Let’s do a Skype session!

I’m just going to put this out there:

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There’s no two ways about it, having to be a responsible adult is really fucking difficult sometimes. Like, err, today for example. Ugh!

I knew it was going to happen. It always does. One of my kids gets sick then the other follows along shortly after. Today was my son’s turn to get the dreaded lurgy.

I posted on Friday how nice it had been spending time with my poorly daughter watching movies on the sofa when she was off sick from school. Today should have been the same, right, only this time with my son? Yeah. It didn’t feel like that this morning at all. Why? Monday is my therapy day.

I’m sure you’ve joined the dots by now but the mother of an ill child does not a therapy-goer make! Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo.

I was operating on two levels simultaneously this morning:

  1. Mother: giver of calpol, cuddles, and care
  2. Inner Child: tantruming, terrified, and tetchy

It was clear as day that my son would not be going to pre-school. Calpol wasn’t going to cut it. He was running a temperature, had a croaky voice, and was complaining of sore throat. He was too ill to go to school but well enough to fight with his sister and generally kick up a storm before it was even 7am! My wife was in meetings all day and couldn’t be at home so I could go to session.

Bummer.

I know I complain a lot about not talking in therapy, or not saying what I need to, or miscommunicating, or whatever- but I at least wanted to be in the chair to have a go at getting it all out rather than having to hold it for another week!

After the last few sessions that have been quite emotional and exposing I really needed to see my therapist today. I’m crap at holding this stuff for myself and the idea of having to wait another week to begin to tackle any of what I have let out was just unbearable. I’m crap with any kind of disruption to the therapy and couldn’t bear the idea that next week would be a write off due to my non-attendance this week.

I was about to send a text to tell her I wasn’t going to make it to session but then decided to ask for a phone/skype/FaceTime session instead. I’m actually not a massive fan of Skype but frankly anything was better than nothing. She agreed and so we were lined up and ready to go at 10:30am.

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It was a weird session in some ways. I know I communicate better in person….actually, that’s a lie, that should say writing, but given the options available to me today I was willing to give it a go. It was lovely to see her face and connect even if it was through a screen.

I remained firmly in my adult which is just typical when it’s the little ones that have been causing me a lot of upset. It’s hardly surprising, though, as I did have my son wandering around the house, periodically climbing all over me, and randomly coming to show Em his dinosaurs!

It’s funny, she’s never even seen a picture of my son until today, and yet she’s met my daughter many many times. When I was in therapy with Em last time my daughter was a newborn. I literally had my C-section and the moment I was able to drive again started the therapy. My daughter would come to sessions with me so I could feed her etc.

I sometimes I forget when I get nervous or anxious that this woman has sat with me talking whilst I’ve breast-fed and that really there is absolutely nothing to worry about when I am with her.

It was nice to see her interacting with my son in the way that she used to with my daughter. It reminded me of how warm and how safe she is. I had kind of forgotten that side of her somehow.

So even though I didn’t really talk much today about this big issues….in fact it’d be fair to say all I did was moan at her, the session was good. I feel I can survive the week now. I know that she is still there and actually, I think she does actually care. I think there is real strength in this therapeutic relationship.

Let’s please hang onto that til next Monday!

 

 

‘True Colors’

I have to say it, being a Brit, it really pains me to type ‘colors’ like that, but never mind! All will become clear later!

Lately, I’ve felt pretty low, well severely down in the dumps, actually! My posts have reflected this, I think. It’s all been quite doom and gloom – but I’m not going to apologise because everything  I have posted has been an honest reflection of how things have felt. The purpose of this blog was for me to have a space to let some stuff out without having to dress it up or play it down. It is what it is. I just wish things were better.

I’ve been struggling with being in therapy, the therapeutic relationship, and particularly therapy breaks – basically it’s all been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster and I don’t like rollercoasters now that I am in my thirties – they make me sick and my brain feels like it’s rattling in my head! A lot of the time I have felt overwhelmed and hopeless and I feel like I am existing, or even just simply surviving between sessions rather than living. It’s rubbish.

I have been increasingly frustrated by my inability to talk in my sessions or tell my therapist how it is. It seems that any time I do manage to pluck up the courage to tell my therapist how I feel about her and the relationship that I pay a ridiculously heavy price after the event. I struggle enormously in the week between sessions and desperately feel the need for reassurance and connection with her. It’s almost as though when I expose myself and am vulnerable a part of me moves in that essentially tells me I’ve made a mistake, that I will have frightened her off, and that she will terminate me for being too much. It’s a nightmare.

There are certainly days when I just can’t see the wood for the trees, so to speak. I can’t see what I do have that is positive as am overcome with feelings about what I don’t, or rather, if we are thinking about it properly, what I didn’t have as a child. I find Wednesdays and Thursdays pretty dire. I feel lost, alone, and so small that it’s just too much for me and I shut down. I know that I’m right in the thick of dealing with attachment trauma and all the associated feelings that go with it but even though I know what’s going on and why it’s happening, it’s not easy.

I am really not sure unless you’ve experienced this kind of thing if you can have any idea just how scary and hellish it feels to be caught up in it. It’s like being a tiny child again and reliving all the emotions of fear and anxiety that were repressed at the time. You may be in an adult body, but believe me the terror is that of a child. It really can feel like it’s a life and death situation being caught up in the abandonment stuff. You know you need rescuing, and essentially the only person to do it is going to be your adult self, but they don’t have the strength to do it yet.

I sometimes sit and wonder why has this happened to me? What did I do wrong to end up in this mess? Maybe if I had just been a better kid my mum have loved me more? Could I have done something to make me more lovable, more worthy of her care, affection, and attention? If I had have been better would she have stayed when I was small rather than going away Sunday to Friday to study at Uni?

I wonder what would it have been like to not be perpetually at child-minders or later letting myself in with a key? What would it have been like to not always be missing an absent mother? What would a bedtime story snuggled into my mum have been like? How would it have felt to have someone drop me at school, make me a packed lunch,  and iron my uniform?

What would it have been like to have my mum look after me when I was sick rather than being packed off to school or to a relative? What would it have felt like to be held and told I was loved? How different would I be if I hadn’t have felt like I was in the way, that my interests were boring and childish? How would it have been to be accepted for who I was not always trying to be someone I wasn’t? How might it have been to not be yelled at for existing? What is it like to not be scared of a parent? What would it feel like to be securely attached?

I don’t know.

But the truth of it is, I was a really good kid, I was abnormally well-behaved and helpful and quiet. I was friendly and popular and hardworking. I was not trouble at all. I tried to be as little of an inconvenience as possible and yet being a self-sufficient little adult was not enough. I just wasn’t really wanted. I know I was an ‘accident’ which I don’t think helped.

The thing is, despite all the pain and hurt I know my mum did the best she could, it just wasn’t good enough. I know she has her own issues with her parents. I know that she struggles with feeling inadequate. She is not a monster. We just, for whatever reason, can’t connect to one another. She doesn’t get me and I will never allow her in to my inner world now after all the hurt and damage that was caused growing up.

Looking back I find it so sad to see that I longed for someone to make it all better. I idolised my teachers and longed for a Mary Poppins figure to swoop in and make it all better, bridge a gap until my mum got it together and realised she had a daughter that needed her and loved her more than anything. The tragic thing is, that despite all this hurt and pain I still adore my mum. I just want to matter to her. I want to be good enough.

I’ve found that my issues with childhood attachment trauma – or maybe we’ll just simply call it a shit load of emotional neglect and abuse from a young mother who didn’t know what the hell she was doing- have become more evident to me since having my own children.

Being gay I never imagined I would have babies. I always wanted to be a mum, though. I always wanted to have a pregnancy. In my mid-twenties I resigned myself to the idea that it just wasn’t going to happen and instead got several fur babies! There was always a big gaping hole in me. It’s hard to explain but I think it’s a similar feeling to that hole you feel from attachment trauma. There’s a gaping hole that you can’t fill…only in this case you can, and in comes in the form of a small person.

As more and more of my friends started families I grew steadily more depressed. In 2011 a friend from work had a baby. I went to visit her and came home in tears. That’s when my wife and I began seriously investigating sperm donors. The law around same sex marriage had recently changed and we had got married in 2010.  Having our relationship recognised in law made things much simpler with regard to children as my wife automatically would be listed on any resulting child’s birth certificate. There was no need for her to adopt our babies and importantly any sperm donor would have no legal comeback as he would not be recognised as a parent.

We found our donor, who is just the best, such a fabulous guy, and amazingly got pregnant on our first attempt. Our daughter arrived in 2012 and our son in 2014. These children are the absolute best thing that has ever happened to me. Here’s where I start gushing!! I would die for those kids and love them more than anything. The love I have for my kids surpasses anything I thought possible. I am so happy to have them. The thing is, and of course there is always something, being so totally in love with my babies has made me even more aware of what I missed out on as a child. I cannot understand how it is possible to emotionally and physically abandon your kids. It is just beyond my comprehension.

I shower my kids in kisses and cuddles. I make a point of telling them everyday just how much I love them. I am here for them when they are sick. I am here for them when they are well. I do the school run. I go to parent/teacher meeting. I engage in activities that they enjoy. I try and make them feel safe and secure.

Ok, I serve up beige food more than I should and I certainly have my moments where I could do things better. We all fuck it up sometimes. But on balance I think I am a ‘good enough’ parent. I am not perfect. No one is. But I have a good go at trying to meet their needs and accept them in all their states. I’m certainly not a fan of tantrums and back chatting but part of me is delighted that they do it because I wouldn’t have dared. I am so happy that they feel secure enough to have a meltdown!

Importantly, when I get it wrong, I talk to them about it. I can admit my faults and I apologise. I don’t have a mummy meltdown and then just leave them thinking everything is their fault. I never had that and so now always doubt my experience and role in how things were.

Anyway, to the title ‘True Colors’. My daughter was off sick from school yesterday and so we spent the day snuggled in our pjs watching movies. She loves Trolls. I do too. It’s so uplifting and colourful. I can’t help but smile when I watch it. The little girl in me likes it just as much as my five year old daughter. I think what I need to do more and more is include my little girl part in the activities I do with my kids. She enjoys trips to the ice-cream parlour, play-doh, and picnics on the carpet as much as the kids do. Whilst I am parenting my babies maybe I need to parent Little Me, Four, Seven, Eleven … I am not sure the Teenager would be up for it, but perhaps I’ll ask!

I feel so much of the time like Branch, the troll who has experienced a terrible loss and feels guilt ridden about how it happened. He has lost his colour. He isolates himself from the rest of the trolls. he is miserable and lonely but pretends that he doesn’t need anyone. As the story goes on the other, still colourful, trolls are captured and face death, they all lose their colour like Branch. But in this moment of joint misery and fear, Branch starts singing, something he has refused to do since his grandmother died. Steadily, despite the situation they are in and how scared they are, their colour and happiness comes back.

Somedays I am black and colourless like Branch and occasionally I can forget myself a bit, let go, and appreciate what I do have and the colour starts to seep in, the thing is, it doesn’t last.  It’s learning how to hang onto it that is the task. When Branch starts the song everyone is dark, they are sad, they are scared. But his empathy for the situation and sitting with everyone slowly brings back everyone’s colour and happiness. I hope this is what therapy will gradually do for me.

Lyrically, this song is genius, and yes, I know it’s originally by Cyndi Lauper!!

You with the sad eyes
Don’t be discouraged, oh I realize
It’s hard to take courage
In a world full of people
You can lose sight of it all
The darkness inside you
Can make you feel so small

Show me a smile then
Don’t be unhappy
Can’t remember when
I last saw you laughing
This world makes you crazy
And you’ve taken all you can bear
Just, call me up
‘Cause I will always be there

And I see your true colors
Shining through
I see your true colors
And that’s why I love you

So don’t be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
True colors are beautiful
I see your true colors
Shining through (true colors)
I see your true colors
And that’s why I love you
So don’t be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
True colors are beautiful
Like a rainbow
Ooh ooh ooh like a rainbow

Ooh

Ooh can’t remember when
I last saw you laughing
Ooh oh oh
This world makes you crazy
Taking all you can bear
Just, call me up
‘Cause I’ll be always be there

And I see your true colors
Shining through
I see your true colors
And that’s why I love you
So don’t be afraid (don’t be afraid)
To let them show
Your true colors
True colors are beautiful
Like a rainbow
Ooh ooh oh like a rainbow

Watch this clip and get a little bit of rainbow in your day. It’s such a feel good song, and let’s face it on a gloomy day we could all use a bit of child’s animation with a serious message. And to be honest, the trolls have it completely right. They set time aside every hour or so for ‘hug time’. We could learn a lot! 🙂

Honestly, believe it, your true colours are beautiful like a rainbow. x

‘To sleep, perchance to dream’…but please, God, not about my therapist!

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I don’t know about you, but I bloody hate it when I have therapy dreams. This is because the dreams that feature my therapist are rarely positive for me and almost always leave me reeling and doubting the therapeutic relationship.

More often than not these dreams are incredibly detailed, emotionally intense, and feel real – so much so that I struggle to snap out of them and move back into reality when I wake up. There have been times when I have woken up from one of these dreams and have literally sobbed into my pillow because the pain of my therapist rejecting me (in the dream) has been so overwhelming.

It gets worse, though! Sometimes I am so affected by a dream that I then go and sabotage my ‘real life’ therapy sessions. If, in my dream, I’ve been really badly hurt by my therapist, it can feel as though all my trust in her and the relationship has eroded and needs building from scratch. I struggle to maintain connection with her from week to week anyway, but a bad dream can totally derail our sessions. Despite the fact that nothing has happened in reality, when I see her in person the hangover from the dream just kills me and I retreat into myself.

I wish I was joking, but sometimes I will have a great session, will talk and process loads, and leave on a real positive; then I’ll have a dream; the next week I go in and literally shut down on her for weeks on end because of something she hasn’t even done!

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Recently, I didn’t talk to her properly for a month because of a dream where she basically annihilated me emotionally. It was total agony in the dream and then excruciating being with her in session feeling on guard and alert to any potential replay of that situation. Part of me knew that none of it had happened but the residual feelings that were left over were just horrific. Once I finally settled down and built up trust in her again, I could tell her about the content of my dream but until that happened she got stonewalled.

(Just to be clear. If you haven’t worked it out by now, I really am just a catastrophic mental mess!… which is why I am in therapy 😉 )

I dream a lot and take a lot of dream content into my sessions but I really struggle with talking about therapy dreams. I feel reluctant to tell her how much she features in my waking thoughts and my dreams. I know that dreams are all about processing both conscious and unconscious material but I can’t help but feel like it’s a bit creepy. I mean it must just seem like I am obsessed with her.

I am so aware of not wanting to come over as ridiculously needy but it seems to me that this is what attachment trauma does to you when you finally find a new attachment figure. All the repressed feelings and needs come flooding out and it’s all-consuming.

Generally my therapy dreams mirror how a session would usually go. However in these dreams my defences are down, I am always really vulnerable with her, pour my heart out, get really upset, cry, and let everything out that I usually hold in in my actual sessions. In these dreams she is always kind, caring, understanding, and empathic – she is everything I would want her to be in real life- and because of this I take a risk and decide to reach out to her for a hug or some kind of physical holding and containment.

That’s where it all goes to shit. Apart from once (and that was literally the happiest dream I have ever had) she always violently physically pushes me away or jumps back from me. She suddenly goes cold, formal and stiff and tells me to leave, that she can’t see me anymore and literally turns her back on me. It is totally devastating.

The fact that I absolutely, more than anything else, want to be able to hug my therapist when things feel awful (which is clearly why it features in my dreams so regularly) makes these dreams incredibly painful. It also makes me absolutely sure that ‘the hug’ conversation will never happen in real life. The feeling of intense hurt from being rejected for asking for this in a dream shows me just how much I can’t cope with a real life refusal.

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I suspect some of you are thinking, ‘how do you know you’ll be refused, if you don’t ask?’ Let’s be clear here, after 31 months in therapy with her I know the score. There have been enough times where a hug would have been appropriate but it’s never happened. All the hoping and wishing in the world is not going to make touch happen in my therapeutic relationship. I’ll win the lottery before I even get a gentle pat on the shoulder as I leave after a hard session. And so what’s the point in even bringing it up? I don’t need to hear ‘it’s not you, it’s just one of my boundaries’ – I can’t even bear the thought of that conversation.

I applaud and admire those of you that have had the courage to ask for physical holding and then have somehow managed to cope with how it’s felt to get a ‘no’ and work through it in your sessions. I can’t even begin to imagine how I would cope with that. It’s hard enough knowing it’s not going to happen when I want and need it so badly but to ask and then be told ‘no’. OUCH! I’m brave but not that brave.

I guess right now I am so caught up in the feelings of abandonment and attachment trauma that I can’t ever envisage not being in this painful place. Maybe one day things will change and I’ll be strong enough to have that conversation and process the feelings. I understand that at some point this stuff actually needs to come out and be dealt with….just not yet! I’m still so caught up in the feelings of shame and embarrassment about wanting this from her that I can’t rationally talk about it.

So yeah, ummm this is meant to be about dreams but we’ve moved into ‘my therapist doesn’t hug me and I feel rubbish about it’. Sorry! I guess it’s just on my mind a lot at the moment. My little ones are so active at the minute and they are fixated on this issue. They can’t work out what is wrong with them to make them so unlovable, so untouchable, so forgettable? It makes me want to cry.

Having said all that, I think I am slowly getting flickers of how it could be in my head in the future. Yesterday another blogger commented on one of my posts and said something about listening to the critical voice and working out and asking it why it is so present rather than running from it and trying to shut it out. It made me realise that I need to be kinder to myself and accept that although my needs for physical contact with my therapist and her boundaries don’t align that doesn’t automatically mean that I am somehow wrong or disgusting or pathetic for having those needs or wanting that kind of comfort. That’s a huge leap forward in thinking for me.

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So much of this anxiety stems from the fact that my real-life mum has never hugged me or shown any sort of physical (or verbal for that matter) affection and it sucks for it to feel like this is repeating in this therapeutic relationship. I get that my therapist is not my mother but the transferred feelings make it feel like that’s how I am relating to her. She is the idealised replacement, and yet this mother is also withholding.

I suppose I’m meant to mourn for the biological mother I have that doesn’t hold me but sheesh, sometimes I just want a bit of nurturing in amongst all the pain that therapy is uncovering from the stand in mother.

Anyway, those ‘not getting a hug’ dreams are bad but lately I’ve had a couple of nasties which, in some ways, are worse. There’s a lot coming out about fear of the mental health system and being too much as well as abandonment. I woke up in the early hours from a dream that has shaken me. I had it last week too. Yuck.

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DREAM:

I was standing at the door of my old therapist N’s building but was there to see my current therapist Em (let’s call her that for now). I rang the doorbell and she opened the door. She was with someone else, a colleague, and seemed surprised to see me. I was a bit early and she was obviously leaving the building. At the time it didn’t seem strange that she should be leaving when I had a session imminently. The exchange we had was a bit awkward in the way that seeing someone slightly out of context can be – i.e she wasn’t inside the building in the therapy room. Em didn’t make eye contact but told me to go and wait in the therapy room and left with the other person.

I went in and the room was set up with a large conference style table and chairs round the edge. I sat down in front of the window. I couldn’t understand why the room was different. It felt a bit like an interview room for a teaching job I had years ago. I wasn’t especially bothered by the room being different because all that was important, that day, was actually being with and talking to Em. It felt like I had lots I wanted to say. I felt vulnerable but like I could talk and was ready to get deep into the therapy.

Suddenly three people came in holding clipboards and introduced themselves. I asked where Em was. No one wouldn’t look at me but one of them said she might come back in later, although not at all convincingly. They said that they wanted to ask me some questions. I got really agitated and felt myself shut down. I said I didn’t want to talk to them, that I needed to talk to Em. They said they needed to do some assessments.

I could feel my child parts getting really scared. I just wanted Em. ‘Where is she? I need her. Please tell her to come now. What’s going on? Why isn’t she here? Who are you? Please get Em.’ They ignored me and kept pushing with questions: ‘So, what would you describe as the main issues that affect your mental health day to day?’ I felt myself switch into my Teen state. 

I felt incredibly protective of the little ones that were so terrified, and just rattled off a sarcastic list: ‘Oh you know: depression, anxiety, eating disorder, self-harm, feeling like I don’t fit in, a dysfunctional relationship with my mother, childhood trauma, cancer, bereavement and complicated unprocessed grief, not feeling like I am worthy of being cared for, oh, and I guess the bit where I keep dissociating and switching into parts of different ages, you know? That kind of thing … can I leave now? Where is Em? This is a fucking joke. I need to get out of here.

They said I couldn’t see her, that she was busy now, and that based on what I had just said it would be unlikely that I’d be seeing her again. I got up to leave the room, but they said I couldn’t go yet and they had to do some more tests. I begged for them to let me see Em. They said she didn’t want to see me anymore. I started crying and jumped up and over the table and ran out the room before they could stop me. I had to see her.

There was another room on the other side of the hallway with a window in the door, like a classroom and I could see Em in there teaching a group of people or maybe doing a group therapy session. She looked at me through the window and she mouthed, ‘I’m sorry’ at me. I stood staring at her, not quite believing what was happening. She’s always said she wouldn’t leave unless something happened that was completely outside of her control and here she was terminating me without even giving me a reason.

The people from the room caught up with me, restrained me and took me to hospital where they did all kind of tests, shining lights in my eyes, and some kind of CT type scan. Then I woke up.

AAAAARRrrghhhhh. So twice in a week. That’s a bit of a head fuck.

Guess how I feel today?

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Today is only Wednesday and so there’s another five days until I can (perhaps) bring myself to talk this through in therapy along with another horrid dream where I was very little, maybe eleven years old lost in the countryside, screaming, trying to find her in the dark. I kept meeting other younger children (different parts of myself) and all of them were searching for her and desperately frightened.

Whilst I know these are only a dreams I’m left that horrible feeling in my gut. What if she is going to leave me? I feel terrified by that thought. My adult is trying hard to shake the feeling off and remember that this is just my insecurities about the relationship coming out in the dream. I have been worrying lately about whether she can handle everything I am throwing at her. I guess I am subconsciously wondering whether she’ll be like my last therapist N who told me that my issues and needs were too complex for her and that she didn’t have the skills to help me.

It’s times like these when a transitional object would really help. I need a physical reminder that things haven’t suddenly gone to shit and that I am safe in the therapeutic relationship. We need to get down to writing that card together that she was on about a couple of weeks ago with a helpful holding message! Although I can’t see the little ones holding it close like a teddy (honestly I will let it go at some point!).  I can feel that my little ones are absolutely terrified that she is gone, that she has left us. That we are finally too much for her.

The Teenager is a little less rattled by the dream but that’s because she’s riding on her usual ‘fuck her and fuck this’ attitude. For her it’s a case of, ‘She hasn’t left us. It was just a dream, but she will leave us one day. It’s only a matter of time before she destroys us. By staying in therapy you are going to let her hurt us. What are you doing? We’ve been through enough already. When it all blows up, which it will, I am blaming you. You are crap at looking after us. I hate you.’ So she’s a delight to have wandering in my head but I sincerely hope that the Critic doesn’t start up as I can’t cope with that right now.

Anyway, I have sort of run out of steam with this now. I’m so tired and I can’t tell you how much I just want to go to sleep and dream of nothing at all!

I HATE THERAPY DREAMS AND I HATE ATTACHMENT TRAUMA!

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Recovery from self-injurious behaviours (self-harm and anorexia): Can it ever really happen?

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I apologise if this is difficult to read or triggering for anyone. Just to be clear, I am going to be talking about eating disorders and physical self-harm here. If you think that this might upset you or compromise your recovery, please don’t read it.

From personal experience, I know that if I am feeling on shaky ground with regard to looking after myself often reading someone else’s story can get right inside my head. Rather than encouraging me to keep eating or avoid harming because I see the damage it causes for others it somehow does the exact opposite. When I am in a good place, however, I am not impacted in that way. I’m trusting that you’ll make the right decision for you. (Hmmm, looks like my teacher persona wrote that last bit doesn’t it?!)

I have been wondering about something a lot this week in amongst all the other crap that takes up space in my brain and that is: is it possible to make a full recovery from an eating disorder and to stop wanting to use physical self-harm to cope long-term? Do the attacking thoughts and drives to harm oneself ever truly disappear or is the best you can hope for the strength to be able to ignore the voice that tries to persuade you to starve yourself or harm yourself? Can you really silence the Inner Critic for good?

I haven’t really got my thoughts together on it so this is really just thinking out loud.

To be honest, I am not in a great place emotionally/mentally at the moment and so I guess this is why this question has been circling in my head this week especially. The last few months have been hard for me. I have been opening up more and more in my therapy sessions and getting closer and closer to the core wound. Sometimes I have been staring it right in the face and it is total agony. At the same time, it has felt, week on week, as though I have been gradually edging my way closer and closer to a precipice.

This week I feel like I’ve finally reached the drop off and am peering down into the deep, dark, watery abyss where my old companions anorexia and physical self-harm reside. I’ve banished the pair of them to this place many times over the years at those times when I’ve managed to free myself from their shackle-like grips. There have been so many occasions over the years when I have found the inner strength to run screaming as far away from that place as my legs and mind will carry me. I’ve sought solace in activity, distraction, and the thought of ‘please let me make a proper recovery this time. I am going to change’ and managed a period of time where I function almost normally… BUT there is always something that draws me back to them and to this place. No matter how resolved I am to move away from this hellish spot I always seem to find my way here, as though on autopilot.

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As I said, this week it’s felt as though I’ve been metaphorically standing on the edge of the precipice and have seriously been contemplating diving down into the darkness again to join my terrible friends because frankly, what I am running from in my head feels too painful, too hard, too devastating. I need to escape from it all. I can’t cope with how bad things feel. I can’t just ‘sit with it’ and wait for these feelings to pass because it is all-consuming and it’s been going on for months and months now. My sense of inner strength and desire to keep fighting has been totally eroded. I just can’t do it anymore.

I am stuck, frozen, between two terrible choices – which damaging, crap friends do I hang out with now? Ahead lie Anorexia and Self-Harm. They’re more than ready to welcome me into their shitty mind games. Behind me lies Attachment Trauma. The question now, is which option hurts less? Attachment trauma is steadily destroying me. Right now I feel like I have been left. I feel so sad and little and lost. I am screaming out for holding and containment and yet no matter how loudly I yell or how many different ways I say it there is no one coming. No one cares about that little girl. There is no one who cares enough to scoop her up and tell her that it’s all going to be ok, that she is safe and loved and that it’s all over now, that she doesn’t have to hurt herself anymore.

I have tried to do that for myself time and time again over the years, but my adult is so overwhelmed by the intensity of these feelings that are coming up again that l am scared stiff and not sure I can keep going down this path, facing that demon, and essentially feeling increasingly anxious and traumatised. I just cannot continue feeling like this and so what lives in the depths of that black void is familiar and, in some sick way, comforting. Given the choice right now, I’d rather spend time sitting with anorexia or self-harm than be caught in the grips of abandonment trauma.

I developed an eating disorder when I was 16 and began physically self-harming (cutting and burning myself) at 17 and so, tragically, it appears that I have spent more than half my life (on and off) attacking my body in one way or another. I’ve never got my BMI up over 17 apart from when I was pregnant and feel very uncomfortable weighing any more than 46kg. In my head the magic sustainable in control place is 45kg and a BMI of 16.1. Yep. Fucking insane. But it’s the borderline weight where I feel ok and yet still able to conceal how unwell I really am. I don’t draw too much unwanted attention or concern as I can hide at this weight – or at least that’s what I have convinced myself. I’m not sure it’s really the case.

The one thing I know and hate about eating disorders is how skewed your mind gets. I hate the secretive, weird place I inhabit when I start focusing on my body in an extreme way. Everyone who ever tries to demonstrate care or concern becomes the enemy and I resent them commenting on my body or what I am or am not eating. I think it’s probably because so few people truly understand that it’s not really about food – eating cake won’t fix things. The eating disorder is a really shit coping strategy. For me it always starts off as trying to control something at a time where I feel like I have no control/am out of control.

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And yes, in some ways for me it is about my body image too. I am critical of my body and when I am really unwell I just cannot see how skeletal I get – how grey, tired, and just poorly I really am. The thing is, when I am caught up in full-blown starvation mode it’s a focus, a distraction from other terrible painful issues.

I know that starving myself or cutting/burning my skin doesn’t take away what is tormenting me and that’s why I know that jumping off the edge and into anorexia or self-harm isn’t a good option (really, I do know that!) because whatever I choose to do attachment trauma will only jump in after me.

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This, then, is not a good proposition because then the three of them will gang up on me and I will end up drowning again. I know I am literally only a few steps away from a complete breakdown and I need to try hard to back away from all this. I need to find a better way to cope. I just don’t know what that is. Therapy doesn’t seem to be helping much right now, in fact it’s just created the melting pot for all this stuff to truly emerge.

Recently, I threw out the scales in a bid to stop that part of me that gets obsessed with numbers. It was just starting to get bonkers inside my head. So, I have no idea what I weigh right now but I think it must be about 47kg because I feel fat and people tell me I ‘look healthy’ … yeah, that one! It’s insane that being told you look well is a frigging trigger isn’t it? Ugh.IMG_1474

I should be pleased with myself really as I have actually been working hard to pull myself back into a better place lately – this is largely through eating large tubs of Hagen Dazs each night and sharing bags of Galaxy Counters. Which, I suppose isn’t especially normal! But it has resulted in a stable body weight for a good few months. It’s not binge eating. It is systematic feeding of high calorie foods whilst being distracted by TV. I hate it.

My brain has the most brilliant inbuilt mental calorie counter. Several of my newish friends (those that have no idea of my history) are doing weight loss programmes at the moment and when they talk about it to me and I am able to launch into some detailed conversation about the nutritional value of something or the calorific content I think they must think I am strange. I often get the ‘you’re so lucky to have that kind of body that doesn’t put on weight. I only have to look at a cake and put on a stone. You eat whatever you like and you’re so slim’. Little do they know that I am fighting my own body battle, telling myself ‘I must eat the cake, the ice-cream, the fattening stuff so that I don’t fall into the place where I eat pretty much nothing and spiral downwards’.

Another reason that I have had to try and maintain a reasonably sensible weight is because (and here’s where I should be writing that I value my health, care about myself enough to look after myself, and that I am not plagued by negative voices) part of my follow up cancer care is that I see the consultant every three months and part of that check is getting weighed (rapid weight loss is a marker of active Lymphoma).

Last October I went in for my check and there was a flurry of concerned questions from the nurses as I stood on the scales because I had lost 6kg in the three months between appointments. I knew that the weight loss wasn’t down cancer but I also couldn’t tell them what mess I had got myself into with not eating and over-exercising. So since then I have tried to get myself off their radar and creep back to a more acceptable, if still too low, weight.

Over the years I have crawled back up out of the abyss more times than I can remember. I’ve sort of joined the rest of the world masquerading as someone who is ‘fine’ and has it all together. But I won’t lie, even when I am ‘well’ or as well as I ever get, the voice inside my head that tells me I am not good enough, that my body is disgusting, and that the only way to feel better about myself is to not eat and self-harm myself is always there. The only thing that changes is my response to that voice. Sometimes I have the strength of mind to say, ‘fuck you! Leave me alone. I am not listening to your shit anymore’ but then other times it just doesn’t happen and that’s where I am at today.

I have to be especially careful with exercise when I am in this head space. For me exercise is a double-edged sword. I have always been fit and active, sporty, and competitive. I really like to get out and run or cycle. It gives me an escape from being my head. I zone out. It feels good. When I am ‘well’ exercise is fine but it can quickly turn into something negative and self-destructive, like it did in the summer: I got back into my running in the Spring having not really done any since finishing my cancer treatment. I was determined that I was going to get my fitness back (despite the consultant telling me that I would struggle because of the radiation to my chest and weakness in my lungs).

My exercise plan started off as a healthy twice weekly thing: a quick 5km run. But it wasn’t long before I threw in a 40km bike ride, then upped my running distance to 15km each time. By the middle of the summer I was up to running 15km on alternate days of the week, cycling 40km on the other days, and walking my dogs 8km most days. Oh, and let’s not forget to mention the 30 day arms, abs, and plank challenge app that I would do in the evening. It’s literally all or nothing with me.

I liked getting out. I liked feeling super fit again. I enjoyed knowing that my speed and stamina were improving and that my friends, who have always been healthy and active, were posting significantly slower times than me. It’s so addictive watching your times on the Strava app…but then it soon became something to beat myself with, always needing to go faster. The only positive at this point, was that despite the ridiculous amount of exertion I was sensible enough to keep eating properly. I was attacking myself with exercise but I wasn’t attacking my body by not eating which is what I would have done in the past.

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Then one day it changed, just as it always does. Big sigh. I had started skipping meals again. I rarely have breakfast anyway, but on this day I hadn’t eaten at all. I decided to go on my 15km hill run. It was a hot, humid evening – 23 degrees according to the car thermometer – and I pushed myself hard. It had been a stressful day and I need to run away. I posted my quickest time by miles. I felt pleased with myself. The voice inside my head that berates me incessantly was silenced briefly. But by the time I got home and walked in the door I was dizzy and sick. I blacked out in the hallway. I had a bath and the room began spinning in the way it used to after drinking too much alcohol at Uni. I was so unwell that I had to ask my wife to help me up the stairs and put me to bed. I felt awful.

I really scared myself and since that day in May I have only done one short 8km run. Part of me wants to go out and run hard and fast and push myself but there is another protective part that is telling me ‘NOOOOOOOOOO’. I feel stir crazy and lethargic not moving and I have too much time to think but it’s the only way I can think of to keep myself relatively safe and right now that’s the best I can do.

So that’s the anorexia covered, what about self-harm, then? At Easter things were feeling particularly precarious with regard to wanting to self-harm again. I had self-harmed straight after the Christmas therapy break having not done so in several months. The break had stirred up a lot stuff: it’s when I started to become more aware of the different parts of me and how much the little ones were impacted by the separation from my therapist. I didn’t feel able to tell her about any of it at that point and so took to hurting myself instead.

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As the Easter break approached I could feel myself getting stressed and anxious about not seeing my therapist and I that’s when I decided that I would make a commitment to myself that I wouldn’t cut or burn myself again no matter how bad things felt. Tall order, I know! I decided to book in for some tattoos on my wrist, forearm, and ribs – the places I would generally hurt myself. I was going to get something symbolic in place of scars. There was three month wait for the artist I wanted and so in this time I knew I couldn’t damage my skin because it would affect the tattoo and tbh I didn’t want the artist seeing new cuts or scars either.

So for three months I didn’t hurt myself at all (even though I wanted to at times) and since having the tattoos I haven’t cut or burned myself either. Instead I have meaningful reminders that I can survive and that this is not the end: Lotus flowers, unalome, semi colon, root chakra etc. So, these tattoos have worked as a symbolic protector. I haven’t self-harmed but it hasn’t meant I haven’t wanted to. And that’s what I am pondering in the title of this post; will that desire, need, whatever it is, to harm ever disappear fully? Will there be a time where I feel anxious or depressed and my brain won’t take me to this place? It won’t cross my mind to cope in a negative way? I don’t know. I hope so.

So for now, today, at least, I am digging my heels in as much as I can and leaning away from the edge.

At the start of this I wondered if it was possible to ever really recover from an eating disorder and the desire to self-harm?

Perhaps the real question is: will I ever feel good enough? – because I guess underneath it all, that’s what it’s all about.

I guess maybe it’s time to bring this to therapy…again.

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Alanis Morrisette’s, ‘That I would be good’ has been stuck on an almost constant loop in my head since Wednesday. It’s another of those songs that I haven’t heard in years but I guess is a reminder of having been in this place before, in my teens, and so it’s come up again now.

‘It took me so long to get here, but here I am’ – on sharing my blog with my therapist.

 

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Last week was pretty terrible for me by all accounts. I felt like I was on a slippery slope and heading towards a really bad place mentally. I was completely caught up in my internal hurricane and devastated by the damage it was doing to me, but by the time I had finished writing the last post ‘I’m watching the weather channel and waiting for the storm’ I think I had gone some way towards processing what is/has been going on for me and felt a little better about it all.

Sometimes just having a bit of clarity on the situation eases the pressure even though nothing is actually resolved. I know I am not out of the storm yet. I have been batting away some pretty negative and persuasive thoughts about my body and am trying not to slip into not eating or self-harming.

Despite this, it does feel like the storm is losing its power: it has been downgraded from a category 5 to a 3, or something like that. The anxiety that was completely overwhelming me has ebbed and now I just feel a bit flat – less anxious more depressed- I suppose. I don’t feel sick and my headache has gone. It’s not great, by any means, but it is certainly a good deal better than it was.

I mentioned at the end of the last post that:

‘ I feel that overwhelming need to contact my therapist and tell her how bad things feel but know there’s no point because she won’t respond to my messages and has told me to write it all down or draw it and bring it to session to talk about. I just don’t really know what to write or draw. I have so much to say but also don’t know how to say it.’

I don’t know what possessed me to do it, maybe I temporarily took leave of my senses (very likely!) or perhaps, finally, after a total 31 months of therapy something in me feels that now is the time to be a bit braver and stop hiding the really awkward and difficult stuff from my therapist. Like I said, I don’t know what happened, but a few hours after publishing the post online I was thinking about what I should write to take in to therapy but I kept drawing a blank. I didn’t feel like drawing anything. There isn’t enough black and grey paint to express how stormy and shit things felt!

I knew that that the post I had just written basically told it like it was, there was no concealing anything. I wasn’t avoiding the bits that are hard to say in it because, although there ‘is’ an audience for what I write here, the blog is also just a space for my thoughts. I don’t really have to face any judgment for what I say, think, or feel. Or so far, at least, the feedback has been positive, kind, and understanding.

What I wrote in the post was brutally honest – the truth. It was exactly what has needed to be said in therapy and what I have been steadily trying to articulate over the last few months but struggling to. I feel like I get so far but somehow the overall picture gets lost. I don’t know why that happens. I think there are just so many parts of me competing for attention and space to talk that sometimes nothing gets said.

I’ve been aware that a blog is a great space for letting stuff out and that’s why I finally got myself together during the break to start writing –I definitely needed an outlet when my therapist was away. (I guess it was one positive to come out of the break!) I am mindful, though, that some of what I write is really what I should be discussing in session, in person, with my therapist. Some of this is the stuff I might be running from saying in session because it is too hard, too painful, too exposing. I know I need to be careful not to splurge everything here and then not talk to her. So, what did I do? I sent her a text with a link to my blog and said that I’d bring my laptop in to go through it together in session.

The moment I sent the message I was like, ‘Oh fuck! What the fuck have I just done? She’s going to really think I’m really mental now. Oh god. What a fucking idiot. Shit! Fuck! Shit!’ But at the same time there was a sense of relief having put it out there. There was a part of me that felt a bit more pragmatic about it and was almost kind to myself, ‘What’s the worst that can happen? If I’m going to work with her long-term she needs to know about this stuff or I’m just wasting my time. This is how it is. This is how I feel. I can’t hold this for myself and I need help with the little ones. It’s time to tell her, really tell her how it is.’

There is one positive (ha, I can’t believe I’ve just written that!) about the agreement that we have about outside of session contact, which is that if I text her she might scan read it but won’t take in the detail or read fully, and she won’t reply unless it’s something about timings or session changes – admin basically.

This boundary was necessarily reinforced after a big rupture via text that happened a few months back leading into a break. We’d had a really good therapy session but I guess it had subconsciously stirred up a lot of stuff. The next day, on the surface, I was feeling positive and buoyant and so I sent her this picture text:

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What happened next was deadly. She responded to it but I thought, from what she said, that she was talking to someone else and had somehow messaged me by mistake. I got totally pissed off because SHE NEVER RESPONDS TO ME when I message her (only this time she had!) and so suddenly I felt like I didn’t matter and that she didn’t care about me as much as some other client. The Green Eyed Monster came out in full force. It wasn’t good.

She thought the picture was like an epitaph or something and was concerned enough about my safety based on what I’d said in session and from the message to check in with me. Whereas I saw the image and words as a positive, a sort of ‘I may be going through hell but I am in control, fuck you Inner Critic’, and therefore I assumed her message was a miscommunication.

I ‘calmly’ replied to tell her that I thought she’d sent me a message intended for someone else but then heard nothing back from her to confirm either way. Basically after a couple of hours all the stuff about being abandoned, not worthy of her care, being unimportant, and that it’s a fake relationship just reached boiling point. I ended up firing off a massive rant, I threw all my toys out the pram and said I was terminating therapy! I was so hurt and sad. Obviously that exchange just tapped into a really deep wound that I hadn’t been fully aware of until then.

Fortunately, she handled it really well, apologised for the misunderstanding and didn’t acknowledge the ‘I’m done’ bit and offered me another couple of sessions to work things through. I still cringe when I think about it all. It was embarrassing but it totally highlighted how sensitive I am to change and breaks. It also showed me how important face-to-face communication is and how easily even well-intended messages can cause upset. Written communications, particularly texts, lack depth and all the subtle nuances of face-to-face communication.

Part of the reason my therapist says it’s best to keep things in session is that she can pick up on the feelings and vibe in person even if I’m not saying anything. She can check her understanding and clarify with me. She says that there is always a danger in written communication in her honing in on the wrong thing or missing the point entirely which can make me feel like she isn’t attuned and that I am not being heard and that is best avoided. As an English post-grad and English teacher I can’t really argue with that.

Don’t get me wrong. I do completely get it and the adult part of me is in total agreement with what she is saying BUT I’m not going to lie, I don’t find this outside contact boundary easy at all. In fact, I’d got so far as to say I HATE IT. I find it incredibly painful most of the time. This is because the bit of me that needs her, wants her between sessions isn’t my adult, it’s the young child parts and to them it feels like she just doesn’t care about them at all and is perfectly happy to leave them in emotional limbo between sessions drowning in attachment trauma and feeling totally terrified and abandoned. It feels cruel.

I wish there was the occasional ‘we’re still ok, and I am still here’ message midweek. Maybe I’ll get round to asking for that again. That’s all I really want. I don’t want to enter into a huge dialogue outside session. I don’t need check in calls. I just want a simple reassurance that nothing bad has happened and that she hasn’t disappeared. My object constancy is crap and so I genuinely feel like she is gone and has left me during the week and even after all this time I am never really sure that she’ll be there on a Monday.

So, anyway, that’s a bit of a detour! Back to Friday, based on the outside session communication rule/boundary, I knew that she’d see the text but wouldn’t have read anything in the blog or even followed the link – she’d just be aware of something coming on Monday. Because of this ‘not reading stuff outside of session’ thing, I also know that I can still write freely here because she won’t read this blog unless I am there with her and want to share a specific post in session.

I’m not sure how I feel about that, actually. I guess it’s good because there are certainly things I’ll probably want to share on here that I don’t necessarily want her to see yet… but at the same time I guess the very fact that I have now given her the link to the blog, and the content of it is purely about the therapy, indicates that at least some part of me wants her to really know what’s going on. It’s complicated! I know if it was me and I discovered that someone was writing about me and my relationship with them I would just have to know what they were saying. My therapist just isn’t that interested, I don’t think.

So, finally, to Monday…

My adult (she’s quite good at this kind of thing) went to session with the laptop and handed it over for my therapist to read the post. I had thought I would be nervous or anxious when it came down to it, as previously when I’ve taken things in that I have written I have felt a bit sick or worried, sitting wondering how what I have said will be received. When you are in the room there is nowhere to hide except in silence.

I know that the fear that I might be rejected or abandoned by my therapist for expressing my feelings stems from when I was small. It’s a kind of negative maternal transference, but it absolutely doesn’t make it any easier knowing this. All the rationalising in the world about why I feel this way doesn’t change the fact that I am attached to her in the here and now, and all the fear about potential abandonment I feel is real in the here and now. The worst of it is that those feelings that have been dredged up from the past still carry the intensity of my inner child’s feelings that were hurt so badly when I was little. The adult can’t get round it.

I’m not sure why Monday felt less intense and less stressful, then. Perhaps I’ve done it enough times now and have always been met with a positive response that it feels a little bit less scary showing her my thoughts in writing. Perhaps it’s because in my head I’ve reached a point now where I know that I have to push things forward because I just cannot keep getting caught up in emotional hell over and over due to how I feel about her and the therapeutic relationship. I’ve got to stop expecting her to be psychic and know what’s bothering me.

I think a lot of the time I feel like my therapist should know what’s going on with me because so many of my internal thoughts are taken up with thinking about therapy and about what I want to say to her. I have to remember that she is not in my head and so unless I explicitly say what’s going on for me she won’t have the full picture. She is very intuitive and gets it right a lot of the time without me having to say anything but the finer detail needs spelling out. I am glad I did it.

So, bit by bit we worked through what I’d written. She asked how I felt about letting her see my writing and how it was different from speaking to her. I said that I have so much going on in my head that the detail often gets lost and my head turns to mush when I try and speak, whereas with writing I can process what I need to say beforehand and then build on it in session.

I often get blocked in session, especially after a break and so we agreed that maybe writing is a good way to get round this before the connection is fully restored and that I should/can bring things in to work through.

We talked through possible ways of trying to make things better, especially when there is a disruption, i.e trying a different strategy with a handwritten message on a card maybe and work on the content together in sessions so it works for me. You know I still want a teddy, though, right?! Lol.

She seemed to understand how and why the visualisation had missed the mark and how it hadn’t helped the little ones feel safe at all;  the language wasn’t right and that a visualisation was just too much at the moment. She said it is complex because she also needs to talk to the adult (that’s what she was trying to do in the visualisation) to try and integrate all the parts but by the end of the session acknowledged that it is really difficult because there are so many parts in play and they are all hearing and taking different things from what she says. She said that she knows she needs to talk to the little ones.

One of the best bits of the session, for me, was at the very end listening to the song that I had attached to the post. I love music and I often find that I get a song as an internal soundtrack that reflects where I am emotionally; it was Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide the other week, Sheryl Crow’s Weather Channel last week and this week there are a couple of Counting Crows songs doing the rounds…read into that what you will! So listening to the song and the lyrics together gave the session another dimension for me. Not only did I get to share a song that carries a lot of meaning for me and essentially summarised the feelings in the blog post, but it was a bit of quiet reflective time too after what really was quite a lot of processing and discussion.

I’ve been really struggling to settle down in sessions lately and we’ve talked about trying to find some strategies for calming me down and making me feel safe in the session at the beginning to enable me to talk. Based on how I felt on Monday, I think that maybe listening to a track together at the start of our sessions each week would be a really good starter – partly because it allows a few minutes to settle but also functions as a talking point. Usually the song of the moment has some kind of relevant emotional meaning. So, I think I might suggest this on Monday and see what she says.

God, this is long again and I haven’t written that out very well. To be honest, the session all feels a bit of a blur now. I guess what I can say is that we talked through loads and it was positive. I didn’t feel awkward or too embarrassed. She made me feel safe and as though all my feelings have a place in the therapy and that she isn’t going to reject me because of them. I know there is still a long way to go but as a result of sharing that blog post I now know that we are on the same page. Or at least, she knows what’s in my book

In the words of KT Tunstall, ‘It took me so long to get here, but here I am!’