Summer 2019 – Therapy Break #1

 So, here I am, back in the here and now and writing about my (mental health) life in 2019! My last few blog posts have been blasts from the past (old diary entries) tracking the horrible crisis period that saw me finally start therapy with my therapist Em in 2012. I haven’t seen her consistently through that time – there was a three year break between 2013-16 where I was doing okish, had a baby, got myself together a bit… and then unfortunately got diagnosed with cancer and had to go through all the treatment for that which sent everything off kilter again.

Ironically, there’s not a lot to say right now about therapy because, yes, you guessed it, it’s the most dreaded time of the year: SUMMER THERAPY BREAK!

ARGH!

This year Em has raised the stakes for triggering my feelings of abandonment  (#sarcasm) and is taking not one but two breaks of a fortnight each over the summer. To be fair, I did get months and months of prior warning about this year’s holidays (in order to give me plenty of time to dread and brood about the inevitable separation! 😉 )  but no amount of mental preparation ever really helps me feel ready for the reality of being in therapy limbo in the summer.

I find longer breaks (anything more than a week) quite challenging at the best of times and so two separate two week breaks falling almost back to back at a time I historically find incredibly challenging due to my dad going away on his holiday and never coming back is really tough. Every summer I get a knot in my stomach in the lead up to the holiday. I panic that Em might just go away on holiday and die, too. I know the odds are very slim but PTSD brain doesn’t understand that does it? It’s happened once to someone I love so surely it can happen again.

These days, at least, I can talk about these anxieties in my therapy and Em is very aware of just how hard July and August are for me. In fact this year she has regularly brought up the topic of the break and we have spent time talking about how it feels especially in relation to everything that happened a decade ago with my dad. I think regular checking in has made it feel a bit better although I do still struggle to really say exactly how I feel about her holiday.

These days I feel like I should be ok about breaks because we’ve been working together for such a long time now and she always comes back. I should see that she does return… and yet I still can’t quite believe she will be there in the room after a holiday. That massive panic is never far beneath the surface. I can’t imagine how I would cope if one day I was told she was gone gone not just away. Eek.

There is still a very active part of me wants to beg her not to leave me, to promise that she will definitely come back, and to tell me that she isn’t going away because of something I have done to push her away. I want her to reassure me that she’s not going away because she’s had enough of me. I have said this stuff to her before on more than one occasion and she has reassured me many many times!!  I know how young these thoughts/feelings are and so that’s why I struggle to articulate them – it’s mortifying – but these feelings are completely understandable based on my history and Em has helped normalise them and washed a bit of the shame coating off them.

The last session before holiday (Friday 19th) she asked me again how I felt about the break. All week I had been stressing about the final session. Therapy (and life) has been hard lately. I have been talking about the very real stresses of the here and now in my sessions  – my wife’s job loss and the quickly diminishing savings can’t help but take centre stage.

I haven’t been avoiding the other big things I just have been more concerned about the possibility of having to move away and downsize than the attachment stuff. Actually, maybe that’s not quite right – I haven’t had the capacity to allow myself to feel and explore the attachment stuff and so have had to sideline it for a while. It’s still there, swirling about, but I can’t manage it all if it’s not active. I can’t invite in those difficult feelings because I don’t have enough reserves to safely contain them. I know they always catch up in the end, though!

I feel really sad that my therapy has gone off on an unexpected tangent even though the work we have done has been connecting and helpful. I feel sad because the two sessions before we got the shock of my wife’s job loss I had really started to open up to Em about the eating disorder and it felt like we had really started to tackle a very delicate area that I have avoided looking at head on for a long time. It was big work and scary but felt like it was going to be ok and helpful. It’s work that has been waiting to be done for twenty years. Still, there is time for it and it will happen eventually.

The last session before the break began with more of the adult talking about being an adult with adult concerns. It was ok. Useful even. BUT. Not for all of me!  When I arrived at the session I was already in self-protect/shutdown/adult mode and replied and so when Em asked me after half an hour about how I was feeling about the break, I replied, “It’s fine.”

(It’s not fine – NOT FINE AT ALL!)

It almost comes out on autopilot doesn’t it? ‘Fine’ Such a well-worn response. There have been many times I would say that and then quickly change the conversation because frankly I don’t want to admit to being a big wobbly pile of need when she’s leaving. She’s more than earned her break and surely I can just suck it up and let her go without disintegrating every time she does.

The shame and the embarrassment around acknowledging that her absence REALLY impacts me is just unbearable despite how often Em tells me there is no need for the shame. That’s why I think I had decided to try and keep things ‘light’. Last week as I heard the words come tumbling out of my mouth I could feel the betrayal of my young parts. I could feel that sadness as they realised they were going to have to suffer in silence again over the whole break. I felt the physical ache in my chest and stomach hit.

Surely, I wasn’t going to do this to them again?

Why is it so easy to starve myself of connection and an opportunity to maybe make things feel a bit better because part of me finds it easier to be aloof than vulnerable?

I didn’t want to be vulnerable. I wanted to continue with the ‘fine’ – but as I said in a previous post fine is really just code for ‘Fucked up, Insecure, Neurotic, Emotional’ anyway … so maybe I was fine after all!

I looked up and met Em’s gaze (man sometimes it feels like her eyes are burning holes into my soul). And tried again, “It’s fine, but for some parts it isn’t fine at all.” She was really gentle and kind and acknowledged that for the younger parts any separation is really hard. Basically she did the reassurance thing about how she fully intended to come back, and that everything is ok between us, then talked about my dad dying and what it was like being left when I was little by my mum – and it felt ok, good even despite the painful feelings that were swirling – so much loss.

Then I said, “I hate this” (meaning still feeling so affected by her going away even after so much time) and she said she understood how hard it was and asked what was the hardest part. “I shouldn’t feel like this” I moaned. “Why shouldn’t you?” she questioned. I sat there mentally listing all the reasons I mentioned above – basically that she always comes back and so I am wasting my energy feeling shit about her going away and that she is just a therapist so why do I even care?

I didn’t say any of it aloud and merely replied with “I don’t know” because there was another part that realised there really isn’t a ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ about the feelings I have – they just ‘are’. Why beat myself up about it? I miss her when she’s gone and that’s how it is.

We talked a bit about how it is ok to have needs and feel loss and miss people. She said that as I child I wasn’t kept in mind and had to hide or shelve my needs and so it’s no wonder this all feels crap because it feels like I’m being abandoned and neglected all over again even though that isn’t the case – and so expressing feelings of sadness about my needs not being met is something I am not used to doing.

Em is really good at making things feel a bit better. She doesn’t fix it. She can’t. She can’t stay. She can’t promise to come back because life might deal an unexpected blow but she always says that it is her intention to come back on whatever the date is – this time 5th August. She can’t fix what happened in the past but she can bear witness to my story.  She normalises my feelings (the ones that make me feel like I am crazy!) and in doing so she removes a bit of the shame that acts like toxic layer of fog around me.

Yeah, I’m gushing again! ha! I love my therapist 😉

The problem is, when I can’t see her, when we are on breaks, the shame that surrounds me gets thicker. It distorts my view again. I lose sight of myself and her. This makes the system inside panic. Young parts feel terrified. Everything feels scary and shit. ARGH attachment pain!! Then critic steps in and then I’m done for: I feel stupid, weird, abnormal.

A nightmare.

So, where am I at now? Well I’m halfway through the first break of the summer. One more week until I am back in the room. I feel like I have so much that I want to say. It’s not a long time to wait and yet it feels an age because in the last couple of days I somehow got unexpectedly steam-rollered by the attachment ache – a couple of ‘therapy dreams’ and the young stuff activating and boom it’s all a struggle again! I had been doing fine until then and yet now I am in that place where I am desperate to reach out in some way – frustrated that I can’t – and sad too. Bloody minefield isn’t it?!

I’ve been trying to do things to take my mind off the horrible empty feeling that sits in my chest. It’s glorious weather right now and I am lucky enough to live in a beautiful area so this morning I went off to the river and woods for an early morning walk and since then I’ve been relaxing in the garden watching the kids play and generally trying to enjoy the fact that I am not teaching until Thursday. I guess I am trying to do self-care even though it really doesn’t come naturally to me. I feel like I don’t deserve to be cared for and so looking after myself really seems an odd thing to do. I know it’s insane.

Anyway, I will get through the next week. I won’t lie, though… I am really looking forward to the 5th.

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Old Patterns: Part 3

I wrote what follows back in early 2013. I’d recently stumbled over the writing I had done in 2009 Old Patterns: Part 1  and Old Patterns: Part 2 which recounted the time of the big breakdown and the scary interventions and decided to start writing again having not put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard in the whole intervening period. I was in therapy and beginning to feel ‘all the things’ with Em 😉  and so this leads up to June 2013 which saw the end of a 16 month period of psychotherapy on the NHS.

This is the last long blast from the past instalment on the blog. Loads has been going on in the here and now lately and I have just started the summer therapy break so I will get to catching up on 2019 soon!

Anyway, here goes!:

Nearly four years have gone by since I wrote here and rereading what I have written makes me so sad. Sad because right now, all this time down the road, I feel totally out of control again. It’s like I’m still circling the pit of doom. I know this isn’t completely true. I have not been stuck in a consistent state of depression since dad died- far from it – but I seem to find myself back down in the depths of despair wondering how, once again, I find myself in such a mess after so much time has elapsed?

How on earth can I be here again?

I have done the therapy – but it’s not enough, I know there is so much more left to process and I do not have enough time.

Still, let’s bring things up to speed before I get to what’s happening now.

After the seven month long nightmare with the breakdown Dr M wrote to get me put on a waiting list for psychotherapy in the NHS. I knew the wait would be a reasonably long time and so in the interim I had been recommended a private counselling service to try. I didn’t really know what I was looking for in a therapist I was just desperate to not feel so bad and went with the suggestion.

I went religiously to weekly sessions with my therapist N for two years but really made no progress on the big big things, not because I avoided talking about them (that’s progress right?!) but because I was told that my issues were too complex for her as she was just training. You would think I would have jumped ship then and found a more suitable match but after so long I didn’t feel able to kick my crutch out from under me. I liked her a lot and just being in the room each Monday night felt helpful. I think the ritual of going and talking for an hour was at times all that kept me going, even though I didn’t really gain anything other than stability. Not that I am underestimating the need for stability.

I terminated the therapy in the end. I was doing okish. Good enough. The eating disorder was quiet. The grief was still there but I had sort of learned to live with it. I was functioning! Life felt pretty good, really. I was back at work full time and enjoying it. I’d moved house. I’d travelled a lot. I’d got married. I was doing ok at adulting and still not yet 30. Win! I had kind of accepted that maybe the stuff I carry around in the shadows was always going to be there and I should just learn to live with it.

To be honest by the time the letter finally came through inviting me to attend 12 months of psychodynamic psychotherapy (30 months after the initial referral!) it came as a bit of a shock. I’d almost forgotten I was on a waiting list!

About six months after my GP had made the initial referral I had two appointments with a Clinical Psychologist in the Psychotherapy Department in the same scary building where I had seen the psychiatrist that wanted to put me on lithium. Same god awful waiting room. The bright yellow woodchipped walls still giving off a luminous glow of doom. Ugh!

When I went to these sessions I didn’t know they were only assessment interviews, no one had told me and it certainly wasn’t clear from the letter. I thought it was the therapy starting. I didn’t really like or warm to the therapist but given there’s not much choice in the NHS I thought I should seize my opportunity and start PROPERLY talking especially as N couldn’t help me with the ED. It would probably take a while to warm to this new therapist because she wasn’t N.

At the end of the second appointment the therapist told me that she definitely thought I needed psychotherapy and that I would now go on a waiting list for long-term therapy. I felt like I had been hit by a bus. What did she mean, go on another waiting list?? I had just spewed some serious bits of a lifetime of shit at this woman and now I was left hanging again. For fuck’s sake! Still, I’m good at shoving traumatic memories down into boxes and pretending they’re not there (you should see my loft!) and so that’s what I did. I went off and got on with my life – and I still had N even if she couldn’t help me with the anorexia.

So skip to January 2012 – As I said, A LOT had changed since my breakdown. For the first time ever I felt pretty grounded, happy, excited about the future. Now really wasn’t when I needed the therapy but I was wise enough to know that the issues that I’ve been struggling with since my teens hadn’t gone away, they were just dormant. And so I arrived at my first psychotherapy appointment 37 weeks pregnant and feeling quite on top of things.

It must have been a shock to Em my therapist.  I suppose reading my notes she might have reasonably been expecting an anorexic falling apart person to show up in the room and  instead she got a blossoming heavily pregnant woman…how did that happen?!

The moment I met Em I liked her. It was a completely different response to the therapist I had seen for the assessment. I felt comfortable with her from the first session. I don’t know what it was…I just really liked her. She had a nice face and smile, her body language was open. I dunno. I can’t explain. BUT it was good news all the same. I hadn’t really thought much around the logistics of therapy with a baby on the way but Em said that we could wait to start the sessions til after I had the baby and as soon as I felt able I could ring and let her know and start coming to see her.

She said that of course it was fine to bring the baby as she’d be little and need feeding etc. Basically she made the whole thing feel really easy – I didn’t lose my place on the list because I couldn’t start that week. So two weeks after my gorgeous little girl arrived I found myself in the room talking and breastfeeding. Turns out my baby needed feeding EVERY SESSION for the first four months.

So.… skip forward again.

I’ve been going to my sessions for a year now and I have made some good progress and uncovered some issues and set a few of  them at rest. But despite Em being really great there have still been things I have felt unable to address with her. Some of this is because I know my therapy must end soon and I feel like I have run out of time.

It’s taken me three months of mentally psyching myself up to tell her that I am really struggling with my ED again – it’s been especially bad since I have gone back to work after mat leave. I think I have passed the glow of having had a baby and now feel like the baby weight is just fat.

For months I have skirted round the edge of this issue, repeatedly being lost for words or filling my session time with insignificant garbage…. I am distracting myself from what is really important and something that is slowly taking over my life again.

Why?

Well, I guess it’s for many reasons. After giving it a lot of personal thought time- the time when the lights are out and the demons take root in my mind- I think I have reached the conclusion that I haven’t felt able to talk about my eating disorder because I am embarrassed and ashamed about it.

I am ashamed that for 15 years I have been secretly starving myself, on and off, when I can’t cope with my life. I am scared to admit that apart from my pregnancy, I have never achieved a healthy BMI and that I consider anything close to 18 fat whilst still knowing that it is at the bottom end of the healthy.

Part of it is that I don’t want Em to judge me.

I judge myself harshly enough already.

But today I realised with only a few sessions remaining I had to say something otherwise I will be 45 and still battling with these issues which doesn’t even bear thinking about, especially when my daughter will look to me as a role model.

I need to change.

I know it’s going to be really hard.

I know I cannot do this on my own.

Today, I sat down in the chair and soon realised that I couldn’t even speak. I felt myself getting angry with myself. How could I have mentally planned what I wanted to say, dreamt it every night for a week, and yet again find that I was mute? What was stopping me just telling my truth? Why is it so hard to open up and trust someone with this stuff?

I know she could see I was struggling again and, thankfully, I just sat there and she filled my silence and led me along. She told me that she felt like I was holding back and that the need to cry was really strong and that she could see that everything was too much.

She was right.

Somehow, I falteringly began to get my words out. I told her of how I hated myself and how I had become really self destructive and how I didn’t see the point of being here. She asked me if I felt suicidal. I said yes. She asked me if I had thought about ways of ending it. I said yes. She asked how. I told her: crashing my car, overdosing, cutting myself. She asked me if I had ever done any of those things before. I told her yes. She asked what stops me from acting on it, and I pointed to my baby girl. And from there the words kept coming, albeit messily and not always coherently.

I told her about how people have told me I look ill, that I am too skinny at work. I told her how I felt like I am losing it. I told her how I feel I am battling with myself all the time. I never know if I want the part that wants to be well to win or the critical self-attacking part to win. I told her that I struggled to talk because I have been in the situation before and been told I did not have an eating disorder after skilfully answering questions that meant the end score did not add up to ‘anorexia’.

She seemed to understand and acknowledged that I am skilled at letting people see what I want them to and understood hard it must be. I told her how I was sick of always falling into similar patterns, how every time things get overwhelming I start hurting myself rather than helping. She asked what I want to look like and I told her I didn’t know, only that I can never see how bad things are at the time and it’s only afterwards when I look at a picture that I can see how thin I am. I told her that the more weight I lose the less I see how thin I am and focus on the areas I perceive as fat and the number on the scale.

I was inarticulate and confused but I did it. I FINALLY told someone what I am carrying around and now the door is open to deal with it…. I feel nervous and exposed and know that next week I will have to keep myself in check and stop myself from playing what I have said down in a defence and actually let myself remain open. The embarrassment is ebbing away and I feel finally like I might get the help I need with this….I just hope I have enough time. That’s what really frightens me. For the first time I have opened up, but I think maybe I’ve left it too late.

I am scared of being left hanging in June, in crisis and having to leave the security of the room and the weekly safe space I have to unburden myself. I am worried I will not cope. Things are bad already without the only support I have being removed. Truthfully, I am terrified.

A week on, another session, and another mild failure in my ability to build on what I said the previous week. I am so painfully aware that in a few sessions my safety net is going to be completely removed that I think I’m probably withdrawing into myself a bit trying to protect myself from another loss. I have lots to say but don’t think there’s time now and as such I think I am wisest trying to put my armour back on and get ready for life ‘out there’ without my weekly check in.

Interestingly, today, Em commented on how I seemed different today than last week (where I was completely flustered and anxious but just about able to talk). I was behaving differently, but actually, in the last week, nothing much has changed for me. I am feeling anxiety about leaving my job, my brain is in a million places and actually what’s happened is that I have ejected my emotions out into space to allow me to function. I have been obsessing about my weight, I even found an app that allows me to track exactly what I am eating and how this will or will not impact my desired weightloss.

I now spend time inputting what I eat into the app and watching the calories go down….I’m aiming for 1000 a day at the minute which is manageable and won’t draw any attention. It also allows a steady weight loss. I am currently 7st 5 which gives me a BMI of 16. I am not happy with my body. I am not happy with myself. I never am. I guess next session I should address this deliberate food restriction. Oh but the shame. God.

I wondered today about something she said to me. She commented on how despite everything, I’d still been able to function and things hadn’t fallen apart and I should be proud of that. Why would I feel proud? I’ve succeeded in reigniting my fiery eating disorder, I’ve taken sick days when I’ve felt unable to cope, I’ve been struggling to sleep, on more than one occasion I’ve had suicidal thoughts, but I haven’t fallen apart. What does that even mean? I haven’t physically harmed?

In the build up to termination today she said that a year of therapy is not a long time and that there are organisations that I can use to find another therapist in the future if necessary. It felt like the rug was being pulled out from under my feet. Something inside felt really painful, like I had been kicked in my solar plexus and my chest went so tight. I felt sick. It felt like I was going to fall apart. I sat there still and tried not to look affected.

I really am going to lose her in a few weeks. I can’t even go there. The loss feels too huge. She is just my therapist but for some reason this ending feels immense- so much worse than ending with N. It was never my intention to let Em matter to me. I knew this was a relationship that had a time limit and yet here I am faced with the reality that somehow or other she does matter to me, I do need her, and oh the fucking irony I can’t stay.

After years of therapy at different intervals, I really can’t envisage starting over again with another therapist. Let’s face it, it takes me an eternity to truly open up and I don’t want to start the process with another person in the future. Maybe she isn’t allowed to promote her own private therapy practice (I looked online this week to see if she exists outside that dingy room!- and she does!) but I would really like to continue working with her if I could.

The PCT dictates that the maximum time available for therapy here is a year, and I have already had this extended by two months because things have got so shit lately, but I know that realistically, had I been in private therapy, we would not be terminating right now.

So school is finished. I cannot believe I have walked away from teaching but I know right now this is what I need. I need to regroup and rebuild. I want to spend time enjoying my baby and focusing on my family.

Today I had another therapy session. It always takes me by surprise on a therapy day how I wake up buzzing as though there is an electric current flowing through my body. It’s not a pleasant feeling. It’s as though I am adrenaline filled and there is no outlet for it.

I noticed, as I sat in the waiting room that my hands were shaking. This was not due to low blood sugar, but rather, nerves. Was I nervous? I suppose so. I worry sometimes that she’ll think I am wasting her time. I always feel like I am waffling my way through and not saying what I should be.  I feel like I am boring.

We talked today about ending work (school not the therapy) and how I don’t ever feel calm. I mentioned how I so easily forget positives about myself and fill myself with doubt. I talked about the tutoring that I have been approached about and how I have felt unable to respond to the email despite knowing it will generate income. I know it is because it feels like work is still there and all the negative associations I have about being judged and failing despite never having performed badly in my work.

She broached the subject of food today. I didn’t build on that opportunity but did talk about obsessive behaviour patterns like running at 5am and how I have had to reign myself in, knowing that one run will become alternate days, then daily, then add in a bike ride etc. I suppose I could then have talked about the food and the app – another tool for me to berate myself with.

I have 4 sessions left now, one of which will be closing up and I have to address this fucking albatross ED. I know it’s tied to self-esteem, perfectionism, sexuality, lack of control….the list goes on….the thing is I need to unload it. Perhaps if I can let this secret out it will make it less of a monster and more of a mouse?

Something else that’s new: I feel more in my body lately. I feel more. I’m not stuck in my head or dissociating. That scares me a bit because what I feel in my body is horrid and overwhelming.

I talked today about remaining firm when people ask me what I am doing and telling them that I don’t know, and that it’s ok not to. She said this is known as ‘negative capability’ where a person can challenge the norm or go against convention and that it can be really healthy and shows that I can assert myself.

Oh man. I like her. I think maybe, if I am honest, I love her. She sees me as I am and doesn’t run away. To feel accepted as I am is novel and addictive. The more time goes on the more worried I feel about the termination of therapy. I really don’t want to be the tortured anorexic but I don’t feel able to be any other way at the moment. I don’t feel like I have the coping strategies to deal with what feels to me like another enormous loss and not eating is a way that I have always coped with emotional pain. I feel like I am losing H and Dad all over again and added to this, someone who has not flinched when I show them who I really am.

Walking into my session today I felt like I didn’t know what I would say or where it would go. I sat down and immediately felt the loss I am beginning to grieve before it has even happened. I could barely look at Em. I did, however, outline just how bad things feel right now. I told her how I take to my bed when little girl is asleep and lie under the duvet just to hide away from the world. She totally seemed to get the need to feel safe and she understood how I never feel soothed.

I explained that hiding in bed allowed me to be safe and not to harm myself. I told her about how I worry about hurting myself and I haven’t done that in years. She asked how and I told her about cutting and burning. These methods have been running through my head for a few weeks now. I have been looking of self harm websites. I guess that is a visual outlet rather than actually hurting myself.

Towards the end of the session more and more came out, as it always does and she picked up on that. I wish it didn’t take so long for me to get to what I need to say. We talked about the impact of ending and how I felt. She suggested that maybe I would feel angry or let down. I don’t feel either of those things, particularly. I just feel lost and sad that I don’t have more time to really unpick this….this self-destructive part that rears its head periodically. I didn’t say this.

I came home and tried to cut myself. The knife wasn’t sharp, though, so there are only superficial lines. No real damage done. I also heated a metal spoon and burned my skin. That really fucking hurt. Neither of these acts makes me feel like I have been able to find an outlet for how shitty I feel, though. I almost feel like I have failed and can’t even damage myself successfully. I feel pathetic.

I had no idea when I started this process that I had so many attachment issues. Em has suggested I have trouble with intimacy – well duh! I had no idea that so much was tied up in abandonment issues and dependency. I guess what has happened in the therapeutic relationship is that for a long time I have held back from allowing myself to get close to Em because I knew that the relationship would come to an end and I didn’t want to feel like I was alone and abandoned when the time finally came.

Fortunately or not, in December I guess I began to experience transference with her and then began to shut down a little for fear of frightening her and replaying issues. As it turns out this has happened anyway. It feels a lot like H, not being able to tell her about how I feel. I suppose what happened last week was the bit that I was terrified of, suddenly being so needy and dependent that I feel like I can’t function without that safety net. Argh. I know I have a lot to work through now about how this has all come about and why. We have a month break now and then it is the last session.

I decided to send Em an email to her private practice email asking if I could see her privately when we finish. She replied that she’d be happy to work with me but that she’d have to find out what the rules are and will let me know in our next session.

June 5th 2013

So today was the last session with Em. I went with a feeling of dread and nervousness after the email and also knowing it was the last session. I was worried that I had overstepped a boundary contacting her. She thanked me for my email and quickly told me that I could see her again but that it would have to be in 3 months or so in order for there to be ‘an ending’ with the NHS and fresh start with her privately. As much as I don’t want a gap, I do understand the theory behind it.

The session today was a bit bizarre as after a month away I felt like I couldn’t just open up and do it, particularly knowing it was the end and I would have to manage. I did talk through some superficial stuff and tried to remain upbeat and together – my outer world persona. I talked about how I have been trying hard to look after myself but that I don’t find it easy and it is easy to be critical. I know that that is the big thing I need to work through next time. I can’t avoid it anymore.

I have come away from today feeling numb – I know I am just shelving how I feel because I know I can’t deal with the idea of being alone with myself for a quarter of a year.

So – that was way back in 2013. I didn’t end up going back to Em until three years later (June 2016). When I finished the therapy I had six solid weeks of horrific nightmares and then one night I had dream where I was night swimming in a lake. I was feeling suicidal. I was cold and tired. I decided to drown myself. I calmly put my face down in the water and floated on my front. I waited. Just as things started to go black someone pulled me up and out of the water and into a boat. It was Em. She quickly wrapped a blanket around me. She said ‘you don’t have to do this to yourself anymore’ and held me close. And that’s when the nightmares finally stopped.

I picked myself up after that dream. I didn’t contact Em when the three months wait was up. Part of me wanted to but part of me was scared of ending up back in that dependent, unsettled place. I had another baby in 2014 and life actually was really very good until I got cancer in 2015 and then had to go through a year of treatment…cue a complete meltdown when that had all finished! The wheels really started falling off. All the old stuff started to become live again. So I approached Em and since then we have been working together solidly for the last three years working on so much shit. We’re still not done yet! But I am so glad I have her reliable, calm, non-judging presence in my life. And even though I am still trudging through trauma I can really see how far I have come.

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Old Patterns: Part 2

Here’s the next instalment of ‘writing from the breakdown 2009’ you can read the earlier post here . This jumps all over the place, but reflects how hard everything was back then. Reading this back I feel so desperately sad for myself. I was in such an almighty mess and yet desperately clinging on to the belief that if I appeared ‘normal’ enough I would be ok and not end up being sectioned. My fear of mental health services prevented me getting the help that I so desperately needed. I wish I could go back in time and advocate for myself properly rather than being dictated by the fear of losing all control:

Here I am again, another appointment, sitting across from my doctor inwardly crying out for help but outwardly showing that I am totally pissed off at another intrusion into my life. I am reacting badly to having been referred unexpectedly and without consultation to the Crisis Team or as I fondly renamed them ‘The Nut Squad’.

The Nut Squad is quite a step up the crazy tree in mental health terms where I live. This time I had bypassed the ‘Access and Wellbeing Team’ which is where you go when you are maybe only partly crackers: I’d been there before, but this time, whatever I had said to my doctor, or maybe not said,  had been a real cause for concern and I had ended up with a psychiatrist and mental health nurse sitting in my living room asking me a series questions. Things have been really bad, but knowing how stretched mental health services are to have  the NHS send people to see me in my own home feels unnecessary.

Questions I can cope with, though. In recent months I’ve answered the same set of questions on multiple occasions and my answers never deviate:

“On a scale of one to ten, one being the least and ten being the most, tell me where you feel in terms of happiness at the moment” (or something along those lines).

“Three” I respond mechanically.

“Still three?” they exchange concerned looks. I had just reported feeling ‘better’ whilst talking in a measured fashion so as not to look manic. How could it possibly be three? My definition of ‘better’ was that I had started to notice the spring buds and had read a book, which were markers in my mind that things were improving for me. It had been months since I had been able to direct my attention towards anything or look outside myself. I thought this would be ample deflection for the fact that I’d been out and blown almost £45,000 in two weeks and pretty much decimated my entire inheritance in less than a year since my dad died.

I think it was probably this insane spending that had led my GP to refer me to the Crisis Team. It had all followed an appointment where I had splurged at the GP that what I was doing wasn’t normal. I left feeling like I had been honest for the first time, and then shat myself with ‘what ifs?’ and devised my plan of action. How I thought I was helping myself, I have no idea. I think in hindsight it was something about being absolutely terrified of being carted off in a straight jacket and being sectioned so I told them what I think they needed to hear and it seemed to work.

To an outsider that would seem like an incredible leap of the imagination that feeling wobbly could result in incarceration. A person exhibits slightly unusual behaviour and so steps are taken to help them, right? Doesn’t mean they’ll end up locked up on a psych ward. I’m sure this is the case, but I have a fear of mental health services. They terrify me. Why? Let’s just put it this way, growing up with a close family member being perpetually in and out of mental health institutions doesn’t do wonders for your confidence in the system.

I would sooner die than end up in a mental hospital. Although looking back on this, perhaps it’s where I belong? I’m sure if I had have been completely honest with all the professionals from the start I would be in much better place now – but it’s hard going from being someone who on the outside appears successful, confident, and independent, to admitting to someone that all of a sudden you feel a failure, have no self belief and feel unable to participate in life. That is the truth of my situation. When I got ill at Christmas the wheels fell off in a big way. I could not cope and yet, instinctively I felt like I had to, to pretend that I was at least managing on some level.

I know, now, that I came across as resistant and inconsistent bouncing from uncommunicative, to dismissive, to out of control, to needy and back again – often all in one appointment. Hats off to my doctor, if the roles had have been reversed I would have given up long ago.

So, back to the psychiatrist and nurse house visit. They looked around the room and commented on how immaculately tidy it was, asked me about all the books on my shelves and noted that they were all placed in alphabetical order (surely this is normal for most English graduates?!) Of course the out of control spending came up in the conversation and I tried to justify the totally abnormal behaviour as if it was normal – cue ‘telling a lie like it’s the truth’ again. Bingo. It seemed to be working:

“If you had the money wouldn’t you go and buy things you’ve always wanted?” I asked, looking at them both imploringly. It’s sort of like the question which you mull over time and again. ‘What would you do if you won the lottery?’ The thing is, I haven’t won the lottery and this money I have doesn’t make me happy. Money can’t make you happy and it can’t fill the void left by a human being. No amount of spending eased the depression or the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness but god, I was willing to try anything to take me out of that dark dark place.

The camper van I had just purchased I did want, but the £8000 diamond ring, first class airline tickets to New York, mountain bikes and snowboards for me and my partner, new windows and guttering, laptop, multiple pairs of shoes, a surfboard, and enough clothes to open my own shop were more what you might call ‘impulse buys’ – funnily enough I didn’t think now was a good time to mention any of that.

I thought I had managed the Crisis Team fairly well.  As my consultation came to a close there was a shock. I was told that I couldn’t drive. Not that I can’t drive, I am a competent driver; no, I had been advised not to drive. In that moment I stared at the psychiatrist in disbelief now stripped of my independence and my wheels. The Nut Squad had clearly taken one look at the Jaguar supercar (another part of my inheritance) outside and thought ‘no way– this one is a liability’.

As the psychiatrist left my house she told me to keep my life “boring”. “Not a problem” I replied with a wry smile. In recent months my life had become mundane and really fucking boring. At least this was one promise I could keep.

It was eventually agreed with my GP that neither of the antidepressants that I had tried had worked for me, if anything they had been to my detriment, the first killed my appetite and my will to live, the second sent me on a hyperdrive where I was like a bee in a jar buzzing around out of control and spending like I had a shopping addiction. It was decided that I should not take these pills and I was given a prescription for a different type of drug, from a different family of medications.

I was to be given a mood stabiliser or anti-psychotic. Yes, when I heard the phrase ‘anti-psychotic’ I did panic a little, which I am sure anyone would. It sounded way more intense than ‘anti-depressant’. I dutifully took the pills and slept soundly for the first time in months. As well as this, there was a further but less desirable side effect: the munchies.

It is a well documented side effect of this particular drug that you feel like you are starving all of the time. It’s like stoned munchies without the relaxation of a joint. For two weeks I swear I did nothing but eat. It was totally uncontrollable which did not make my anorexic self feel at all happy and so, I took to cutting myself to regain some of my control and exorcise my self-loathing. In that two week period I gained a stone and hated myself for it.

My body image is completely screwed anyway and this rapid weight gain really sent me into free-fall emotionally. That is the only sensible way of describing it. I have never in my life been overweight, but the moment I hit the region of 7 stone I start to feel bloated and fat. I am having a battle with my 15 year old self right now. I am determined to hold onto my body mass. I am determined to prove my GP wrong and keep myself away from the anorexic label.

Part of my new ritual is each day looking in the mirror at my naked self and telling my reflection that I am not fat. I then go to the fridge and eat my way through something highly calorific to spite my teenage self and then continue with my day. It may seem like a totally insane approach to healthy living, but right now I have exhausted ‘sane’ and this, although not healthy in the long run it works for me and it has stopped the doctors asking me about my eating! Thank god!

Awareness of physical self is something I have always tried to avoid because the moment I become aware of my body I fixate on all that is wrong with it. I know that anyone reading this will still see that I am in denial. Just because the weight is back on does not change the ideas that swirl inside my mind. I have an eating disorder, only right now it is in the stage where I have it hidden again and that is a relief. I am not a skeleton anymore but I hate myself now more than ever.

Some time elapsed after the Crisis Team’s intervention and I eventually received an appointment with another psychiatrist in the mental health hospital. The building which houses mental health services is a gothic style grey stone Victorian affair with a central staircase leading up to the entrance. It has a certain grandeur which is imposing and more than a little intimidating. It is a beautiful piece of architecture, the sort of place that a developer would have a field day with and could turn into some great apartments. But today, for me, it is still a mental health hospital and walking up the steps and into the jaws of the building saw another panic set in.

The interior of the building was dark and depressing and was exactly as I had imagined – ‘Girl Interrupted’ has a lot to answer for! It was as if something had sucked the life and light out of the place. It was eerily quiet and seemingly unoccupied except for the few staff that walked with purpose along the echoing corridors. There was a clinical, hospital smell, cold metal on metal, disinfectant, and I hated it. I have always hated hospitals. The moment I walk inside one I always feel sick to my stomach and as though I could pass out at any second, this is not because I am actually ill, I just cannot stand them and what they signify to me: illness and death.

I was directed by the receptionist on the desk to take a seat in the waiting room a little further down the corridor. It was a tiny, claustrophobic room with four chairs on each side of the door. I took in the sunny, yellow wood-chipped walls and fading green carpet and felt the tendrils of anxiety creeping over me; like a smog it saturated my being and I felt suffocated.

Someone had clearly thought that a bright colour would make depressed people feel optimistic and ‘light’ inside. The colour made me feel chaotic and overstimulated and I wanted to get out of the room as soon as was humanly possible.

As I sat there, watching the clock ticking down to my appointment I wondered what I should do?: Tell the truth about how I felt: flat, sad, depressed, anxious, sometimes suicidal or to rationalise my feelings and make light of the situation. Perhaps I should  tell them that I’m sad but I am managing it and I don’t need pills to grieve.

I was eventually called into the psychiatrist’s office and the nice male doctor sitting opposite me began asking me questions. It was those same questions that I had become so used to over the last few months. A few days before this meeting I had had a particularly dark day which saw me sitting in my doctor’s surgery bereft with depression and as close to suicide I have ever felt. For the first time I felt as though we had made progress, I showed her the depth of my pain and she seemed to get it. She insisted I kept my appointment with at the hospital and made a further time to see her to discuss the outcome. She commented on what she perceived as my lack of self esteem and I thought ‘finally, she sees me for me, minus my front’ .

I alluded to this dark day and my lack of confidence with my consultant when he asked me if I felt gifted. ‘Gifted?! Me?! Are you serious?’ I shouted inside my brain. I told him of my feeling like a fraud, like someone who by fluke had got where I had got to, and someone who was on the verge of being found out all the time. My truth.

He then proceeded to read through the notes of the psychiatrist who had visited my home and who suggested I was, in her opinion, very confident and had good self-esteem. In that moment I felt abject disappointment. I guess I should have felt pleased that my acting skills are so good that I can even fool a mental health professional into believing I am in control and happy with myself; but that wasn’t the case at all. I felt like at a time when I needed someone to see through my defences, all that they had seen was the persona.

I have become so skilled at presenting a confident, together version of myself that no one can see through it. I know it’s my own fault.

The next shocker came a little while after this bombshell I was still reeling from the notion that I was a confident person when the doctor suggested that because I was ‘a lesbian and wouldn’t be having children’ that he recommended putting me on lithium. Suddenly alarm bells started ringing in my head. I recognised this drug – my aunt having been on it for years and years. I also was shocked that a doctor would make a judgement that I would not have children because of my sexuality. Most of all though, I was staggered that I had clearly had a breakdown and rather than refer me to psychotherapy it seemed more appropriate to offer me a cocktail of pills. How can that ever be right?

I left the appointment feeling stunned and proceeded to write a letter to my GP. I outlined exactly what had happened when my dad died because no one had ever asked. I explained all the complications: dying abroad, the body being in heat of 40 degrees for a week on a remote island because there was no hospital or morgue, battling with insurance company to move him to the mainland and start a process of repatriation, the unexpected post-mortem, finding out that it could take up to six months to get cremation rights in the UK even if we flew the body home, opting for a cremation abroad and the time being moved, the ashes being flown home and then left outside on a driveway for me to collect along with my dad’s backpack, my family refusing to attend the celebration of life….and so the story poured out of me including the stuff about not eating and self-harm…in the end there 14 pages of it!

I received a letter in the post shortly after this from the GP inviting my in for an extended appointment before the surgery opened. As I sat down, she thanked me for my letter, and said how sorry she was to hear what I had had to go through and that actually she now believed that I was experiencing PTSD. She said, “Let’s remove the psychiatric label shall we?” and then  “You are just really unhappy – aren’t you – and I am not surprised. I think we should refer you into psychotherapy because it sounds like you need to talk and there’s a lot to process. You can stop taking the medication because it hasn’t helped and I agree, lithium is not the way forward especially as you want babies.”

So, that’s what’s happened. I’ve had 7 months of bouncing around and now they think I need time to heal and someone to talk to. And this is all I ever wanted, really. I just wish I could have expressed this sooner rather than behaving like a deer in the headlights. I know waiting lists are long for psychotherapy and I plan to find a therapist in the meantime and see what I can do.

x

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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.

 

 

The Chest

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Oh good gracious me!!! I stumbled across a huge word file on my laptop today when I was looking for some writing I did around the time my dad died (it’s the anniversary of that horrid event this weekend). The document I actually found was writing I did 6/7 years ago during my NHS therapy with Em. It’s painful to read what I wrote then but also amazing to see how some things have really moved on and how other issues remain stuck. Therapy is clearly a long trek for me! I might get round to putting some extracts here eventually if I can bear the shame 😉 But for now – here’s the piece of huge cringe that I wrote to Em after my last session with her back in 2013 (and proceeded to send her in the mail!). The plan had been to see her in private practice after three months of ending in the NHS but it actually turned out to be three years before I got back into the therapy room with her… and last week was the anniversary of three years more work… I’m surprised she ever agreed to see me again after my teenage self clearly got poetic! Haha.

The Chest

The dust of half a lifetime lies thick on the lid

Carefully, I trace the words ‘KEEP OUT’ with my finger tip-

Those words roughly etched into the surface

during in a time of past desolation.

 

As though it were some mystical chest

I gaze down and wonder at it

 

But I know this box

The one I keep my secrets in

Does not hold treasure

I know too, that finally, it must be opened

 

The lock.

Cold metal.

Sturdy.

Still holds firm.

Even after all these years.

 

I look away…

turn the key…

The bolt gives way

 

Hinges creak loudly and the cool air

rushes in

to fill the dark, silent space within

 

Deep breaths.

 

Staring down

At the clandestine hoard.

It is not quite as I remember it.

 

Some items have been neatly wrapped and carefully placed inside.

Difficult to handle things, thrown in in haste, are strewn untidily.

 

Slowly, slowly I begin to unpack

each individual fragment of a memory:

disappointment

anxiety

inhibition

rejection

abandonment

loss

self-doubt

self-hurt

 

A broken heart

A broken soul.

 

This jigsaw requires careful handling.

 

Piece by piece

one at a time

I free these parts of myself from the mausoleum

Some are so fragile they threaten to disintegrate

Others razor-sharp and still poised to draw blood

 

Little by little

the picture emerges.

 

Tentatively I hold out my hand,

“Look at this”  I say.

I half expect you to run screaming out the door

I know I want to.

 

But there you are- still.

And for that, I thank you.

Unexpected And Unsettling Change

Honestly, sometimes I wonder if things are ever just going to settle down and get on an even keel here. I know life is never straightforward for anyone but I wish, even for just a couple of years, that it would just be stable and run of the mill for me. I don’t crave excitement. I don’t want anything grand. I simply want boring (but amazing) stability and safety.

My whole life seems to have been punctuated by bloody stresses and traumas and frankly I’m getting a bit fed up about it all as I find myself drowning in another unexpected sea of disaster and worry.

Don’t get me wrong. I know I am far from alone in life throwing shit at me but right now I am feeling a bit sorry for myself and sad and angry and … all sorts of feelings actually!

My therapist and I often joke (serious joke) about how hard I find change and uncertainty. Even this week, something as simple as her putting an I-pad on a tripod in the therapy room to do an EMDR type activity made waves inside me! The room was (slightly) different but we had discussed the change the session before and yet EEEK something was not the same – cue mild panic!…

I’m sure, based on this response you can imagine what happened the time she changed the client chair from an Ikea therapy chair to a pale blue sofa and put the sofa on the other side of the room from where I’d been used to sitting, as well as moving a bookcase, changing the curtains and the wall colour all in one week! The room looked so much better, but Gah! Change!! I need warning about these kind of things! haha.

I mean it’s funny tragic right?!

My childhood was a catalogue of uncertainty and instability and from the earliest times I lacked of a felt sense of safety and it’s carried on into my adult life, unfortunately. I really can’t remember a time when things felt ‘ok’ inside me or externally. I’ve always been on edge/high alert and there are so many factors involved in this.

I don’t suppose it helped that my mum had a terrible pregnancy and was hospitalised for the final two months because things were so crap for her with preeclampsia. I had to be induced in the end because I was in so much distress in the womb (!!) and after a two day labour where both mother and baby almost died I arrived 5 weeks ahead of schedule, tiny, and was put in an incubator for three days. My mum did not to recognise me as hers when they finally gave me to her.

Great start!

Things haven’t really ever improved from that point! I’m not really surprised given what she went through that my mum developed post-natal depression and struggled to be a mum to me. She’s always said she’s not maternal and has made a joke of it, but actually I think that’s a defence for knowing that things weren’t very good for either of us when I was small. It’s easier to joke than to acknowledge the varying degrees of failure that happened. I know what it’s like when your mental health is tanking and I know that looking after babies is no mean feat even when you’re on your A game and so I get that my early days weren’t exactly conducive to developing a sense of security. Bonding was never going to be straightforward.

Now I am on a roll with the moaning about instability I might as well let a bit more out and add that after the trauma of being born there multiple house moves growing up (16 ‘homes’ by the age of 16); several different schools; being ‘looked after’ by people that were not my parents (so many childminders!); being emotionally neglected and abused ‘I wish you’d never been born!’ by my mum when she was around but she wasn’t always around, in fact she was gone a lot!

From the age of four to eleven she was away five days/nights a week. I feel so sad for the little girl inside that just wanted to be loved, to be tucked up in bed at night and read a story by someone that loved her. The ache is huge. Every night when I put my children to bed and tell them stories, and remind them that I love them and tuck them in I feel that young part’s sadness and the little voice saying ‘why did no one love me enough to do this?’ 

I used to witness huge rows between my parents on the weekends when my mum was home before they finally separated when I was 11. You’d think things would have settled down somewhat after the separation but all that happened was an upscaling in the rage directed at me from my mum when there was no longer a husband to absorb it and that carried on til I left for university at 18. I’m not at all surprised that I turned all the hatred in on myself by self-harming, not eating, and generally neglecting and punishing myself.

If you are repeatedly undermined and attacked throughout your life by a caregiver it becomes your inner narrative. You are nothing. You don’t matter. It makes sense to deprive yourself because you are not worthy of anything good. I know my inner critical voice is modelled on my mother. I have left that childhood ‘home’ but that horrible, nasty, soul-destroying voice lives on in me. It’s painstaking work trying to free myself from it…or at least try and understand it better.

So basically because of this (and more…so much more!) I don’t feel safe in relationship but I also don’t feel safe in my wider environment.

I suspect the way I respond to change and upheaval isn’t exactly ‘normal’ (I mean come on, décor change in a therapy room freak out is not usual behaviour!!) because of my previous life experiences. It can feel like the end of the world when stressful stuff happens because I end up on my arse flailing about.

This feeling of doom and Armageddon gets worse with each new traumatic ‘event’. The sense that things are desperate and will never improve take root really quickly. It’s like the floor falls out from underneath me and I start plummeting into the abyss. To be fair to myself the more recent adult triggers haven’t been ‘light’. My dad dying abroad unexpectedly at 47 on a remote island wasn’t an easy thing to navigate even in a purely practical sense let alone emotionally and I am not surprised it still haunts me; getting a late stage cancer diagnosis six months after giving birth wasn’t ideal either and the treatment that followed was gruelling so my health anxieties are probably reasonable.

So, what’s the latest trigger for the zoom into doom? My wife lost her job out of nowhere two weeks ago. This has sent shock waves through my system. It’s not the end of the world. It’s not a death. It’s not cancer. It’s not childhood neglect and abuse. BUT it has sent me through a loop. I don’t like injustice. I feel angry when people treat others badly. I hate that people with power can abuse it. And whilst I (adult) know things will work out in the end I have felt awful and panicked. All the younger parts have been sent plummeting down into a deep deep hole. I have felt scared and paralysed.

Turns out that, as well as death and cancer, financial insecurity is something that terrifies me. I think we all like to think that money isn’t the be all and end all…but you know what? In the society that we live in it really is quite important. If you can’t pay your bills, well… what happens? You’re totally fucked.

As an adult I have tried really hard to create a stable environment for me and my family because I know how ‘unsafe’ I feel just being alive. There have been horrible things happen, losses that I still can’t get over, but until now I have at least felt like I have my home and so a degree of physical safety – somewhere I can escape to when the world feels all a bit too much. I know, that it won’t be long before my wife finds some kind of employment again but I also know that agency work will not pay anywhere like as well as what she has been doing in recent years…and so it’s going to be a struggle. Our life is going to have to change.

She’s already been off two weeks unpaid and that’s two weeks where the mortgage is still running, the bills keep coming in, the cars need fuel, the kids need stuff…….and then there’s that other big bill…therapy.

What do I do about that? I was convinced in week one that I would have to give up my sessions. I was ready to go in and have that conversation – and I cried about it the night before. I guess that’s one plus point…I located where the tears are kept! After all if you have no money coming in and kids to feed and a roof to keep over your head then how can you justify £450/month on therapy? It’s simply not viable.

I still don’t know what is going to happen with this but I have decided not to make any panic moves. I’ve told Em what has happened but I didn’t quit therapy there and then because we are just about ok for a month or two with bills.  If things haven’t resolved with my wife’s job by September then there will have to be some serious decisions to be made. The idea of not having therapy right now terrifies me but at the end of the day as much as we might like to pretend it’s a relationship that will be there no matter what… if you can’t pay for it you can’t have it. End of.

Ugh.

Em and I are approaching the summer therapy break. This year she’s taking two blocks of two weeks – one at the start of the school holidays and another at the end. I am dreading it. I am crap with therapy breaks and this summer is going to be the most disrupted time we’ve had in the last three years. I always struggle in the summer break. However, I am trying hard to hang onto a slight positive here. I am trying to see the summer break as a respite from having a therapy bill – there is no therapy but I have not quit therapy… and hopefully this time will allow me and my wife to settle on some kind of financial even keel.

So, yeah, that’s my life right now x

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A Mixed (Mental!) Month

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I realised earlier today that it has been almost a month since my last post here where I wrote about the knackered house and renovation project metaphor for me in therapy… and I know that I also never followed up on what happened after I threw all my toys out the pram and terminated therapy via text only to send a desperate message back to Em less than an hour later to undo it!!

I don’t think I have ever gone more than 10 or 11 days without blogging but lately I haven’t had much time or much to say, or perhaps I have had too much to say and don’t know where to begin because I have had so little time? I dunno.

I guess if I am being completely honest, every time I have thought about writing here there is a part of me that has felt huge resistance to doing so. This is a weird feeling for me because usually I find it really cathartic letting stuff out on the page. I think there’s a bit of embarrassment or shame about the mess I have got myself in over the last month and I feel a bit of a moron and don’t want to publish what’s happening?

There’s a lot of internal conflict going on right now. The Inner Critic has been running free lately. It’s been agony. I guess part of my inability to write boils down to a concern that I simply can’t be doing with any additional external criticism at the moment in addition to the shit I am piling on myself – not that that is what happens here, most people are unbelievably supportive,  but I really don’t need to be told right now that perhaps my therapist isn’t right for me when there are enough of my own doubting parts shouting that! I don’t feel particularly resilient and so I think I’ve buried myself in a pit – it’s meant to be protective but actually is bloody miserable down here!

This blog has always been about me tracking/logging what’s going on in my therapy so that maybe one day I can (hopefully) look and go ‘wow look how far I’ve come!’ I don’t write here to entertain people. My hope is, perhaps, by writing about and sharing my experiences that it might help a few people who are feeling similar feelings to feel less alone but essentially this is my space to rant and moan, be bonkers and try and process the tangled mess that is my inner world… and so that’s what I am going to try and do…

So, rewind to the beginning of May and the meltdown. Yep. I went back to therapy. I mean of course I did. I felt embarrassed about my outburst but the world didn’t end. Em is still there (sitting in that chair that feels a million miles away), I am still in one piece (ok, maybe more of a mosaic of fragmented parts, but you know what I mean!) and the therapy is still ongoing…albeit limping along in a rather painful fashion.

I have been really struggling in my sessions lately. Everything has just felt so difficult.  Honestly – I could run a master class in dissociation! The sessions have been largely excruciating as I have been unable to let Em in and I have been feeling utterly distraught both inside and outside of the therapy room. I’ve been doing  a lot of writing and drawing in my therapy notebook. I have religiously been taking the book to the session and LEAVING IT IN MY BAG!!!

FFS!

It’s not even funny.

During the week, outside the sessions, and as I travel to session I am determined that I will mention that I want to share my writing with her and yet the moment I walk in the room something happens, a part steps up and says, ‘no fucking way!’ and instead I sit struggling to talk, feeling sick, and unable to connect with Em feeling the fifty minutes ebb away and feeling increasingly panicked that I am losing vital time.

I can barely look at her most of the time let alone make eye contact and it feels massively awkward and frustrating. I want to connect but am also terrified of letting her see me. It’s like one part of me is desperate to move forward and has a foot hard on the accelerator and another part has its foot to the floor on the brake. It’s not a pleasant sensation I can tell you … and I don’t think it can be doing the car much good either!

Still, because there are so many parts floating about right now it means I am experiencing a really mixed bag of feelings and I can feel like a hologram flitting sometimes. I know that this is the work and I need to ride it out but blooming heck, it’s not easy!

Despite barely looking at Em or talking to her, a few weeks ago I noticed that she wasn’t quite herself, she had a slight cough and looked really tired. She has never been ill/off sick in all the time I have been seeing her so I noticed even this subtle unwellness. I guess we have been programmed as kids to notice everything, subtle changes have, in the past, signalled danger I suppose.

As much as parts of me have been keeping her at arm’s length (giant monkey arms – that are really long) there are other parts that still want to be close and care deeply about this woman that has been sitting in that chair trying to help me get my shit together for the last few years. Ha.

I love her.

That’s no secret right?

So, one day after yet another painful session where I had failed to tell her that I was freaking out about being too much and worrying that I am ‘bombarding’ her I was in town after teaching my tutees and went into a crystal shop. I am a big fan of gem stones. I like the fact that they are beautiful in their own right but I also like that some people believe that certain gems perform particular roles or have certain healing properties. So far as I can work out it can’t do any harm to carry a few beautiful things around with you and perhaps them do a bit of good too even if it is all just in all in the mind? – lord knows I can do with some assistance with anxiety and communication!

I had gone to the shop with the idea of buying Em something. Gifts in therapy can be a complete minefield can’t they? Actually in all the years I have been seeing Em I have only given her one thing (aside from cards at Christmas and the therapy anniversary). Last year I gave her a small marble with a heart on which cost next to nothing. Similarly, the gem stones are not high value but rather meant to be symbolic, kind of, ‘I know it’s been complete dog shit lately but I care about you and hope these make you feel a bit better’.

Whenever I buy crystals for myself or for other people I choose them based on the colours I associate with them rather than reading all the information about what they are ‘meant to do’. Because Em lives by the sea and generally wears blues and pastel colours I tend to associate her with pale blues and turquoises. I saw these two stones, blue lace agate and amazonite and was instantly drawn to them:

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When I got home I looked up the meanings and they are meant to be helpful for communication (which has been a fucking great problem in our relationship lately!) and soothing physical ailments and emotional issues as well as stresses in the workplace.

Bingo!

So, the next session I went with them in my bag….where they stayed!

The session after that I wore dungarees and put them in the chest pocket…where they stayed! I did make a bit of a move towards giving her them, ‘can I give you something’ with ten minutes to go and then completely dissociated and sat in silence for ten minutes completely gone and didn’t hand them over. I got completely overcome with fear. I was terrified that giving her the stones would let her know that I care about her (which duh was the point, right?!)…which feels scary because it could end up in her rejecting me in some way and quite frankly everything has been so fragile I just couldn’t risk it…even though clearly part of me wanted to.

By the third session Em was completely better and in no need of the crystals at all- ha! I sat pondering what to do. She obviously knew I had wanted to give her something in the last session but didn’t push me to talk about it. This session hadn’t been a complete disaster and with about 5 minutes to go we seemed to finally connect. Man that’d been a long time coming! I felt brave enough to ask her if I could give her the gift with two minutes remaining. She asked me what it was. I was like, ‘I’m not going to tell you what it is before I give it to you, that’s not really how it works!’

She took the gift, unwrapped it, and said she liked them very much. I explained the meaning behind them and she seemed genuinely surprised that I had noticed that she hadn’t been well. Then she did the therapisty bit about saying she thought it would be useful it we could have a conversation about them next time because she thought it would be helpful. I agreed…but before I left she just had enough time to put her foot in it:

‘When people give me gifts it can be really useful to talk about the meaning behind them. Then when the therapy is finishing I get the gift out again (because I don’t throw things away) and we discuss it again. Then people might take it back away with them as a symbol of the work we have done.’

Now. Perhaps it’s me…BUT… this made me bristle hugely for lots of reasons. To start, we had just gone through a month of hell in the therapy and this was, in part, me trying to get reconnected and show that whilst I might be resistant and difficult at times she does really matter to me and that I care about her and think about her when I am not with her. To be reminded at this point of ‘other people who give her gifts’ felt shit.

I mean I know I am ‘one of many’ but at the moment I didn’t need to be reminded of the clinical nature of the relationship. I’m under no illusions that this is a therapeutic alliance but it is our relationship – I don’t particularly want to hear about what she does with other people!

Then for her to say she doesn’t throw things away…I mean it hadn’t occurred to me that something I might give her would end up in the bin and whilst she was saying she doesn’t do that it seemed an odd thing to say.

Then finally, and this is the big one…I cannot imagine when my therapy comes to an end Em getting the things I have given her out, talking them through again and then saying I can take them all away with me would feel therapeutic AT ALL. In fact, right now, I think it would send me back into therapy!!

The idea that the things I would give her that have meaning could be given back so easily feels really rejecting. I can’t really explain what I mean but it’s something about me wanting her to have something that symbolises our relationship when I am gone and it feels like what she is saying is at the end she can wipe the slate clean ready for the next person to take the Monday 10:30 slot and the Friday 9:30 slot. Maybe I am just being oversensitive but it felt crap.

I went home and wrote in my book how I was feeling about what she had said and my feelings about it…and the words are still sitting on the page and she hasn’t seen them! By the time it was the next session and she brought up the gift again I had shut down and didn’t want to talk about it at all. She said something about them being about care or something but I can’t even remember now. I just felt angry and hurt. I dunno, something I wanted to be connecting just felt totally crap.

(Remember, I did say it’s been a really bad time lately!)

Then there were a few more hard sessions and then I had a holiday! Hurrah.

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Tbh I was glad to get away. I really needed a break. It was glorious and I wish I was still there! I have been working really hard lately. Teaching loads of sessions (the joy of exam season and teaching both English Literature and English Language GCSE and A Level) which has meant six days a week and lots of late nights. No wonder I have been strung out and useless in therapy!

I have realised that therapy cannot be done effectively when running on empty. It just becomes an exercise in firefighting crisis feelings because my piddly letterbox of tolerance is wedged shut. I am sure that things have felt as bad as they have because my day-to-day life has left me exhausted and overwrought. I just haven’t had capacity to hold all my pieces together properly and so when I have got to my sessions the wheels have fallen off because it’s been the only safe place in the week for that to happen. Pushing Em away has felt like the only thing I can do because if I really say how things are I might actually completely disintegrate.

Anyway, a week in the sun was just what the doctor ordered….actually this is true. At my last cancer follow up it was discovered I am deficient in vitamin D so a bit of sun was perfect (alongside my supplements!).

But of course the holiday also meant THERAPY BREAK – boo hiss – and do you know what made it even worse? She was not on holiday at the same time this year. So parts of me felt really sad that I was missing out on my sessions.

Honestly, this attachment stuff is kicking me in the ass right now!

Whilst the holiday was absolutely fantastic the return to therapy didn’t go brilliantly. What a surprise. The first session back, as I have said a million times before, is rarely easy and this last week was no different. Knowing I had a lot to say but also knowing that I have sat on stuff for six weeks I made the fatal error of sending a text on Sunday night asking Em to go through my writing in the notebooks with me and explaining that she has suggested that maybe I need to take a leap of faith in therapy and that this felt really risky but I was willing to try. I was so desperate to move things forward.

When I arrived Em immediately said that she’d seen I had sent her a text but that she hadn’t read it. FFS. I hate this. Straight away it set the protector parts on guard and I felt instantly like she simply doesn’t give a fuck about me so why on earth would I make a leap towards her when she simply isn’t in the least bit interested in me? Em tried to help me back into the room but I was upset and shut down. I asked her to read the text. She acknowledged how breaks stir things up but that also things had been really hard even before the break blah blah blah.

Then, whoop whoop, another great moment.

A lecture about communications outside the room and how she doesn’t want me to text or email her but wants to get to understand what makes me want to communicate with her when she is not available to me because I can’t seem to let her in when she is there. She used a feeding analogy. She’s done this before. She likens me to a hungry baby that for whatever reason cannot feed when mother is there and available to me and yet when she’s gone I realise just how starving I am and start desperately trying to feed and get increasingly upset. I know why this happens but trying to explain this feels too hard when my adult is unavailable because when the youngest parts are active the words aren’t.

I had been sitting swimming in the room, struggling to stay present, unable to really talk…I could see Em was frustrated and I said, ‘I feel like you are really frustrated with me’. She owned her frustration and said that she’s aware that it’s been awful for me lately and that she wonders if I think what we are doing is ‘good enough’ for me and if ‘she can help me’.

FUCK.

We all know what I heard at that point: she’s given up; my silences and dissociation have finally pushed her away; she doesn’t want to work with me.

She said that she wasn’t saying that the work was over or that she didn’t want to work with me but that she sees how painful it’s been for me. Try telling my brain that! It can’t hear you!!

Ugh.

I did manage to talk a bit and let some stuff out at this point. I think it was a panicked response to feeling like I might get terminated if I didn’t get my start talking soon. I can’t remember what I said now, though! But whatever it was it was vulnerable and open enough that Em said something about how the frustration had gone and that we can work through this together. She said that she thinks we need to work very explicitly with the parts, especially the ones that are resistant and gagging all the others.

This is good.

I think this is what I think needs to happen too.

She suggested maybe when things feel really blocked in session that perhaps I could write or draw…I like this idea but often when I am in a really bad spot there simply aren’t any words or pictures I’m just in a black pit of hell. However, there are times when I am not away in dissociative hell but struggling to speak that I think it might work really well.

Despite all the positives once we connected, I left Monday’s session feeling rock bottom. Everything felt wrong inside. I know I have a tendency to latch onto the one ‘bad thing’ I hear and then fixate on it rather than notice all the evidence of what is good in a session. I felt so far away from Em that my default coping mechanisms kicked in this week…or rather the Inner Critic stepped up to try and get some kind of control over the shit that was consuming me. Step one – incessant self-attacking voice:

‘You’re fucking pathetic. Look at you. Even your therapist can’t fucking stand you. She’s been so patient but you’ve managed to wear her out too. I don’t know why you would think she cares about you – she doesn’t…you’re wasting your time.’

It never takes very long for that incessant nagging to turn its attention to my body and eating. This week saw a rapid descent into being super critical of my figure. I felt like wanted to cut fat off my body. I started restricting what I was eating and got my trainers out after a year and went on a six mile run and then started on the outdoor gym across the road three days on the bounce…and between Tuesday and Saturday lost 3lb.

It’s not brilliant.

I can feel how things have switched in my head.

I knew, on Friday, that I had to tell Em what’s happening.

This, in itself, is a sign of progress, I think. The thing with my eating disorder is that I have always kept it secret when it is active. I have never talked about it in therapy (and it’s been there for twenty years soooo!) until last year when things got really bad and I was barely functioning. It started off ok, talking, and then it turned into nightmare and resulted in Em giving me an ultimatum after a few sessions. One session I came in and she was stony faced and serious. She told me that she wanted me to see my GP or we’d have to work towards an ending. In fairness to her I can see she was acting out of care and worry about my physical health, I had lost heaps of weight really radpidly and it was having an impact on my ability to function but it felt like I had been run over by a bus hearing her tell me that we would be done if things continued as they are.

That session was painful and we did manage to have a really productive conversation in the end and things got much better with me and I got a handle on my ED….however, that threat of an ending has stayed with me and fills me with fear when I think about what might happen in the future if things get bad.

On Friday, therefore I took a bravery pill and towards the end of the session told her things were sliding and that as a result I was worried about ‘losing her’. She responded really well. There was no time left but we have put this discussion on the table for today and I hope that it’ll go ok. I hope she will see that I have brought it into the room (even though it feels dangerous to do so) because that’s what I promised last year. I said to her that if things started to slip I would let her know before it had chance to become a big problem.

I can’t say I am not nervous. I am. But actually, at this point, there is so much work that I have been avoiding since Easter that I just need to dive in and see what happens….like my out of control octopus in my notebook!

bb111138-b4c9-49ae-be62-b2ba317459a1Throughout all this, Em has tried to reach me. Parts of me can hear it….it’s just there’s a couple of really noisy parts that are screaming right now about not trusting her and undermining the therapy. Basically, the house renovation has encountered a few snags lately! But I’m in this for the long haul so I will get things sorted…eventually!

So…that’s about it…up to speed in a very very long post! There’s obviously been a lot more said than all of that but after nearly 4000 words I think I’ll stop.

 

 

 

Therapy Is Hard Work…

Therapy is hard work! But we knew that already, didn’t we?! It’s funny – not funny ‘haha’ more funny ‘strange’ to think a lot of  people still assume that therapy is just going and talking to someone who listens, says nice things, and makes you feel better each week – basically a ‘paid for’ friend. Ha! I wish it were as simple as that!

I can’t tell you how many times I have tried to explain to people whom I know that know I am ‘still in therapy’ (‘how much therapy does one person need?!’) that doing depth work isn’t about pasting over the cracks or simply patching the hole in the roof for a few months and then sending you off out in the big wide world again only now with a thin veneer of ‘coping’ laid on top of whatever the issue is. I’ve done this short-term work in the past (in my early twenties) and I can say it only took a few rainstorms for the problems to be exposed again.

I am sure, for some people, CBT and short-term work is totally fine. Maybe if you just have one small hole in the roof, or a bit of wallpaper that keeps flapping in the corner of the room (or you’re just a pro at doing therapy!), then working on some strategies to fix the leak/paste the paper back might be quick work and that’s therapy done. When I first entered the therapy room I hoped my problems were largely cosmetic. Unfortunately, this seems not to be the case. Having undergone a full survey it’s pretty apparent that the issues are structural and abundant.

I mean let’s be real here, despite first (misleading) appearances, when you get close, my building is bordering on derelict. There’s more holes in the roof than slates on it, everything has a distinctly precarious off-centre lean, there’s woodworm, rising damp, and all manner of missing bits and pieces: floorboards, doors, windows…! It’s not what you’d call ‘habitable’ right now but it’s all I have so I have to camp out whilst I do the work.

Therapy, for me, is a bit like undergoing a complete renovation. The therapy/my therapist is providing a scaffold to sure up the main frame of the building whilst I painstakingly, bit by bit, strip layer after layer back ready to rebuild from the ground up a solid, storm-proof me… it’s taking a while, longer than I had anticipated, and I’ve gone way over budget (!!! OMG I wince at the $£$£), because every now and again just as I start some delicate reconstruction work a bloody great tempest whips up and starts shaking everything with force and then more bits and pieces fly off and I realise I haven’t actually got back to the base on which it is safe to build. Ugh. Annoying!

Every floor of the building is pretty fucked – so much work to do!… and the central stair well is rickety as hell too. Every tread has an issue on it: C-PTSD, Anorexia, Anxiety, Stress, Depression, Fear, Doubt, Shame, Panic, Lethargy, Grief… I hate walking up and down these stairs but it is unavoidable if I am to sort the building out. I am trying to install a handrail at the minute and make sure there aren’t any sneaky holes on the stairs that I might get my foot wedged in. I’m aware that certain areas are more dicey than others: anorexia looks solid but it’s a bloody nightmare and I can find myself waist deep and dangling if I misjudge my step.

As my holiday approaches in two weeks time signalling a two session therapy break I can see that I need to be especially careful not to go arse over tit as I carry my suitcase out over the C-PTSD step…I want to enjoy my holiday. I want to leave this ramshackle project behind so I can have a rest, regroup, and start again on my return with renewed vigour and energy. I guess we’ll have to see what happens, though.

One thing I can be sure of: no one is going to burgle me whilst I’m gone!

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Time To Move On…

Oh crikey! It’s a little bit (a lot) messy in my brain right now! It’s not a complete disaster/shit show…it’s just… I dunno…I can’t quite put my finger on what’s going on inside. I don’t feel anything major – I am not down, or manic, or anything really – I just am.  I wrote a while back (sometime last year!) about being in a good place and I guess that’s sort of where I am again now – or perhaps I should say, like the therapists do a ‘good enough’ place. lol!

Thankfully, I got over my stuckness/ennui that I was suffering when I wrote my last blog post and have had a thoroughly enjoyable, relaxing end to my Easter holiday. I am still in denial about having to return to work… even though I went back yesterday! Ha. I swear that Tuesday was the most Monday I have ever experienced! The next few days are enormous so far as workload goes – the only saving grace is that it’s payday next week and so at least I get to see some reward for all the hard work….although once all the bills go out – pah – there’s not much left! Ah well, I am not going lament the lack of cash because I know that I am very lucky in the grand scheme of things and whilst I might like more treats (shoes!) I am able to feed us all and keep a roof over our heads – and that, in today’s world is no mean feat.

So, back to whatever this is…

In the last week of the school holiday we were blessed her in the UK with totally gorgeous weather – it was 23-25 degrees and sunny most days where I live (that’s Summer done now, then!) and we found ourselves relaxing into living outdoors: barbecues, bike rides, reading books under the cherry tree, going for ice-cream etc. The whole pace of life slowed down and the days seemed to last forever – you know like when you were a kid? It was great AND very very necessary. I posted a few things about living my best life on other social media platforms and that’s really how it felt. To be able to breathe deeply and slow down for a bit was so restorative.

Despite being active with the kids this last week (lie ins are a thing of the past!) I feel well-rested and that is very good news given the half-term of work that lies ahead (buries head in sand! ‘lala lala I can’t hear you!’). I think that says a lot about just how tiring day-to-day life can be having to hold so much in mind and be in so many places… breaks are necessary! (just not for therapists 😉 !! haha) On the plus side it has also started raining here today which means that I don’t feel rubbish about having to do work now when I would much rather be relaxing in my garden under this beauty!

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Interestingly, as the working week started up again yesterday, and real life/work life got moving all kinds of anxieties about therapy came flooding back in that have been largely silent this last week. BUMMER! I have started having a belting number of therapy dreams too!! Ha – that old chestnut!

I have written a few posts about therapy dreams over the last couple of years and how they seem to happen when I am on a therapy break so I am hardly surprised that just as sessions are about to resume on Friday that all the stuff about being abandoned and rejected and uncared for and bleurgh! puke! ugh! starts marinating in my unconscious. Joy! It’s almost like my mind is getting ready for what lies ahead by shovelling heaps of turd on my head before I go to session. Like, perhaps if my mind repeatedly makes me live out ‘worst case scenario’ in my dreams then it likely to not be as bad in real life….you know, fear the worst and hope for the best sort of thing?!

Anyway, all I can say is that thank god I am a little better at not acting on the feelings or paying too much heed to what I am left with after these kind of horrible dreams. There have been times when I have gone through the whole gamut of emotions and all the parts would have had some kind of meltdown revolving around: sadness, rage, no fucks given….and would seriously have considered terminating therapy because I was emotionally overwrought and triggered! A bad dream could completely derail me and leave me not properly talking to my therapist for a month (really – that did happen!) but now I can see that the messages that are coming up for me are important but are not real life and actually probably aren’t really rooted in the here and now….like I have anxieties about the therapeutic relationship (no shit!) but my therapist has not ever actually physically pushed me away or mocked me or told me I am overreacting – this is old stuff replaying in this relationship….I still go through the emotional cycle of sadness/rage/no fucks given but actually I am aware of the cycle now and can notice it and wonder about it rather than being completely swamped by it for days and weeks on end. Phew!

So, yeah, there’s lots to be bringing to session on Friday! My notebook is full of dreams and bits and bobs… Although I doubt my dream world will get a look in this week because I have other stuff to attend to too….like the last session before the break (eek!) and the fact that last week I seriously, and calmly, considered whether I need to do therapy any more – whether I really need two sessions a week – whether it was time to move on from therapy? When I ask myself this question, usually I get a resounding ‘Nooooooooo!!!’ from the little parts who balk at the very thought of leaving Em, but last week there was no internal noise at all.

I suspect this is, in part, because I have those parts on lockdown. After the disaster in attachment hell that happened last Easter and a rapid descent into an anorexic nightmare I have been super mindful of not giving those parts and those painful feelings too much space. I don’t want rerun of all that agony again…

Still, it is interesting for me to think about where I am at with therapy and my ‘healing journey’. I think it’s important to reflect on where I am at and notice what feelings come up when I consider the end of therapy as they can change so rapidly. Deep down I know I have a shit tonne more work to do with Em but I also need to give myself credit that there is progress being made and that I am actually even able to consider the end of therapy when the time is right.

I think it’s natural, too, to question why you would put yourself through a significant period of therapy. Because it certainly isn’t for the faint-hearted! This isn’t surface level stuff. It’s deep-diving. It’s not easy. It requires a lot of commitment and, dare I say it, bravery. Sometimes it feels like an exercise in masochism (!) and I wonder, when, like on this holiday, I get over the initial hell that is the start of a therapy break and settle into just living my life (where I am actually fine) if therapy is actually doing me any good. My adult life is pretty good. I am quite adept at adulting, actually….so then I wonder what drives me to keep repeatedly picking at the scab of the past. Why don’t I just put everything behind me, live in the now, and stop dredging, and poking, and prodding the Mother Wound week in week out year after year??? That’s a question!!

I absolutely have made progress with my therapy. I am still bothered by LOTS of stuff but I am a little more accepting of myself now and have a greater ability to step back and let things settle rather so that’s all good. I do wonder a little bit, though, if sometimes the ‘I’m gonna go it alone’ thought comes, in part, because when my therapist is not here I have to do it for myself. Maybe not going back is like an, ‘I don’t need you’ ?  I don’t know! I’d like to think the thoughts I have been having this week have been coming from an adult place, but who bloody knows?! haha.

Anyway, whilst my adult has been in the driving seat this last week or so, I can’t say that was the case in my last session before the break. Cringe! Em and I discussed at length how I was feeling about the break. I managed to say quite a bit and not get too dissociated but … ugh… I hate these conversations. I hate when we skirt around the edges but I also hate being under the full beam of the spotlight. Telling Em I hate breaks and that I feel unstable and worried and all that jazz is just horrid. It was a good conversation, to be fair, and did make me feel safe enough to get Em to have another look at the picture in my book I had drawn where I had drawn her tangled in barbed wire on her chair and me – labelled ‘toxic’- sitting on the sofa.

Em, bless her, was really ‘puzzled’ as to why I would think that she would see me as a toxic person, because she said this is ‘absolutely not the case’. Then she tried, I think, to try and make me see that things are ok and that therapy, as it is, is fine and secure….only it didn’t quite come off!

This part of the session went like this:

“The time I would stop seeing you would either be when I am ill, or on breaks…but breaks is not stopping seeing you. We’d have to end if you started being physically violent towards me – but I personally don’t see that in you…or if it was very very difficult to… if you bombarded me with stuff and we couldn’t move on that then that would be difficult. I’ve said to you many times that it’s preferable if you bring things here and we can talk about things here because this is where it happens other than that I…’

Then she elaborated on how she sees me as a person who has had to go through some really difficult stuff and have developed some coping mechanisms that aren’t easy – and that I need to control stuff and cover stuff and that there are some extremely disturbed parts inside. She said she is not blind to the impact of prolonged self-harm but that she does in no way see me as toxic and she wonders what it is that I could say to her that makes me think that she will end the therapy. I didn’t really hear this part at the time because I was in full-blown panic about the idea of ‘bombardment’.

The session was finished and right at the end she told me that I need not text her on Friday mornings to tell her I was going to be there in person because lately I have been able to get there and not Skype and so now just to text her if I can’t get there and need to Skype. That’s simple enough right? Sure. BUT not when my brain is having a complete meltdown about worrying that my therapist feels bombarded by outside contact (not that there is much at all)…

Anyway it was enough to send me into a steep nosedive as I drove home. I ended up writing this out in my notebook to try and explain what was going on for me during that part of the session – I don’t know if it is very readable on screen:

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So yeah, there’s plenty to talk about on Friday! Aaargghh! I guess there’s a bit of irony in the fact that I have been considering whether I need to be in therapy when this is the sort of stuff a five minute conversation can generate! The positive is that, now I can actually take this stuff to session and talk it through – I can do the work…whereas before I would have sat brooding on it and attacking myself for how I feel. That’s good right?!

I won’t lie. I am shitting it a bit about Friday. I don’t ever really like the first session back after a break. I behave strangely…like testing the waters…is she still safe??? etc. So, it’ll be a miracle really if I do tackle this stuff head on…might wait til Monday!! HA!

 

Ennui

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I remember coming across the word ‘ennui’ years (and years!) ago when I was studying for my A Level in English Literature. I liked the word (I was one of those weird kids that used to like reading the thesaurus and trying to expand my vocabulary! #geek) and related to it instantly (as well as the character who was stuck in this lethargic state in the novel we were studying).

Almost twenty years down the line I can safely say that ennui has been a state I have visited regularly enough…. for me it’s on the road to depression but not fully there, kind of like a half-way point. It’s irritating beyond words because it feels like a paralysis in a similar way to how a full-blown depressive episode is only I don’t feel desperately sad or hopeless…I just have no energy to do anything. I am bored and unoccupied. I should motivate myself to do something but feel devoid of ‘get up and go’ so have just moped about doing nothing, and in doing nothing I am getting increasingly frustrated. It is bonkers!

I have done absolutely nothing with my day today. I have literally been sitting on the couch sighing long deep sighs. My wife suggested I go out for a few hours on my own: I couldn’t be arsed. She encouraged me to go read a book: ‘I have nothing to read’ (despite the huge pile of books beside my bed!). I have had all day to maybe sit here and write this blog: I couldn’t even be bothered to go get the laptop. It’s like that. I am not depressed (I don’t think) I am just tired and I have nothing to do (despite there being loads I could be doing!)…I feel like a fractious toddler who is overtired and no matter what you try and do for it you can’t please it.

I know usually I am moaning on about being ‘too busy’ or being ‘spread a bit thin’, or feeling ‘overwrought’… for a long time I have not had time or space to plunge into a state of ennui. BUT my god am I stuck in a stupor now!! Jeez. It’s madness. I have been hanging on by the skin of my teeth to get to this Easter holiday. I have absolutely needed a break from work and the pressure of being in so many places all the time…and yet, now I have the luxury of staying in bed a little longer in the morning or sitting on the sofa and doing nothing, I feel stir crazy…but also can’t be bothered to do anything about it.

I wonder what this is about?

Maybe I just don’t know how to relax? My life is generally on fast forward and so anything other than 100mph feels alien. I dunno.  I am now on a therapy break and that stirred up all kind of feelings … until today where I simply can’t be arsed to care (dissociation maybe!). Perhaps this feeling is something to do with all that? Like there’s some part of me that is a saboteur? Maybe I can’t actually just sit back, relax, and enjoy my time off because it’s a therapy break. I don’t think it’s so cut and dried as that….but I suspect (know) that not being back in session until the 26th has something to do with it.

I actually don’t have very much more to say on the matter right now –  I can’t even think about it properly – I’m just a big blob of ‘meh’. So, I am just going to go lie down and sigh a bit more like Duck! ha!

*I give full permission for people to give me giant kicks up the backside next week when I am back at work and moaning about being stressed and over-stretched for not fully appreciating time off. I will get my shit together and write a proper post before I go back to work too.

 

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