It’s not just nerves, it’s that chemo poisoned sick feeling – a nausea that is hard to describe unless you’ve experienced it. I am sure there is an element of PTSD in all this. Health trauma to add onto the various other traumas… ha. You couldn’t make it up.

The longer I sit here (the service is overstretched so there is always a couple of hours delay being seen) the worse the anxiety gets. I get a full body fear and my brain starts on some impressive mental flashbacks. I loop round different points in my treatment having sat in this place waiting for so many things: the shock of initial diagnosis, CT guided biopsy through my rib cage, bone marrow biopsy (oooooouuuuuuucccccchhhhhhh!!!), the first chemo, the middle chemos, the feeling like I was dying, the final chemo… the hair loss, the loss of myself… it’s really horrible.

The staff are lovely but I hate it here. They remember me. Ask about my kids by their names. Ask after my wife. It’s nice to have people that seem to care but actually, I wish I didn’t have to come here at all. I wish that there was no prior relationship with these doctors and nurses. I don’t like being reminded of how bad things were and how precarious things still are. I’m always watching and waiting. Never being sure that things are ok. It can all change so quickly, can’t it? One bad cell mutation and bam off we go again.

It’s especially hard being here today. This time last year my very lovely friend and mother figure died in here, literally thirty metres from where I sit. It’s so upsetting. I cannot believe she’s not here anymore. I feel devastated. Losing her reminds me that nothing is safe. There are treatments but they do not always work. People we love die. The idea that we fight cancer is rubbish. We don’t fight it. Our cells do what they do. The treatment may or may not work. Some of us are lucky. Some of us aren’t.

So not only is today tricky because my darling friend is front of mind and the grief comes in waves; in addition to this my oldest friend has had confirmation that her metastasised breast cancer is spreading further in her bones – it’s not looking at all good – there is no cure for her; they’re just trying to buy time. Another friend is having her third chemo treatment today for breast cancer and will have a mastectomy once the chemo finishes- her waiting area is across the hall and I expect her to walk in soon. I don’t especially want to see another familiar face in here. I wish neither of us needed to be here.

I cannot get away from the disease and know that it is doing its best to take away people I love. I feel guilty for being the one that has survived. It is what it is. I am glad I am alive, of course I am, but I am sad. Deep in my core I feel so much sadness about who and what has been taken from me. I am angry too. Raging in fact. But the rage is getting caught up in feelings of abandonment and rejection and all that shitting shitty shitastic attachment stuff.

What’s going on?

Well, grrrr, I’m fucking furious with my therapist. The session before her break I told her it was coming up to the third anniversary of my chemo finishing and the first anniversary of the death of my friend, and that both these things coincided with my follow up appointment at the hospital in the same ward she died on. It was a triple whammy of grief, anxiety, and fear. We’ve spoked at length over the years about all these things. She acknowledged that there was going to be a lot to contend with and then went on her break…another fucking therapy break. Jeez!

The week rolled by and then it was Monday again and the end of the three session break. I looked at my calendar on my phone and discovered that she’s away again on the 16th. I had no idea. I hadn’t registered it at all. I seem to be on breaks more than in therapy at the minute. This sudden realisation that Em would be gone again really unsettled me. I can’t seem to find my feet at all because she is always gone…or that’s how it feels.

Monday’s session was fine-ish. I couldn’t look at her, though. Every time I glanced her way I looked at her and felt like I had been burned. I’ve written about eye contact in therapy before and how it is for me. I’m not surprised I was finding hard to connect. Things haven’t exactly been smooth sailing in therapy lately. And then I had sent that text after the last session about the heart in the bottle…which she completely ignored.

No change there, then.

I am almost beyond the point of caring about her lack of acknowledgment of anything I send her in email or text. She literally responds with a text ‘ok’ even if it’s about scheduling, there’s no ‘see you then’ or anything borderline warm -it’s one word! She couldn’t be any more ‘bare minimum’ if she tried. I’d love to know how she thinks this kind of communication is helpful to me. How does this help someone with deep attachment wounds forged in childhood? She seems to want to work with the parts and yet she seems to forget that every interaction we have is being felt by many many different parts. Adult Me understands she doesn’t do outside communication…sort of… but the little ones cannot understand it at all.

Anyway, I’m used to that now. BUT. And here’s the big BUT. There are occasions where her lack of engagement with me feels really painful and uncaring. It’s fine (sort of) to not respond to texts and pick it up in a session (most of the time). I get therapy needs to take place in the room. BUT…there’s other times when I actually need tangible, real time, here and now, support. I need her to be there for bigger things. And this week is a big thing. The cancer stuff and the anniversary of my friend dying is a big thing.

I told her I was stressed out on Monday about today’s appointment for the reasons I’ve just mentioned. Usually I would leave a session before a hospital follow up and she’d say ‘I hope Wednesday goes well’ which is, at least, something. She didn’t do that this week, though. I don’t know why. I don’t know whether she just doesn’t hold that stuff in mind or she just couldn’t care less.

The session was really uncomfortable at times. I spoke a lot about work and being overstretched. As I did so, I could feel the young parts getting overwhelmed. It was that whole needing to connect but being unable to. My heart was in the bottle but I couldn’t get it out. She made no reference to that text I’d sent and so the conversation didn’t open up. With about twenty minutes to go I told her about two dreams I’d had that night. I needed her to at least see how much I was struggling even if I couldn’t really connect on the level that I wanted to.

  1. I was heavily pregnant and the waters breaking but nothing happening. I knew there was something wrong and rang the hospital. They said they were busy and disregarded my concerns, telling me to come in when there were regular contractions. I said there were no contractions and that the baby wasn’t moving. They weren’t interested in the slightest. I got increasingly frightened and after three days rang again saying nothing was happening, the baby wasn’t moving, and that I needed to be seen. They reluctantly agreed for me to come in and when I did it was confirmed the baby was dead inside me.
  2. I’d dropped my kids at school, returned home to find the door of my house wide open. As I walked I realised I’d been burgled. Every single room was ransacked. Stuff was all over the floor, broken, but nothing seemed to be missing. I walked from room to room feeling devastated and confused. Why would someone do this to me? What were they looking for? I went into my room, equally as wrecked, and sat trying to think what had been taken but couldn’t discover anything. It was as though someone had just decided to destroy everything but for no reason.

We talked a bit about them. She said that she thinks they’re transformational, that now it’s time to grieve the big losses which is kind of what I was saying in my last blog post. I think, though, that there’s a lot to be said about people not caring enough, not finding time for me, and losing my baby as a result. That literal inner child is dying right now. It’s crap.

Anyway, that’s not why I am sad. I mean it is sad! I get there is mourning to be done. There is a load of grief to wade through. I need to face the mother wound. This is not new news. What is making me feel really sad is that I feel like I am completely on my own, not just with that past stuff but with the big life things in the here and now. I get how I view things today is informed by the lens from the past, so probably feels way worse than it actually is; but I am struggling to understand how, after six years my therapist was unable to wish me well for this week’s appointment. Like is that so very hard?

I also feel sad that she is unable to be human enough to step outside her rigid position and say, ‘look I know this week is incredibly hard for you and I see how much you are struggling. If you would find it helpful you could text me on Wednesday to check in. I hope that it all goes well’. Like is that asking too much? I’m not asking for mummy cuddles here. I’m not about wanting to know she is still out there somewhere. It’s not that attachment stuff in the usual sense. Today I am an adult facing huge stress and could do with a bit of support from someone who is supposed to get it and care about me.

Perhaps I am completely missing the point. I don’t know. It’s at times like these that I doubt myself. Is my anger and upset justified? Perhaps the level of anger is intensified because of my past, or being disregarded by others, but the feelings are still real. I am upset that outside of those 50 minute slots I actually don’t matter to her.

Ugh.

I don’t know if I have explained that very well…but in reality, it doesn’t matter does it? She’s not there for me. I can’t reach out. There is no support and whatever happens today she is not interested.

I want to run away from her. Cut ties. Ditch therapy. I don’t want to feel like this anymore. I know she’s not my mum, but I did hope that she was someone who might care a little bit.

I know I was exactly the same last time I was here. I hit the rage. It cycles. It lessened in the end. But man, I cannot keep doing this to myself.

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Empty

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So it looks like I have made it through the three session therapy break. I have been ‘just about’ holding it together with my trademark rubber bands and chewing gum but it’s all feeling a bit fragile today; it feels like the makeshift glue that holds the pieces together is liable to give way at any moment. It’s not great.

The last couple of weeks haven’t been a complete depressive washout by any means,  but it’s taken a ridiculous amount of energy to simply keep treading water in an uninviting, swirling, choppy, cold emotional sea and not drown. I’m tired and cold now. I am so over the break!

I’ve noticed that, often, the closer I get to the shore (i.e end of the therapy break) the harder those last few days in the water are: it’s as though, for some reason, the waves pick up and a strong rip current running along the water’s edge does everything in its power to stop me getting onto the safety of dry land. I don’t know if it’s something about the consistent and sustained effort that is required to hold it all together and keep swimming that finally takes its toll; the sheer exhaustion of it takes over when the end in sight?: maybe I don’t quite have the stamina to get through a break?; or perhaps it’s something to do with self-protection – I sort of bury my head in the sand (sorry for the mixed metaphors ) at the beginning of the break and then as I hit the marker of ‘last missed session’ (today/Friday) it all falls apart.

Like maybe the fatigue and fear really hit now, because I am almost there, back in the room. Perhaps it is only now that I can finally allow myself to really feel what I have been keeping inside for the entirety of the break. Although tbh it doesn’t feel like there is much ‘choice’ or ‘allowing’ in the matter.

I don’t know how to put it.

I am overwhelmed.

With just three more sleeps until Monday things are getting really really hard. Part of me needs to keep repeating Dory’s mantra ‘just keep swimming’ but other parts of me are just so physically and emotionally exhausted that it feels impossible to keep going. I feel almost paralysed by the emotions. I want to give up. I want to sink beneath the surface of the water and rest – even if that means drowning. I know it sounds really dramatic. I can’t really describe how utterly shit things feel right now. I feel overwhelmed and empty at the same time.

It’s weird.

I feel like that huge gaping hole inside, the mother wound, is sucking everything into it like some enormous black hole. That’s kind of what I mean by empty and overwhelmed…from the outside the hole seems empty, a pit of darkness, and yet I know that in the black pit of doom is so much pain, so much fear, so much need, and overwhelm. OMG just thinking about it all sends me into a panic.

Until today I think I have been doing pretty well. The attachment pain has been there consistently (it never really goes away) but most of the time it has felt manageable or I have found time to honour it so that it doesn’t ruin my day and I have been able to function well enough. It’s been half-term here this week and so having the kids off school has been a welcome break from the usual routine. No school runs or teaching has meant that things have been reasonably relaxed.

My wife and I took the children away for a couple of days to a theme park and stayed in a nice hotel overnight. It was a lovely break for us all but really tiring! Traipsing around the park, queuing, and riding rollercoasters is not exactly relaxing. And I have found that, actually, my days of enjoying adrenaline rides has long passed. I get an immediate headache the moment the adrenaline floods in and I am actually a bit of a chicken. I feel actual fear on the rides – like I am going to die! Where on earth did my fearless fourteen year old self go?! Oh, and, in addition to the physical discomfort of actually doing the rides I was really reminded that I don’t really like crowds (or people!)!!!

So, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that I am tired now…but this empty feeling is more than just tiredness, you know? I think when I am tired I have fewer resources available to cope with all the ‘other stuff’ and so it sneaks up on me and takes root. The young parts are more vocal and the need feels huge. I know at times like this I should be going all out with the self-care but sometimes the slide into emotional overwhelm feels more like a switch suddenly being flicked than a gradual unravelling. One minute I am ok…and the next I am sooooo not ok. Once I am in ‘the not ok’ state it’s all a bit late for self-care (yeah yeah, ok baby steps and deep breaths and all that can be done at any time…) I feel incapacitated. I just can’t fucking do anything.

Today was a disaster. I did not get dressed. I willed myself to do some ironing but that was all I could manage. I spent most of the day beating myself up about not doing anything which in itself is hugely tiring and stressful. I wish I could just give myself permission to acknowledge I am having a bad day, to rest up, to give things space…but I don’t. I just sit/lie there thinking about all the things I should be doing but am failing to do. I brood on all the work I have to manage next week. I get angry with myself that I am not 1) resting and recharging properly when there is so much coming next week or 2) getting planning and prep done for the week ahead so that it doesn’t feel so massively hard next week.

Basically I spent the day feeling incredibly anxious and stressed about next week but not doing anything to make it better, or resting to give myself energy to do the things I need to when the teaching kicks back in. It’s so annoying but so familiar. It really does feel like a mental paralysis.

UGH!!!

The problem is, when I get this frozen thing it’s not really like I have an executive in charge who can direct everything or even the critic on hand to bully me into doing stuff. Fuck knows where she is! Instead I am left with all the various young parts freaking out and not knowing how to get help. It’s just ridiculous.

I need therapy!!!

There is so much I want to say to Em when I go back on Monday. I have been talking round the edges of a lot of really big feelings for a while now and I really think I need to push on through the shame and embarrassment and let some more of it out. I am, of course, terrified that what I have to say is ‘too much’. The thing is, even if it is ‘too much’ it is how I feel and it’s doing me no good at all hanging onto it.

I just don’t know if I am brave or strong enough to go through the inevitable grief that will come about as a result of really tackling the issues I have around the breaks (feelings of abandonment) and touch (or lack of it) in the therapeutic relationship. When I think about that need for closeness and containment it really aches. I know that the ache stems from years ago and the relationship I have with my mum. But as much as I know this is an old injury, the mother wound, I am not sure I am resilient enough to hear the ‘I am not your mother and this is a therapeutic relationship’ thing at the moment.

I know she’ll deliver it more kindly than that but this is essentially what we’re dealing with isn’t it? Facing that pain, that grief that feels totally annihilating – our mothers weren’t ‘good enough’ and the attachment figure in the here and now is unable to meet the need that got neglected in our childhoods. Intellectually I get it. Can handle it. I know I need to accept that Em is with me on the journey and is there to help me through the grief but that she cannot take it away or be a replacement mother. Adult Me gets it. Adult Me is ok with it – welcomes it even.

The relationship I have with Em is important to my Adult too. I like it when we get to talk together and it’s not emotionally fraught and I don’t dive down into dissociation to get away from the pain.

Emotionally…I don’t know if I am ready to face the truth. I am not sure whether I can kill off the hope of the young parts that so desperately want to be close to Em, for her to be there to make things better…but I guess I’m not doing myself any favours in prolonging the agony. It makes me feel ill and actually more than that, it makes me feel really alone…again…just like I was as a kid.

I don’t know. I guess maybe this week is not the best week go poking at the mother wound given Monday also coincides with the first anniversary of my very good friend/mother figure’s death but maybe because it is now because these feelings of grief and loss are so potent that I need to address them.

I don’t know.

I just want to hide under a blanket and have a story read to me. I don’t want to be Adult Me right now. It all feels too much.

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Grief (again): 10 Years On

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I’ve been wanting to something here all week but I haven’t felt able to. It’s not because I have been too busy to write (which is why I haven’t been blogging as much as I used to);  sure, I have been running about like a headless chicken, been ill, and been suffering the fall out of some tricky emotions stirred up in therapy last week, but really there’s nothing terribly new in any of that and I still usually find a way to put something on the page.

Arguably, this week, I have had a little more time on my hands than usual because I didn’t work yesterday (mind you I was very ill and even went completely blind for a few minutes so perhaps writing wasn’t really possible!) but still I haven’t been able to find words. I am floundering about now. I can feel it. The feelings are so there but the words just aren’t. It’s like being in therapy on a dissociated day- ffs!

I think it’s maybe the topic that’s the problem.

Grief.

This is not the first time I have written about grief. When my friend died after battling with myeloma last year I posted something, and when my dog died I even rattled a piece off. Both those times the grief was acute and immediate. The feelings were there, fresh, and I could tap into them, skim off the surface if you like. It’s different today.

I suppose, in reality, you could argue that most of my blog talks about grief in one way or another. Essentially, the majority of my work in therapy comes down to grieving losses: sometimes it’s the death of a loved one; sometimes it’s the loss of the image I had of who I might become before I got cancer; but mainly, week in week out, it’s steadily grieving the loss of a mother (my mother as well as the concept of the ideal mother) that I never had. The mother wound is going to take years to get over and heal. I know this.

But this post isn’t about grieving mother (although my next post most certainly will be after the internal shit storm that has blown up after my session this week!). No. Today this is all about the grief surrounding my biggest unexpected loss, my biggest tangible emotional trauma (in the eyes of a normal person – i.e an actual bereavement), the one that still gives me nightmares and accounts of some of the PTSD.

This is about the loss of my dad who throughout my life did his very best to be both mother and father to me. The one who tried to prevent the mother wound being too big, too gaping, too devastating. I suppose, given how bad things are it didn’t really work, but he gave it a damn good go!

I’ve been just about holding it together with my trusty rubber bands and chewing gum this week knowing that today was coming. It’s been a dire week in many ways. I’ve been ready to chuck in the therapy towel because I feel so stuck, so unseen, and so uncared for. I’ve been cycling through various emotions but mainly the two stand out ones are anger and devastation. But I suspect that this is in part because my feelings around my dad’s death were bubbling away underneath and manifesting in that way…I guess I’ll know more after Monday!

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So grief.

It’s really just another word we use for a response to trauma isn’t it?

And trauma is weird isn’t it? (‘weird’ – oh so bloody articulate!)

I know well enough that the trauma I am trying to process from my childhood has a kind of timeless quality. Or rather, my brain can’t readily distinguish between current trauma and past trauma. In therapy, I can be plunged headlong into the feelings I had as a young kid. I lose sense of my adult self and am right back in the moment – even if it was thirty plus years ago. My body remembers.

A similar thing has happened this week and today so far as where in time I feel. Part of me is certainly here in 2018 but part of me is stuck back in 2008 and of course others are further back in my childhood. The parts are all over the place!

Today marks ten years since I received the call that my dad had been found dead in his room by his friend whilst holidaying/teaching diving on a remote island abroad. He’d only been gone three days, literally just arrived there after two flights and a boat ride and had died in his sleep on the first night. He was 47 years old. Massive heart attack.

Even now, despite having had a decade to process this loss. I still can’t fully get my head round it.

Part of it is because I still can’t believe it. I think he’s still there having the time of his life doing what he loved. I know exactly where he was having been on holiday there myself twice with him.

I never saw his body. Not that I think I would have wanted to. He was cremated abroad not in the UK.

It’s complicated but essentially it all came down to the fact that had we have had his body flown back to the UK we would not have automatically got the body released for burial/cremation. A second post-mortem would have been needed and the pathologists over here said that given the body had been in 40 degree heat for over a week before it was moved to the mainland for a post mortem it would not be pleasant for us. We wouldn’t actually want to see the body. We were warned. It wouldn’t be him. Add to that a potential wait of six months for the body to be released to us there wasn’t really very much choice.

So, in the end, I only received a box of ashes and his dive gear a month after he died. The insurance company flew his stuff home to a local undertakers and the undertaker left the stuff out on his driveway for me to pick up as he had gone out. Imagine that. Your dad dies suddenly, you have no goodbye, and you receive a box of ashes and a bag of dive gear from a block paved driveway.

I still can’t even believe it.

How can that be? How can the person that was my rock and anchor be gone, and not only that, suddenly just become some ‘remains’ to be boxed and left outside? I can’t even … ugh.

I miss him.

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It’s weird too. Like, literally, just now I checked my emails on my phone and I have received an email from PADI about diving in Thailand. Like what are the odds? I maybe get a PADI email once a month, perhaps not even, and yet this morning I get one about diving in Thailand on the day my dad died about the place he was set to teach diving for a month. It’s weird how the universe communicates with us.

Actually I can’t talk any more about this today because this was only the beginning  of the trauma that kicked off with my family and led to an eight year estrangement and a complete mental breakdown. I thought writing might help but actually it’s just making it worse today. It’s too raw.

I know I am not especially coherent.

Today I need to take things slowly. I need to rest. I am very aware that I have one foot in the now but also one foot back in the past. I don’t want to be grumpy or short with my family and I’d like to find a way of celebrating his life rather than getting consumed by the horror and the grief of that time a decade ago.

There’s another problem with ‘old’ grief, too…people don’t really get it. They can’t understand why I could be as upset today as I was ten years ago when I found out the news. They can’t understand why I feel sick and need to cry and wail…

But that’s trauma isn’t it? It transcends time.

 

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