This Is What Healing Looks Like To Me or ‘Why I need Chocolate NOT Pears (Or Ice Cubes!)’

For those of you have followed this blog over the last few years you’ll know that I have poured blood, sweat, tears, and thousands and thousands of pounds into my healing journey. The ironic thing is, it is only in the last year, since I went back to my craniosacral therapist K, and then found Anita in January, (just as my relationship with Em started to properly disintegrate) that there has been any sense of healing – like a proper felt sense that things can and are getting better on that deeper level.

I have done years of ‘therapy’, religiously going to see Em week in week out, two sessions a week and repeatedly being triggered into a place of huge pain and dissociation. It has been so hard to endure. Part of me wonders why I stayed for so long when everything felt so off. My attachment to Em was so strong, though. My child parts were completely invested in the relationship (or wanting to feel like there was a ‘relationship’) that I put myself through emotional hell – a familiar hell – of feeling so deficient, unlovable, and untouchable.

This experience of therapy with Em just poured salt in an already gaping mother wound. It was trauma bonding 101. A complete re-enactment of my childhood and a re-experiencing of the cold, distant, but shaming relationship I had with my mum. Deep down part of me knew that, but I couldn’t leave, it was familiar territory and what I had grown to expect…but just like with my mum, I really really hoped that one day things would turn around and I’d get what I needed.

I wanted to believe there was something better for me and maybe it would materialise if I just tried harder, didn’t ask for too much, and was patient. But this didn’t happen. I was shown time and again that my needs weren’t important – or even acknowledged as being valid- and that I had to take what was offered…which was very little.

It wasn’t until Em likened my young parts to a tick and had verbally rejected the gift (or said that she didn’t want to accept gifts in future and shouldn’t have taken the one at Christmas) that I knew I couldn’t go on any more. Em had hurt me and my child parts so badly that even though I loved her (and still do) I physically couldn’t put myself through it any more. As it was all coming to a head from my side it was clear that she was more than done too – as I had suspected – and she made no attempt to try and work through it with me, willing to let me go on a perfunctory two line email…after 8 years!

Looking back, I just wish I had made a clean break the day I went to see Anita to test the waters about a different therapy/therapist. I knew instantly that A was a good fit and that I wanted to work with her but I also wanted to try for a ‘decent ending’ with Em– that illusive thing! I wish I had have taken more heed of the concerns A raised about Em’s conduct and just cut my losses before things had chance to get any worse.

If only I had just walked away then rather than waiting to see what might happen, giving it one last go at trying to work it through, and STUPIDLY handing her the power back, then the biggest injury would have been avoided. I would have felt rejected and abandoned whatever happened but I wouldn’t be stuck with this sick feeling of people I care about seeing me as a parasite.

Ouch.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing isn’t it? I guess I hoped that she would reflect on what I told her about how hurt I was about the session leading into Christmas, the break, and the first session back, accept her part in things, acknowledge my feelings, and find a way to move forward – rupture and repair in action. But no. What happened was horrific, her response telling her how hurt I felt was, ‘your young parts are like a tick’ and before I knew it everything was unravelling at speed.

Clearly, I am still not over what happened in this therapy and every time I get close to Anita there’s a voice in my head that says, ‘This is dangerous, don’t let her too close, don’t let her see the need because you’ll frighten her away – she’ll think you’re a tick, too’. And I hate that. I hate that what Em said still hurts like hell all these months on, but I also hate that it impacts how I relate to Anita.

I cannot really explain how different it feels being with Anita. She makes me feel safe and cared for and yet even when there is real closeness between us we’re lumbered with the legacy that Em has left. I know it is going to take a lot of therapy and care to repair the damage done because Em has basically shattered all the young parts of me that were trying to trust and heal, but not only that, she’s also taken a huge swipe at my adult self. I am so grateful that A is on my side though, and willing to do the work with me….as slow and painstaking as it is.

I guess in some way I am grateful to Em (am I?!). I learnt a lot about myself in the therapy with her. Parts of myself I didn’t even know existed made themselves known to me through being in ‘relationship’ with her. Unfortunately, these vulnerable young child parts were abandoned in that room. She frequently told me I was abandoning my young parts but if that was true, then so was she. I have so often felt like I am on the verge of drowning just trying to keep us all afloat and taking myself to therapy was not an act of abandonment on my part. It’s hard living an adult life without having to carry the terror and pain of a minibus full of activated child parts too – therapy was meant to help with that (and it does now- phew!).

Over the years, I have spent a lot of time researching and finding out more about my ‘stuff’. I guess I used that well-worn strategy ‘intellectualising’ to try and make sense of the situation! I have read so many books on attachment, trauma, shame, dissociation, and the therapeutic relationship – and, of course, blogs – looking for the answers, learning how to move forward and heal, and whilst that didn’t happen with Em, I feel like I at least know myself now and confident that I am not the only person on earth struggling with this stuff. I know what’s wrong. I understand what the injury is. AND I know what I need to heal it. I’ve always known – I just haven’t been able to get what I needed until now.

After years of being told what I need by Em, like she was some magic oracle that knew what ‘people like me’ need to heal I can categorically say what I need is not what was on offer with her! Maybe her strategies work with some clients, but I struggle to see how anyone with Complex Trauma would have responded well to her ‘techniques’. As I mentioned recently in another post, I saw something by Carolyn Spring that says that when we are in distress, we don’t need strategies or techniques, we need a person. And it’s that simple. It’s not rocket science, it it? Relational trauma needs healing in relationship. Em didn’t really do relationship. She watched me as I struggled and suffered – like some kind of poor rodent in a science experiment.

I have talked and talked and got nowhere and over time replaced talking with more and more dissociation. Simply being in the same room with Em triggered me. I’d feel dysregulated before I even arrived at the session but I was always so hopeful that maybe this time I’d get what I needed having hung on desperately through the week in attachment hell waiting to see her.

I don’t think people that haven’t got this kind of trauma/injury have even the slightest idea of how bloody harrowing it is being stuck in the attachment hell zone – feeling like the world is literally falling apart, like you can’t breathe for the pain of it, and being completely terrified. When it gets bad like that I know, for me, it’s largely pre-verbal and it is so scary feeling completely abandoned, uncontained, and as though you are falling through some kind of internal black abyss. That’s crappy, but then there’s all the other feelings that can come in from other parts- the apathy, the rage, the self-loathing, the wanting to cut and run…it’s just awful.

My window of tolerance became so small in the end that I felt unsafe being with Em. I was always braced for more rejection, more shaming, more disconnection. My body was always so tense – so much so that it would hurt. More than anything I wanted to feel safe with her and that’s why I kept going – the child parts hoped that one day she’d help them and so they hid behind the sofa, peeking out, waiting and waiting to be seen and cared for. Only when she did get glimpses of who was there she freaked out, put walls up, and distanced herself even further. It was though I would sometimes be brave enough to take one step forward and she’d immediately take two (twenty!) steps back.

I don’t know what it is about that young parts that triggered her so badly but I do wonder if there is unresolved childhood trauma for her that my stuff tapped into and she just couldn’t bear to be near it. Or maybe she just didn’t like me and was content to keep taking the money. Long-term clients with attachment disorders coming twice a week are certainly a reliable source of income. We don’t ever not turn up! lol.

There is so sadness about this. At times it got so bad that I came close to destroying myself. My go to coping strategies were so active – some of the worst periods of anorexic behaviour and self-harm happened whilst in the therapy with Em because I couldn’t cope with the pain of the attachment and how alone I felt. I feel so upset about it all because it could have been so different. Handled well, it could have been so healing.

I tried really hard to do what Em said. I wanted to believe that what she suggested could work for me. I don’t want to feel this way forever – that’s why I am in therapy in the first place! I tried to engage with whatever she asked: the visualisations- ‘just imagine holding your distressed child parts’ – but it wasn’t me the child parts wanted or needed at that point– and she knew that and shamed me for it.

When it was really bad and I was heavily dissociated somewhere out in the cold alone, embodying that exiled child part, there was no adult self to help me and Em just left me stranded – sometimes for the entire session. I don’t doubt that someday soon I will be able to hold and contain these young parts for myself but back then there was no chance. I didn’t know how.

When you are terrified and in a child state you can’t just pick yourself up and make it better for yourself – especially if there’s no template to work from. How can you imagine being held and feeling safe if you’ve never experienced being held or feeling safe? It’s not just visualisations, though. I’ve done all sorts; I made my eyes follow blue dots on an I-pad over and over (yet another tool to avoid talking about what was going on between us in the room). I have tried everything Em threw at me and yet none of it worked.

I have tried to believe that being ignored during the week between sessions was for the best, that somehow my massively distressed young parts who feared that she was never coming back (like all those years where my mum was gone in the week when I was little) or perhaps dead (like my dad) would learn that she was there in session. I tried to convince myself that I didn’t need a transitional object, check ins…the list goes on and on …because she was unwilling to concede an inch so maybe I must stupid for thinking these things might help and how dare I ask for anything more than the bare minimum – clearly, she knew best – deprivation and isolation was best?! But I did need more and now that I am getting those things, it really really makes a massive difference.

I have never been able to feel safe in therapy because what I needed more than anything was a person. I needed a relationship in which to begin to build trust and someone to feel safe with. I needed someone who realised and accepted that there were lots of parts of me (some really badly hurt) and they each need something different and communicate in different ways. My child parts were reluctant to come to session with Anita- and who can blame them after what happened in January- but I’ve found they are pretty good at communicating with Gifs and emojis! I have sent more texts in the last week to A than I did in the entire time I worked with Em – eek!

Anita’s willingness to allow those young parts to tentatively take steps towards her from outside the room and for her to have responded in a way that they understand, has meant that now, they have felt safe enough to come to therapy and are well and truly in the room…I could not have done that if we hadn’t spent the last 9 months laying the foundations via text. Em was blank screen. Teflon. She wanted no contact. Anita is present, real, and connected. She actually seems to like me…better than like me (yay!)…which is nice but it means that what and who needs to be work with can safely turn up.

I wish I had been able to advocate better for myself with Em. Deep down we all know what we need to heal. Sometimes that doesn’t align with what the other person can do, it doesn’t fit their training or system of working, their personality – and that is fine – we can’t force a therapist to be someone they’re not (even if they seem to want to force a square peg through a round hole where we are concerned!). I just wish they’d say something early on like, ‘What you need and want is completely valid and understandable as you’ve had so much wounding but I can’t offer that’ and refer us out rather than saying things like, ‘The time for getting what you need has passed and you need to learn to hold this for yourself. I won’t collude with those young parts. If I did what you wanted it wouldn’t help you in the long run.’

Whilst I understand I can’t get a new childhood or a new mum, I can have a relationship with my therapist that is safe, caring, and loving in order that the wounding from my childhood can be gently healed. I can have someone who is on my side ready to hold my hand and support me when I go to the really dark places. It is ok to expect to be in a relationship with someone who you share the most vulnerable and wounded parts of yourself. I can’t express it strongly enough – it is the relationship that heals not the theory.

And so what happened with Em? I stayed, sort of believing her narrative that I was not trying hard enough to heal (even though I work so fucking hard both inside and outside of sessions)– that I was in some way treatment resistant so just need to try harder, let her in more, stop dissociating. And then when I did that, when I gave her my notebooks, her reaction was so bad that it ended.

Here’s a crap analogy for what my therapy has been like…buckle up we’re on course for one of my extended rambling metaphors!:

I think it’s a bit like when you’re a kid and you feel sad and want a treat. You may really want a bar of chocolate – know that a bar of chocolate is what would make you feel better- and yet the parent keeps offering you a pear because ‘they know what’s best for you’. You chew on the pear but really, deep down you wanted chocolate. I mean, of course, there are some similarities between a pear and a chocolate bar- both are sweet- but we all know a pear is not a reasonable substitution for a chocolate bar no matter what they say about the health benefits!

Imagine being a child, and every week asking for chocolate and every week being told ‘No – you can only have pear! You may think you need a chocolate bar, but you’re wrong. Pear is what you need. Pear is all that’s on offer. You’ll soon learn that pears are the best thing for you.’ And that’s hard to take on board because it feels impossible that that can be true…

But it gets worse, alongside this, whilst you’ve got acid indigestion from so much fucking pear, the parent repeatedly tells you how much chocolate you’ve missed out on in your life so far. Then saying that despite having some chocolate right there with them, that they won’t give any to you ever, and maybe you could find some way to imagine what it would be like to taste chocolate whilst you’re struggling to stomach the pear.

The pear is definitely not what you want but you are naturally compliant and so take it and wonder why you aren’t good enough to be given the chocolate. Week after week you’re handed pear but you’re quickly sick of it, the taste, the texture, how it makes you feel sick inside- everything about pear feels wrong. It’s not chocolate. At this point you’d even settle for a cocoa dusted slice of pear…but no…you’ve got pear and pear only.

Eventually, it reaches a point where you just cannot put another piece of pear in your mouth. And the parent keeps on, ‘How about we try this shaped pear today? Or perhaps we could juice it?’ as though it would be any different from all the other slabs and slices and cups you’ve forced down your neck over the months and years. You internally groan. You’re not stupid though, you stopped asking for the chocolate a long time ago because it just got painful being refused it over and over again.

You clearly don’t deserve chocolate and so now you’ve tried to convince yourself that chocolate is bad and dangerous because that’s what parent has said… but it’s never really worked because your soul knows what you need. And part of you hoped that if you kept up with the pear long enough, maybe one day you’d be rewarded with just a tiny square of chocolate. The parent thinks they’ve won the battle because you don’t ever talk of chocolate now, but inside you’re really sad – why is a bit of chocolate so forbidden? How can something that tastes so good be wrong?  

Time goes on and by now you’re so sick of pear, that it’s reached the point where it’s making you sick and you have nightmares about being handed pear. Just the thought of it makes you want to gag and you cry. Until one day you crack. You can’t do it any more, the revulsion to the pear is so severe that you vomit it back up all over the floor, and it’s not just pear, it’s years of emotional pain spewing out, and you scream ‘I DON’T LIKE PEAR! I hate pear. I have tried it. I really have. But it’s not helping me. It actually makes me feel ill. I really just need some chocolate!!’ and the parent looks at you with disgust and coldly says. ‘I don’t do chocolate and if you won’t eat pear then you’ll have to go’. It’s as simple as that.

So, you go somewhere else, a foster home, crying, sad, not really knowing what you need anymore, what you are entitled to ask for. You don’t even really care about chocolate now, you just know you can’t stomach another pear and you pray that this new home doesn’t force feed them to you too.

You walk in the door and the new parent talks to you kindly, it’s bizarre, so alien!… and immediately says that chocolate is completely ok in this house like it’s the most natural thing in the world. Indeed, they offer you a chocolate bar. You don’t even have to ask for it! Apparently a plentiful supply of chocolate bars are what is needed when a child like you has been deprived chocolate all its life. And it’s ok to want that and ask for that. And, furthermore, if you don’t like pear then you never have to eat it again. When you leave the house and look in your bag you see that the new parent has even slid a chocolate bar in your lunch bag. You cannot believe your luck.

And this is what it’s been like seeing Em and A. I mean that’s a bit of an ‘out there’ analogy. My friend actually said I ought to have used ice cubes for Em rather than pears… as she was stone cold and there was no nutritional value to the therapy!! haha. The moment I met A, she was on my page – ‘you know what you need, you’re inside you, and who am I to tell you what you need? I might not be able to give you everything you need but those needs are valid and ok’… turns out she also has a stack of ‘chocolate’ and it’s really good chocolate so my inner child is delighted! Lol.

Anyway, that’s all for now…this is unexpectedly long. I’m trying to work out what to do with writing this blog at the minute. Therapy has gone to a whole new level for me these last couple of weeks -it’s incredible but also massively vulnerable work – and so I feel like right now, I don’t want to detail what’s going on because actually I feel really protective of it. I feel like I need to talk to A about it too. I get it’s my therapy, that the blog is anonymous, etc but I might have to take a bit of time before I publish anything. That’s not an intentional cliff-hanger, it’s just I feel like I need to keep everything safely contained in the room for a bit. x

System Crash: Defences Breached

Well, blimey, it’s been hard this week. I knew things were approaching the ‘danger zone’ but I genuinely didn’t think the wheels were going to fall off in such a spectacular way mid-week! It felt like I hit a patch of black ice on Tuesday and then started desperately careering around the road on Wednesday only to crash out on Thursday.

I managed to get through all my teaching commitments this week but I could feel how thinly stretched I was. Half term cannot come quickly enough. The child parts inside were all activated and I just wanted to cry most of the week. It felt desperate. Everything felt too much. Never have I relied more heavily on my rubber bands and chewing gum to hold it together!

By the time it got to my craniosacral session with K on Thursday morning I was hanging on by a thread. It was so good to see her, to be safe in the space with her for that window of time, and to get some much needed care and attention for my nervous system…and myself! She sees right through me – which is both terrifying and a huge relief. It means that there is no point in acting like things are ok or pretending that I am hanging it together because she feels what’s going on in my body whatever I say!

I’ve noticed the harder I am struggling to juggle things, the more I put on a coping front with people. I paste on the smile and say ‘it’s fine’ when actually everything is falling apart inside. The performance aspect of myself, the part that allows to me to teach and exist in the outside world gets jammed on and I feel almost like I am in some kind of out of body experience. I guess it’s a form of dissociation. And it works…to an extent.

However, whilst this ‘coping, high functioning self’ ensures I can function out in the world, it comes at an enormous physical and emotional cost to the rest of me, or should I just say ‘me’? That seemingly extroverted, happy, self that takes care of everyone else’s needs runs on overdrive, draining every last drop of energy, leaving absolutely nothing in reserve for everyone else inside and then, inevitably, the shit hits the fan!

When I am on the edge, running on adrenaline, ‘in role’ I actually do some of my best work. I know my lessons are really good. But it’s insane. When I need to dial it down to my conserve energy I ramp up. Panic. Panic. PANIC! I can’t let anyone see how desperate things are, so here, have the all singing all dancing version of me. I’m fine…it’s fine…fine…FINE!!! (It’s not fine…not fine at all)

ARGH!!

And so when that manic, crazed, state is on and I find it quite hard to land back in myself because the distance between appearance and the reality is immense. When I stop and really stare into the truth of the situation I know I am on empty. Burnt out. And the young ones are beside themselves. And it’s too scary to go there…because if I stop, and acknowledge the reality, the vulnerability, the fact that I need someone to help me and I am left open and exposed…what happens if I can’t get what I need? What happens if I can’t pick myself back up and get going again? I’ll have a proper breakdown… and I CANNOT GO TO THAT PLACE AGAIN.

I told K how crazy it’s all been and she invited me to take time to land and then asked what was going on inside/underneath. I felt so exposed. But also so pleased to be able to remove the mask for a bit. I told her that my four year old self was terrified and I feel like I am falling apart. There’s been a lot of adult life stress going on recently with my family that taps back into old wounds and triggers the child parts so it’s been feeling tough. Adult me can just about cope but the child parts are not doing so well.

I have this image that frequently comes up when Four is around. She’s standing in the middle of a country lane in just her nightie. It’s grey, wet, dark, and cold. She has no idea where she is. She is totally lost. She’s scared. She’s hungry. And yet she doesn’t make a sound. There is no point in screaming for help because she’s learnt that no one ever comes. Was there ever more fitting an image of an exiled part than her?

It’s really painful when this little one gets live and it’s no wonder that I spend so much of my time trying to outrun this stuff. I mean, all these little parts are always there in varying states of distress and need, but most of the time I can hold it together enough to not be floored by them. I can function alongside the internal hell. But not this week.

I don’t know what happened or why, but I felt really held by K in the session. I mean physically. And yet there was absolutely nothing different to any other session. It’s a body-based therapy and so I am physically held every week. But for some reason it felt different on Thursday. All I can think is that my usual defences just weren’t there in the same way? I had nothing to armour myself with and so just felt it all. I couldn’t quite hold myself and so sunk into being held. I don’t know.

I know it sounds bonkers that even with one of my safest, most trusted people my system still has a degree of armouring. I guess it’s all about survival and protection. No matter how badly I want to trust that things are properly safe, my system just can’t fully let go. I’m so terrified of being rejected or abandoned that the closer I get to someone the scarier it feels – well, at least to some of the parts. I guess there’s so much more to lose when you really care about someone and need them. I know K isn’t going anywhere. I am safe with her. But this stuff is unconscious…it’s the internal autopilot doing its thing and it’s going to take a while to reprogramme.

Still, it felt like my system was more ‘trusting’ than it has been in a while or just so tired that it couldn’t function which meant that the young stuff was right on the surface! I had been complaining about a pain in my hand and wrist and K asked if she could hold my hand. I said yes. It was bizarre. When she took my hand it was like little Four landed with a thud inside me. I was no longer watching her from a distance, that poor tiny child, isolated, bare foot on a lane. Instead she was in me… and oh my fucking god it was so painful. I just wanted to burst into tears, get up off the couch, and cuddle into K.

K noticed that I was barely breathing and asked about the little girl. Did she feel like it was dangerous to take up space? Was it safer to her to not be seen and stay out of the way? Yep. K asked if I could try and take a few deep breaths. I couldn’t and just shook my head. She asked if I could allow myself to feel this stuff in the moment, allow Four to be there just for a minute…and I froze. It was so overwhelming. Being so consciously aware of the pain that is there, that I have been holding for so long is just so hard….even in the presence of a trusted other.

At the end I sat up on the couch, drew my knees up into my chest, buried my face in the blanket and hid behind my knees. I just didn’t have it in me to be ‘fine’ because I was not fine. That little part was right there. K came over and hugged me and rubbed my back until I managed to get to get enough adult back online.

K said I had gone really deep in the session. Of course, she was right. As I left she asked if she could hold me, and we hugged. It’s so hard leaving though…because it’s in those moments where my system starts to relax but then the reality hits… it’s time to go….back out there…and somehow I need to put the mask on when I really don’t want to.

It’s really a double-edged sword. Because this is the work that absolutely needs to be done (exposing and working with the young parts)…and yet I can only access this stuff, be open and vulnerable when I am on empty, when my defences and protectors can’t function enough to hide everyone. So it’s a pain. I can’t function as I am long-term but equally I need to be able to access the parts to be able to heal and move forward.

I spend so many hours in therapy hiding/protecting these parts and feel frustrated with myself because I know what I need. I know what needs to be done. BUT the reality of being so vulnerable, so exposed, is hard. It feels dangerous. It’s no wonder my system has built up such strong defences! It fears total annihilation of the self.

Only what I think I am learning, slowly, is that some people can be trusted with my most vulnerable self. And whilst I have been hurt…a lot…and recently too (with Em) I can be how it is and that be ok. Some people don’t need my performance and love me just the way I am. It’s going to take a while to get my head around that. But I think what happened with K on Thursday enabled me to take a massive risk with Anita yesterday…so that’s good right?! – spoiler alert…it was sooooooo good 🙂

I’ve been here before but this time I have the A (and K) Team on my side!

My battery warning light is flashing red now. Power saving mode has been engaged for months but despite this, I’m still reaching that near dangerous level of energy depletion. The weekend is almost gone (noooooo!) and it has felt like the hours have rapidly slipped through my fingers. Like trying to cup water in my hands, each minute has just trickled away and now tomorrow everything starts up again and I simply haven’t had enough time to relax and recharge. I feel like I could cry as I stare down the tunnel into what I have to get through in the coming week.

For the first time in a very long time, I have taken some proper time out this weekend – literally spent the entire time in pyjamas sitting by the fire (apart from a rainy tip run this morning!) but it’s not enough. I still need more time to recover…not just from the last couple of weeks, but from 2020 as a whole (and there’s still 3 months to go!! FFS!). Actually, I feel like my body is crying out for me to hibernate until April – and honestly if I didn’t have a mortgage and bills to pay then that’s exactly what I would do! Imagine having six months off but still being paid. I can’t even begin to imagine what that would be like.

My friends who have been furloughed since March and who don’t have kids are bursting with life despite the pandemic. They have been living in a protected bubble and are ‘so chilled’ and ‘fit’ and ‘happy’ having finally had time to meditate, do the couch to 5k, read endlessly, cook, and basically practise self-care on an epic level…and yet I feel like I have been slogging away since lockdown began (and even before that – with the therapy termination with Em) trying to juggle my regular life of work, transitioning to online teaching (and therapy), my wife being made redundant and the stress that entailed, all alongside home-schooling my kids. And whilst the children are thankfully back in school and my wife is back in work there has been no break, no holiday, and I we/have simply run out of steam now.

I so need a spa day!

I get being furloughed won’t have been stress-free for everyone, far from it, and the above statement about some of my friends (and my flippant spa day comment) probably highlights how privileged, middle-class, secure, and sane they are/I am, so I apologise if that felt blinkered. I understand that as furlough ends it’s going to be hard for a lot of people. I guess, really what I am trying to say is that sometimes it’s hard not to compare oneself to others and wish for a moment that you had what they had.

I suppose, really, I am jealous. Jealous of the carefree photos, the texts about ‘relaxing coffee’ and screen shots of the latest book. Jealous of the holidays. Jealous of the fact that it is only now that work is coming back onto their radar. My jealousy is really a symptom of the burnout I feel – both physical and emotional. I don’t begrudge my friends these things – far from it. I just wish sometimes my life felt a little easier.

I need some time off without the worry of what happens if I don’t work. I was really sick a couple of weeks ago. So dizzy that I couldn’t even stand up without falling over, and repeatedly vomited from the motion sickness associated with the dizziness. I had to cancel all my students that day – 5 hour’s worth of work. It’s one of my biggest working days. Being self-employed that’s money that is gone for good – can’t claw it back. I don’t get sick pay. Simply taking one day off work massively impacts the finances for the month and it’s so stressful.

Time has literally flown this weekend which feels so bloody unfair, too. When I am in the middle of the week (woeful Wednesday) it feels as though time is almost standing still, like I am suspended in some kind of awful, endless nightmare. I have to coach myself through the day, work on an hour by hour basis so that I don’t hit complete overwhelm.

It doesn’t help that the young parts of me are always massively activated in the middle of the week – it feels such a long way from the safety of the therapy room and adult me just hasn’t got capacity to look after those small ones when it’s taking every ounce of strength to survive my adult life! I feel so blessed to have both Anita and K on my team now, though.

In the past when I have felt in this kind of area (stress, anxiety, and overwhelm) I have also had to navigate the added stress of having a therapist who was unresponsive, unavailable, and if we are honest about it, totally uncaring. I felt perpetually triggered and dysregulated both in and outside of the sessions. It was agony. Torture, actually. And I don’t have that now.

What I have now is so much better. Therapists who see me and all my various parts. Care about me. Support me. And love me. Sometimes I have to pinch myself. The other week at the end of an amazing craniosacral session with K she quickly scribbled some notes about some pain in my shoulder she pulled out a card from her folder and said, ‘You gave me this in 2010, do you remember?’ – I couldn’t believe she’d kept it.

I was a bit embarrassed knowing that I was so defended back then, but I’m guessing I must have said something unfiltered (as is usually the way when I write!) and actually back then she was one of the few people I let in and allowed to see the pain. To be honest she can feel it anyway so there’s no point in hiding! I think I said something about being intense even back then, and she laughed and said she is honoured to work with me and thinks I am courageous. As I walked off down the street she shouted, ‘I love you RB!’ from her front door. I turned around and smiled, feeling so warm inside and said, ‘I love you, too, K’. It was so easy. So natural.

And to think I got myself in knots for so long with Em, never once being able to tell her how I felt. I suppose maybe it’s easier to express feelings when they are in some way reciprocated. It feels much more dangerous and exposing having feelings for someone who is clearly struggling to tolerate you and sees you as a parasite. Ugh. Never mind. That was simply the most spectacular re-enactment wasn’t it?!

Anyway, what I think I am trying to get to in a round about way is that I feel so supported having K and A in my life. When things feel tough, or activated, or just plain bloody attachmenty, I know it’s not a big deal to either of them if I reach out and text them something and that they want to help me. More often than not it’s some kind of GIF. My best friend teases me about this. ‘RB is feeling something: send the therapist a GIF!’ And it’s so true. But these communications are mostly coming from the young parts and it’s their way of checking in – ‘Are you still there?’ So when they reply with a GIF back it really settles those parts. They both seem to understand that they’re dealing with my most vulnerable, needy parts and aren’t disgusted or put off them. In fact they both understand what I need and it’s really helped build the trust and safety.

What I’m trying to say is that despite feeling completely knackered I don’t feel like I am on the verge of a breakdown when I know in the past I would have been teetering on the edge because the parts are more held. I am more held! Therapy now feels therapeutic, helpful, and holding which in turn is modelling how to hold myself.

In fact, the other day my wife even asked me if I was even going to therapy anymore. I asked what she meant. She explained that I have been so much more settled in myself, and even though I am clearly under a lot of stress and pressure I haven’t fallen apart or been hard to live with. She said that it used to be really difficult when I was seeing Em because for the two days leading into therapy I would be so wound up and snappy that it was like treading on eggshells with me. And I saw Em twice a week!

That wasn’t easy to hear but I know she was right. I thought I was doing a better job of hiding it than I was, but clearly that level of intense pain and dysregulation was just too much to contain and still function. It was exhausting – for all of us. Anytime my wife questioned whether therapy was actually helping me I’d get defensive and shut her out. I didn’t want to believe that Em and I weren’t making progress. I didn’t want to acknowledge that the level pain I was in about the relationship was unusual in therapy. I thought it was just the nature of the transference.

I would say that ‘things have to get worst before they get better’ not knowing that actually it’s supposed to feel safe with the therapist. I know that sounds dim. But what I mean is I have a huge mother wound so I kind of thought it all feeling so painful with Em was the work…and it was…but you can heal the mother wound in another way. Withholding isn’t healing. Shaming isn’t healing. Pathologising isn’t healing. Empathy and care is healing. Acceptance is healing. Love is healing.

Anyway, I had to concede that my wife was right. What Em and I were doing wasn’t helping me. In fact it had really hurt me. And I told her that, yes, I was still in therapy and that my new therapist is great and I feel much more contained. She said it really shows and is so happy that I am finally getting what I need because she sees how hard I am trying to heal. My wife was the one who encouraged me to go back to K last year. And it was K who gave me the strength to question what was happening with Em. The contrast between seeing them in a week was so stark. Without K I would never have considered seeking out Anita.

Earlier this week I sent both K and A a variation of this message after making some tough choices about my estranged family with their support:

I hope you know that you’ve been instrumental in helping me move into this, still wobbly, but much more solid place in the last year. I know for certain had I not been seeing you I’d still be stuck with Em and letting people be horrid and believing that’s all I was entitled to. Thank you for showing me that I deserve better and have value because it’s helping me make better choices for myself. x

They both replied with hug GIFs!

I literally don’t know how got through to Friday but I was so relieved to see A. It was a crappy day. Stormy, cold, wet and the drive had been horrid. I arrived at therapy, promptly took my blanket out my bag, wrapped myself up in it and told Anita that I can’t do ‘it’ any more I really feel like there needs to be eight days in the week. ‘In order that you can actually get a day off?’ she questioned. I nodded.

I think I start nearly all therapy sessions with, ‘I’m exhausted’…and it’s true. Only I am really really exhausted now. Hence taking a fleece blanket to my session and basically curling up on the sofa for an hour. It was an ok session. Very adult. And in the past, with Em, I would have felt like that was somehow ‘crap’ because my child parts were always hiding behind the sofa on alert waiting like heat seeking missiles desperately trying to lock onto some semblance of warmth and care. I would always leave feeling disappointed when there was none and believed that because I had kept my child parts hidden that the session had fallen short because Em didn’t get to see them. I mean let’s be fair if they did creep out I would dissociate instantly and then things were bloody horrific.

Anyway, what I have realised with A is that it doesn’t matter who is there, who fronts, because actually I feel safely held and contained both inside and outside of the sessions with her. So even if the child parts don’t make an appearance it doesn’t matter because they feel safely held in mind by her. I’m not explaining this very well. I guess it’s something like therapy doesn’t feel so ‘high stakes’ anymore. It just is. I don’t get the therapy shits any more. I don’t feel like I am going to gag brushing my teeth the morning of a session. I don’t feel my heart racing as I walk up to A’s front door. I just feel content and happy that I am going to be in a room with a safe person who can handle whatever I tell her.

I feel like my blog has reached a level of beige these days – but oh my god I am so glad to not have the drama. Don’t get me wrong. My child parts are totally in the mix, there have been (and undoubtedly will be more) ruptures but now I have the confidence that my therapist/s can handle me, are invested, and because of that my youngest parts don’t feel ashamed for existing now.

Thank god!

‘I love you too’

After promptly diving down into the black hole of shame on Friday and then young parts suffering with all the attachment stuff and fear of being left over the weekend, I decided to send my blog post about expressing loving feelings and being the Queen of Avoidance to Anita shortly after I’d written it on Sunday.

I figured I had nothing to lose, really, because whilst parts of me were in a tail spin about being so vulnerable and worrying massively about being rejected for being ‘too much’, there were other parts who know that A and I can work through whatever I bring to her. Enough of me trusts her for me to be able to tell her I am struggling and knows that she won’t shame me for my feelings. And because it’s ok for me to communicate with her outside session, and she’s been happy read my blog posts when I have shared them with her in the past, it seemed silly to continue suffering when actually I could give her the heads up and then we would be on the same page for our session the next day.

I didn’t expect her to read it until Monday or reply but I felt much better for just getting it off my chest. When I am dysregulated, I find expressing how I feel in writing much easier than trying to explain it verbally and Anita really understands this. That’s not to say I don’t talk in the room (I really do!), or that the therapy is taking place outside the room and not in it because I write to her or blog.

A knows there are parts that will take time to trust, need to test her and the relationship (repeatedly) and by allowing me to check in outside those two contact hours a week, those tentative, vulnerable, scared, flighty parts of me are able to do what they need to do, express what they need to, and this has enabled them to make it into the space face to face more often.

I am certain that it is Anita’s flexibility and presence outside the room that has actually allowed me take more risks and do more work in the room. I haven’t developed some unhealthy addiction to her because I check in during the week and she hasn’t bred some terrible dependency because she acknowledges the child parts need something more (which is what Em was certain would happen).

A understands that the attachment happens regardless. If the feelings are there lying dormant then they’ll be ignited in the therapy, but how this is all handled definitely impacts on us as clients. We either feel seen and held or abandoned and rejected…and I know which one is accelerating my path to healing!

I mean it’s not rocket science, relational trauma needs healing in relationship.

I saw this on Carolyn Spring’s Twitter the other day which totally summed it up:

When we are in distress, whether as a baby or as an adult, we want a person, not a technique. Human beings don’t respond to techniques. We respond to feeling seen, and feeling heard. and feeling felt.

And this is where the problems were with Em, a clinical psychologist. She had so many techniques but refused time and again to let herself into the relationship. I’ve never experienced anyone more blank screen in my life. And for those of us with CPTSD that way of interacting is so traumatising. I mean honestly if I could imagine my way out of my trauma with visualisation then I’d have bloody done it!

Anyway…A is not Em. Thank god!

A is brilliant.

Have I said that before?

As I said, I wasn’t expecting a reply to my blog on Sunday and I didn’t feel stressed worrying about a reply/or not getting one because ultimately I knew A would understand, so I was just getting on with things when I got a message later that morning…like the best message. I have literally waited years to be told something like this:

O my goodness. I am not going anywhere. You really aren’t too much. I care about you sooo much and I love you too, in a caring loving way 💜🧡💛. I am aware Em saw the love in a romantic way. I don’t think she got how the love between client and therapist is so different but can definitely be there if the relationship is allowed to grow x

I couldn’t believe me eyes. All the parts inside, even the critic, just melted. I felt so reassured. So accepted. So understood. So cared for. So loved. And that outside communication that some therapists seem so scared of entering into, and A actually being real enough to express love in a clearly boundaried way, well I can tell you, that alone has done more good and been more healing than the entirety of my therapy with Em. My child parts took the risk, expressed vulnerable feelings, and have had them accepted and reciprocated…and that’s therapy gold. And I feel so much more able to bring the really hard stuff to her now, because I believe she’s in it for the long haul with me, and she genuinely cares.

Did I mention that I love my therapist?!

The Queen Of Avoidance

244765cb-d04c-44e8-8036-bcf3393ae0c6

It’s no secret that when it comes to expressing difficult feelings – or even positive ones like the ‘L’ word – in therapy I can sit on my throne, The Queen of Avoidance, for weeks or even months (years!!!) on end not really saying what’s going on for me! I think I frequently come over as aloof, stand-offish or perhaps even cold and unfeeling – because whilst I can be ‘feeling all the feelings’ inside, I’d sooner sit in stony-faced silence than admit that I like you, care about you, or say that you are important to me. Considering how much I hate the still face experiment it’s kind of funny that I sit with my poker face glued on so much of the time in therapy.

I’ve spoken at length with my friend (who kindly drew the illustration above) about this, she’s one of the few people I have truly let into my inner world, and have lamented how sad it is that to me it feels more dangerous to express love than it does to express anger or rage in therapy. Revealing and communicating loving feelings feels so risky. I guess because when we do that, the armour is off and the protectors are standing down. When we express love we are wide open and vulnerable to being hurt and this is even more the case if the feelings being articulated are coming from a young part.

Whilst it’s what I crave, it’s also not surprising that I avoid this kind of emotional intimacy. We all want to be loved, need to be loved, but there have been a couple of significant times in my life where I have finally built up the courage to tell someone how I feel and it’s gone badly. I am programmed expect the worst, ‘you’re too much’ or to get no response at all – especially after growing up with a mother who does not show any warmth whatsoever. And so any time I enter the arena of feeling the BIG feelings and wanting to express them, it triggers those really painful feelings of rejection and abandonment and so I’d sooner say nothing at all and sit in my own discomfort rather than be negatively judged or rejected by the other.

It’s funny, I saw a tweet months ago that I sent to Anita at the time which said:

All I ask is for you to get to know me on a deep, intimate level while I resist and obstruct your every attempt to do so.

And this absolutely nails it. Queen Of Avoidance! I tried so hard to break this pattern with Em but actually working with her cemented my fears and doubts about being unlovable, increased my levels of dissociation, and crushed the youngest parts of me… which is unfortunate to say the least.

Wow – that’s a massive understatement!

I’ve been working with Anita for 8 months now. I see her twice a week so I guess we must have had about 60 sessions over this time. I noticed towards the end of June a shift in how I felt with A. I guess it was around then that the child parts who had been so much in hiding after being so badly hurt by Em attached to her. And of course this signalled the start of ‘react like a baby to the slightest thing’ time. It was like having a scab torn off and the open mother wound exposed again.

Once the young parts (including the teens) activate in therapy it’s a whole other world of fun isn’t it? And when I say ‘fun’ I really mean ‘shame’!

A has been nothing short of amazing with me in the time we have been working together. I know I am not an easy client to work with (another massive understatement!) but she’s been so calm, consistent, and validating of my feelings that it’s hardly surprising that since returning to face to face sessions it feels more intense. After months working online, and having had the break, being back in the room feels so nice. I feel more seen and more connected which in turn settles my system down.

Only it also does that other thing…SHAKES IT UP!!

Argh!

Because A makes me feel safe when I am with her it activates all the attachment stuff and young need. Like I feel so grateful to her for what she does for me but now it feels like all the little ones are wanting to rush forward and hug her especially after the break – stampede style!

The children inside have all been left unattended for so long that it’s a shit show. In January the little ones were abandoned, screaming, and the teen part was left babysitting. She had no idea what she was doing and basically spent the food money on litres of coke and sweets to bribe the little ones to shut up- and now the littlest ones are hyper but also overtired and need a story and to be put to bed!

This last couple of weeks has been really hard going. I have barely hung it together in my adult life and it’s massively impacted my internal system. Everything feels overwrought and I feel like I am spread way too thin. My resources are massively depleted. My nervous system has been off the chart…and generally it’s felt really awful. Like I have wanted to cry but haven’t been able to let the tears come – although crying is not something I find very easy. Apparently the average woman cries 3.5 times a month…I barely manage that in a year even when I have been terminated my by attachment figure! I have felt like I have wanted to self-harm but haven’t…but because I haven’t gone to my ‘go to’ coping strategies there has also not been any release.

I think I have come over as a complete basket case in my sessions. Manic and repetitive. I’ve done nothing but moan. And then underneath the immediate everyday life stuff there’s been this swirling terror that I don’t talk about, can’t talk about, because I just can’t hold that too and keep going with the day to day.

I feel a huge panic in my system that any minute A is going to go. Part of it is I think COVID dread. I am really worried about us ending up in lockdown again and not being able to see her… but this then spirals down into the feeling of her being ‘gone’ like properly gone. And I guess this is something to do with what it is like working online for the young parts. I think the preverbal stuff is really difficult to work with online and so because that littlest self can’t really get what it needs on screen it feels like its been abandoned… I dunno I need to think more on that.

Despite everything feeling massively precarious – being in the room with A has been the glue that has held my pieces together lately… or, maybe the scaffolding around my renovation project. And getting a hug at the end feels like the parts of me that are crumbling are momentarily held in place before I go back out into the world and try not to disintegrate.

I outdid myself this week after my session. I felt so seen and held that I sent A a message afterwards – basically saying just that…but then ugh…I rounded it off with a GIF that said ‘p.s I love you’.

Because I do.

So what am I left with after sending that? Well, I feel embarrassed, ashamed, and like I want to run away. My protector parts are ready, my armour is on, and my avoidant self is back online. Like what was I actually thinking? Why on earth did I bloody open myself up to being hurt amd rejected again?

I feel sick inside.

And this is what’s really depressing. Surely it should feel ok to tell someone that they are important to you and love should not feel bad. But this is where my wounding is and I feel like I’ve just run back into a burning building and it’s hurting like hell…which is kind of ironic given how burning myself was a go to method of self harm!

Therapy Break #1: You’re The Other Side Of The World To Me.

Ugh, noooooooooooooooooooo!!!! Here we go again. Somewhat predictably, as I find myself nearing the end of a therapy break, having almost survived it, the feeling of panic has taken root in the young parts of my system and the last couple of days I have found that I am perpetually on the verge of tears and feel completely overwhelmed but also totally incapacitated. It’s bloody awful but not unfamiliar.

The result of this shifting gears down into inner chaos is that I literally cannot cope with the smallest thing. When I say ‘smallest thing’, I really mean it. My system is so sensitised that the slightest noise from anyone else in the house is making me feel a combination of irritation, agitation, and anxiety. Even the noise of my kids eating some raw carrots with their dinner downstairs earlier, when I was upstairs in my bedroom, made my nerves jangle and I wanted to scream, or walk out the door, or rage for them to ‘shut the fuck up!’ I didn’t, which is obviously really good news, I just stayed upstairs willing it to be bedtime. But this really demonstrated to me how my resources are so lacking and I feel like I have no skin – no resilience.

I understand that the rage and frustration is just a defence against what’s really happening. Underneath all the desire to take flight is the need to feel connected, contained, and secure and I don’t feel any of those things right now which is why I feel like everything is too much.

Another example of this being too wound up has just this second happened…My wife has been out all day and I knew she was on her way home because she called to say she was leaving, and yet the noise of her quietly walking through the front door saw me jump out my skin: my legs actually left the couch, I jolted upright as though an electric current had been passed through my body, and now my hands and feet are fizzing. It’s fucking horrendous and I just don’t know how to help myself. Even craniosacral with K didn’t seem to touch it. Everything feels wrong.

Part of me desperately wants to be alone but actually, I also want peace and to escape from all the noise inside. I have listened to what all parts are saying but there’s no way of soothing them. I have no choice but to accept what I am feeling but it is so hard to live with when you have the responsibilities of an adult, of a parent.

I really need a reset right now. I need a hug and to be reassured that things are ok – but I can’t get that and they’re not – and I can’t see things getting any better for a couple of weeks. I have too much swirling in my brain, too much to do, too much stress and anxiety (not just mine) to absorb and the panic is getting worse rather than better.

I hate this!

I realise how bonkers this sounds, but I genuinely feel like the big red button has been pressed and the alarm is sounding. EVACUATE! EVACUATE!

I feel as though I am hurtling through black space, internally. It’s terrifying. It’s like all the parts of me have decided to form a skydiving team and have, yet again, completely overestimated their ability to dive safely, in formation. At this stage they should really only be attempting tandem dives with a trained professional and yet I think because they’ve done so many dives (breaks) they kind of thought they’d be ok this time. But it turns out that things are even more precarious than usual and, if I am honest, I am not sure my lot have even remembered to pack a parachute! Or maybe they have one, but there’s one parachute between…err…thirteen parts!

Shiiiiittttt!!!!

And where the hell has my adult gone? – she’s not plummeting with the rest of them… but then I wonder if she already hit rock bottom? – she’s burnt out – already crashed and burned? I mean I literally could not get out of bed until 2pm today (I mean I got up to feed the kids and checked on them, but kept finding my way back into bed because I just couldn’t face doing anything) and have just felt completely suffocated in the thick fog of depression for days. And that’s why I am left with this chaos, because there’s no glue to hold all the pieces together – I don’t even seem to be in possession of my rubber bands or chewing gum!

It’s felt almost inevitable that I would crash out at some point. To be honest, I don’t think this is about just this two week therapy break, I think this is the culmination of the last nine months (or really, eighteen months) of emotional stress and anxiety that I have been trying to carry and survive without falling apart. It had to catch up with me eventually, and so I suppose it’s not really surprising that the moment I am left to my own devices and have time to stop and reflect a bit, but have also just started down the track of new stresses (back to work and back to school), that something would give.

How it feels now is just like that hideous dream I had the other week, spiralling downwards from space towards the earth, completely out of control. I guess the only saving grace this time is that I won’t crash land on Em’s driveway and then have her slam the door in my face….because I have already been there and done that in February – and am still nursing my injuries. Part of me can’t actually get my head round what happened. I cannot believe that I will never get to work this out with her. I cannot believe she cut me dead.

Honestly, I feel so bloody bruised from that experience. It’s almost like the shock of the initial injury has worn off now and I am just left with that deep gnawing ache of bones that haven’t set quite right. Occasionally, I move in a way that I shouldn’t and white hot pain courses through my system (and that’s what’s happening now) but largely I just feel battered. Wounded.

I said, in my last post, this break has a different quality to it, partly because it is the first one Anita and I have had, but also because it has fed directly into everything that happened at Christmas with Em – the last therapy break I had signalled the unravelling of an 8 year therapeutic relationship and I can’t help but feel worried that it might happen again.

Breaks before now, with Em, have felt bad because I’ve been panicking about the ‘what if’ situations and fearing abandonment which really had no basis in the reality of the relationship with Em… [ha you should hear what a part just screamed as I typed that! – they certainly have other views!: ‘She perpetually abandoned us week in week out for years – and we were right to fear she would leave because she was never really there in the first place!’] whereas now I feel like my fears have actually got some validity because they became a reality because of what happened earlier in the year.

I guess with Em I was viewing the relationship through an historical lens with a child’s eyes and fearing something repeating that had happened a long time ago – whereas now I have all that fear and anxiety from the past, but also a real adult experience of having been dumped. And so it’s like every single part of me has been rejected…even the bits that I thought were likeable enough and that’s really hard to come to terms with.

Yeah, I get it. Anita is not Em.

Repeat: Anita is not Em…

But we’re not dealing with the rational side of me right now. This stuff is so young and so hard to settle. No matter what I do – and I have an extensive self-care list- I can’t ease this horrible gut level sense that something is very very wrong and I am not safe. All of a sudden I have a bunch of inconsolable child parts losing their shit.

I feel lost.

I want to see Anita but also I am worried that something has changed. I should be able to keep in mind that I had similar anxieties about whether it would be ok returning to face to face, and it was all fine – better than fine. But I guess I am worried that because we’ve had contact through the break she’ll be feeling like she’s had enough…‘Give me a fucking break already! Leave me alone!’

There’s definitely something big going on with the object constancy stuff too. Some of the lyrics KT Tunstall’s ‘Other Side Of The World’ keep coming into my head. The song is about long distance relationships but actually feels quite apt for breaks, too. I know A isn’t on the other side of the world, she told me where she is, which has helped those young parts a bit because that must mean she’s not actually disappeared and still exists!

There’s this verse:

Can you help me? /Can you let me go?/ And can you still love me when you can’t see me anymore?

And I think this really captures that feeling of panic that young parts have of separation. I don’t for one minute think that A loves me but the feeling of potentially being forgotten about or not being kept in mind is the worry that the youngest parts have – and this is because they too lose connection on breaks. It’s so shit. Anyway, here’s a link to the song – the whole thing is great! x

I’m frustrated with myself too because I literally feel as though I have sleep-walked my way over the edge this time – like it’s happened in slow motion or something. I knew from the beginning that this couple of weeks were going to be ‘interesting’ and yet I really couldn’t face what was coming up for me again. The grief around the loss of Em, of being rejected and abandoned is just too painful. So I tried to power through, kept going, pretended that everything was fine but that has been achieved by a shit tonne of avoidance and keeping too busy! And that is a recipe for disaster because I can’t outrun this forever and it always catches up eventually.

I literally finished painting my house on Monday and then was back into work on Tuesday all day. There has been no down time but then I knew that if I stopped this was all here waiting for me. In some ways it’s not surprising that I would try and avoid feeling this way – it’s thoroughly unpleasant and exhausting.

To be fair, teaching was fine that day but then in the afternoon I was stationary in a line of traffic, leaving a car park and a car ran in the back of me. There wasn’t any damage done but again my system went into meltdown – the bang was so loud! -my hands and feet were buzzing for hours afterwards and my heart was racing.

Then straight, after this, I was driving to the national park with my kids and the dual carriageway I was on had a huge accident on the other side which meant the road was closed. I drove past the scene, and instantly knew something very bad had happened from the amount of emergency vehicles and the fact that traffic was being turned around and sent back up the carriageway. I later discovered that a man had been killed walking his dog when a tyre had come off a moving vehicle at speed and hit him.

I think that Tuesday was the start of things starting to not feel ok inside. And by ‘not ok’, I mean bad. I wanted to talk to A about it all. I felt so shaken up. But really what is there to say? These things happen all the time (I mean the car accident in the car park, not the freak accident on the road.) and I need to not be so sensitive.

So, this week it’s as though I have been on some kind of conveyor belt that’s headed towards the drop off and into the horrible place where everything feels terrible and scary and yet I’ve not been able to get off. I really didn’t want to do a sky dive right now. I just wanted to chill out in a hammock somewhere and be brought snacks and have someone wrap me in a blanket and read me stories!! But my life seems to have other ideas…

I wish I felt more equipped to cope with what’s going on/coming than I do. I guess it’s just going to have to be a case of taking one day at time and celebrating small wins…and hopefully I’ll feel more settled and in a routine soon.

I feel more like a damaged rescue dog than ever! I saw this the other day and it made me laugh – so apt! haha…sigh!

‘I’m Still Here…’

I woke up this morning feeling sick to my core, again. This has happened quite a lot lately. I become aware of it in my sleep, when I am dreaming (usually about something painful), and then when I wake up, I feel ill. It’s hard to explain because it’s not the sort of feeling I would usually associate with being anxious/stressed/dissociated/the attachment stuff – you know that familiar deep, tight ache in your solar plexus and a heaviness in your chest? It’s really different to that. It’s like the whole of my torso feels ‘sick’, like a whole-body nausea rather than specific patches of ‘ache’.

I’m not ill (I don’t think…although it would be funny if I am making all this fuss and it turns out I have a bug?!), and yet, there’s nothing major going on in my mind today – at least not consciously… having said that, the last few days have been rammed with worry and stress – I’d literally forgotten that I just went for my lovely cancer follow up at the hospital which was fine but is always so draining! – so perhaps it’s just a late move by my system to somatise it all and give my head a break? Who knows?! Either way it dragged me out of bed at 6am on a Sunday morning because lying down made it worse.

Rather than wallow in self-pity and achieve nothing, I dragged my family out for an early morning walk by the river. It was really beautiful today. Autumn seems to properly have arrived now. I love the season but hate what it represents – a long slog of teaching until Christmas, dark evenings, and a big dose of SAD! But I still have a day of holiday left before I have to put on my teacher hat and so this morning, I tried to shove the anxiety to the back of my mind and take in- and enjoy- my surroundings. The air was crisp and the sky was that perfect blue that comes at this time of year. It was great to get out and get some fresh air and it distracted a bit from the nausea…until the ride home with the wet dog stinking in the back! Ha.

I’ve been meaning to write all week but every time I think about sitting down at the laptop, I get a mental block. I have stuff to say but at the same time I haven’t had the energy to go there and look at what’s happening. It’s the worst kind of procrastination/avoidance. Instead of sitting with myself and my feelings I have gone all out with avoidance …so much so, that in two days I have completely decorated a big chunk of my house and had a mad one sorting out the garden.

I like to be productive, and the house has been a job I have been putting off for a couple of years, so spending hours mindlessly painting whilst listening to playlists on iTunes meant I didn’t have to be with ‘myself’ too much and that’s what I needed.

So, what’s been going on? What’s prompted this mad phase of action? Well, part of it is trying to avoid back to work dread (and there is a shit load of it – I genuinely feel like crying) but also, I’m half way through a two-week therapy break – the first one I have had with Anita.

Eye roll.

You all saw that one coming, didn’t you?

A hasn’t had a break since I started working with her in January so she certainly deserves some time out but it’s stirred up some unexpected stuff and that’s not easy. The good news is that wheels haven’t completely fallen off just yet! It remains to be seen if I crash and burn as the week progresses and work picks up, though. The heightened anxiety paired with tiredness (oh and PMS week) is sure to throw a few spanners in the works- I already feel a bit wobbly.

There have already been a couple of flat days, but I don’t think that’s purely down to the break, I think it’s my life in general catching up with me and my feeling overwhelmed by it…oh and the hormones of course. They don’t help! I’m beginning to realise that I can’t underestimate the power of the veil that shrouds my rational self when PMS hormone hell is ravaging. I suppose at least I am aware that it’s week where I seem able to blow stuff up in my head to apocalyptic levels of doom: two months ago it was freaking out about feeling like A was ignoring my texts (she wasn’t!), and then last month it was the jealous hell about the walk with the other client…pray for me that I keep my shit together this week as I am really done with overreacting and having the emotional resilience of a fractious three year old!

I didn’t really help myself leading into this break, either. I got to see Anita in person again for our Friday session. Yay, right? Err…yes and no. I didn’t even realise what was happening until about ten minutes from the end when it became blindingly obvious that I had spent the whole session hiding. It was that horrible thing where more than anything I want to connect but there’s that part of me that packs up early and gags all the parts that need to be seen before a holiday. So the needy young parts that are terrified that something bad is going to happen during the break and need reassurance get left high and dry. Then I feel like there is no connection – even though it’s me that has run away from connecting! FFS.

Anita was sitting right opposite me – and we all know how big a deal not being able to be with her in the room has felt during lockdown – but she might as well have been on the moon. I could barely look at her and whilst I was talking, it wasn’t really talking…………….. well it was, but I’m so well practised at filling space with what seems like important stuff, I have such a good disguise, that it’d be impossible for her to know that this ‘stuff’ isn’t the ‘priority stuff’ because there’s just too much fucking stuff! I manage to seem like I am letting her in when actually I am holding her at arm’s length….

FOR FUCK’S SAKE!!

I talked a lot about how bad it’s been feeling in my body; about a horrible dream I had where I was falling towards the earth from space without a parachute, having to fashion something makeshift so I didn’t die, and then landing with a thud on Em’s driveway. She opened her door, looked at me, and then slammed it shut (ouch); feeling like having insight into why I am the way I am is worse than being ignorant of it because I realise there is soooooooooooooooo much wrong and sooooooooooooo much to heal and it feels overwhelming; how internally it’s like a school corridor on change over between lessons – it’s complete carnage…

See, it looks like the important ‘stuff’ doesn’t it?!

And we talked a lot about all these things and A was really lovely but sometimes even her tentatively asking me a question to see what is possible is enough to send my system into lockdown. She asked me if maybe we could ask the parts in the corridor to get in a line because when they’re all stuck together it’s really hard to see who is there and who needs help – especially as there are so many little ones in there alongside the rowdy teens. And whilst that makes loads of sense and is what I need – we need to work with a part or two at a time – it put the protectors on full alert. No way are they going to let that happen ……………..AAAAAAAARRRRRRGGGGHHHH!!!

I so wish that I could take a step forward when I am invited to. I wish I was able to really look at what’s going on but those gatekeepers are so bloody fast and strong. I wish I had been able to talk because there’s the story that doesn’t get told because it just feels excruciating to feel so vulnerable and needy. I wish I could say:

‘I’m anxious about the break because the last therapy break I had was a disaster and ended with Em and I terminating. Our relationship completely disintegrated over two weeks. Part of me is frightened that you might go away and something will happen whilst you’re gone. I’m worried that the narrative will change from ‘I am happy to work on this with you and the therapy will only end when you want it to, or if there are unforeseen circumstances in my life’ (just like she said) and you’ll go away, realise I am too much to cope with, be reminded of how nice it is to not have to see me, and you’ll come back and end it saying something about how you’ve reached the limit of your competency (like she did).

I know it’s mental, but the youngest parts of me are terrified and recent history has really made this feel scarier than it might otherwise have felt. I am not very good with breaks anyway – fear of abandonment was massive before this year but now it’s…huge. Part of me wants desperately to cling on to you but another part doesn’t want to freak you out with the need and then push you to the point where you terminate. I know this is really messy and comes from a really young place – it’s so embarrassing and totally overwhelming’  

So, I guess that’s what I would have said if the words had have been available to me, or if the protector part of me hadn’t have shut things down so that the young parts were locked away.

However, it wasn’t a complete disaster because the light flicked on near to the end and I became aware of what was happening with my inner dynamics, like I came out of autopilot and was in control of the plane again. And there was the realisation: ‘Ooooh fuck, it’s this bloody shit pattern again’. I told A that I felt like I wasn’t there and felt disconnected. She asked if part of me felt threatened and so had taken myself away (when she’d suggested making the parts line up). Yes. Always yes. But not only then…

I managed to tell A that I had disconnected early, because even though she was sitting opposite me, she would be going away. A was really understanding and said how it made sense that part was getting ready because it feels like it’s protecting me. I said I understood this but that it isn’t helpful. I didn’t say it, but I do this so often. I go into shutdown early, batten down the hatches readying myself for the storm, but in doing so I deprive the youngest parts of myself the connection they need and so that actually makes any separation much harder.

When will I learn?!

It was time to finish and A said I could write to her if it would and asked me if there was anything she could give me do for me before I went…

Ha…we know where this is going, right?

The ‘I don’t give a fuck about anything, teen part’ stepped up and was so dismissive (she’s only trying to protect the littlest ones). I don’t think I could have been any more combative in the, ‘like what?!’ answer I gave. Oh god I just want to die of shame thinking about it! But I have to love Anita, she didn’t seem put off and asked if I maybe wanted to take something from the room like a stone or a shell…but after the hell six months with the pebble with Em the idea of a hard transitional object like this just feels awful. It’s too much of a reminder of what happened before. And when the youngest parts are falling apart they just want to curl up in a blanket or cuddle a soft toy that has some kind of link to A– but voicing that just feels cringey.

Anyway, I declined the transitional object because I am a grump, but also because I don’t think it would really have helped the parts that struggle with breaks… I dunno.

Whilst all this was going on there was a total meltdown happening inside with the little parts, ‘What if she doesn’t come back? What if she forgets us?’ Etc. I think A must’ve noticed because as I got up to leave, she asked me if I wanted a hug.

There is only ever one answer to this question!

Yes.

And fortunately, the dismissive, connection severing part of me sat back down and folded her arms and waited for the other parts to get what they needed. As we were hugging, A said, ‘I’m still here’ – and that was so soothing and reassuring.

I don’t think I can really put into words what getting a hug with A is like – because whilst it is just a hug, it feels like so much more than that. It feels like it repairs a little bit of the feeling of being untouchable and unlovable that has been so present in my relationship with my mum (who has only hugged me once in the last 23 years… and that was the day my dad died). It also makes me feel like the feeling of being physically and emotionally abandoned time and again over the last 8 years with Em when I have been distressed and dissociated might have been more about her rather than there being something inherently wrong with me… anyway, it’s a big HUGE area…and there’s a lot of work to be done round it in the therapy – oh god…I can’t wait for that! LOL.

I walked away from the session feeling a bit frustrated with myself but also so much more connected than I had earlier in the session. It really is amazing how something as simple as leaving on a hug can do enough to settle the young parts who worry so much about whether the relationship is real but also who are freaking out about a separation. Anita actually asking me if I wanted a hug makes those parts that feel untouchable think that perhaps she is safe, and perhaps she isn’t disgusted by them… it feels nice.

Physical touch really does help when stuff feels off and I think this is because when young child is terrified and having a tantrum you don’t try and have a big dialogue right in that moment. First, you pick it up, hold it, help it regulate, and then when it’s settled you try and talk things though and make sense of it all. And I think this is where I have got so lost for so long in therapy.

My system is so fragmented and there have been so many times where the attachment stuff has been activated in a session and then I’ve been stranded in a very young, often pre-verbal dissociated state and have been expected to find my way out of that by myself. It’s impossible. It’s abandoning and traumatising being in that state and having a therapist do the still face on you, or tell you that you need to hold that part for yourself.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting for one minute that I see myself as some kind of ‘adult baby’ …it’s fucking mortifying enough experiencing the range of feelings so intensely and having to talk about it – BUT – there are definitely times when words are simply not enough and being physically held really helps regulate the system and bring the adult coping parts back online so that maybe we can work out what’s going on. The work can’t be done when you’re not in your window of tolerance – and as I have said before, my window is more like a letterbox!!

Anyway, that was our last session. I’ve checked in a few times with A via text since then…and that is another thing that has made this break more bearable. For the parts that genuinely can’t hold her in mind she almost ceases to exist and so these little reminders, that ‘she’s still here’ really help.

I feel like A understands how this stuff works, like she speaks my language…and that really is amazing.

Reunited (at last!): Relief and Release

I am really aware that have been like a broken record for the last few months here, moaning on about how hard I have found lockdown without any face-to-face therapy and having to conduct my therapeutic relationships online. It’s sad really, that the difference between things in my life feeling manageable – or not – essentially boils down to having contact with a couple of therapists for a few hours each week in person. I guess though, that is the transformative power of therapy, it doesn’t take a lot of time, in the big scheme of things, to help to start shifting the balance in the right direction and helping the various traumatised parts feel a little more stable.

There’s really no good time for a global pandemic to hit (!) but I could cry about how poorly timed this one has been for me and my sense of emotional wellbeing. I mean, the hell that was December to February with Em was really something else, it floored my youngest parts. In fact, I still can’t really express how awful that ending with Em was and how massively impacted I have been by it. But at least I had both Anita and K in my corner helping to drag me through the worst of it. My sessions in February and March were absolute life savers, like strategically placed islands in the stream allowing me to catch my breath before being once more subject to the swirling currents of my feelings ‘outside the room’.

And then lockdown hit and all of a sudden everything stopped. Well, I mean face-to-face therapies. Anita and I started working online and K and I have been in pretty much daily contact throughout on WhatsApp…but it’s not the same [screech in whiny voice!]. At the beginning of lockdown, I could just about satisfy myself with the idea that some contact/therapy was better than none given the fact that it felt as if we were heading into the apocalypse. But, actually, as time has gone on, I’ve struggled more and more with feeling physically isolated, alone, and abandoned. Adult me gets that I have not been ‘left’ and am not ‘untouchable’…but the nature of lockdown has wreaked havoc with the young parts.

As I say, lockdown itself has been fine. I have largely enjoyed being at home, working from home, having a slightly slower pace of life, in a lot of ways not much changed but I have really missed going to see A and K. Especially K. I have really missed the holding that comes from doing the body work in craniosacral therapy. K seems to see me even when I am in hiding. Or maybe that should be ‘feel’ me? So, the longer lockdown has gone on the harder it has been for me to hold the really vulnerable, traumatised parts of myself because usually I get help with that.

Don’t get me wrong, I have given it a really good go (trying to self-care/meet the need of the young parts) but my god it’s been exhausting and pretty useless because when my adult self is AWOL and I am stuck in distressed ‘baby’ there’s nothing to be done. That baby has no idea how to soothe itself. All it knows is that everything is wrong and it is scary spiralling through the black abyss.

So, it’s felt like the level of need/distress has been steadily ramping up week on week until recently I felt as though those young parts were dying to be held. It felt like a whole-body ache…or as my friend described it the other day, like a ‘hunger. It sounds dramatic. I know it does. But she’s right, it’s like the biggest hunger or rather like being slowly starved to death.

Anyway, somehow or other I have got through it but I have felt increasingly like my rope is unravelling and I’m hanging on by the final frayed thread.

My nervous system has been in meltdown!

Honestly, I wish just for a day I could be without this stuff. To not carry this unbelievable weight would just be so freeing!

The last few weeks have felt especially tough. The screaming distress of the child parts has felt almost impossible to manage. Thinking about it, I am not surprised that it has been the last two weeks where the Inner Critic has moved in from the wings and got a bit more vocal. It’s a last resort. Someone needs to get things in order! Only, I am so aware now that following through on the demands of the Critic doesn’t do me any good in the long run. It thinks it’s protective – and sure it helps numb that young agony for a bit – but the thing I have learnt is that I can’t outrun it (that feeling that I am going to be annihilated if I feel and face pain of the youngest parts of me) forever, because when I inevitably crash and burn after a period of self-attack – it’s always there waiting, it never goes away. Ugh.

Sooooooooo you can imagine my absolute delight when a couple of weeks ago K said she was going to be slowly getting back to working face-to-face. Like I did a full on internal happy dance…until I realised that I have two children and a wife that works full time hours and it’s the summer holidays! In the usual run of things, term time, pre-Covid I’d see K on a Thursday at hers…but getting out anywhere alone in working hours is just not on the cards at the moment. Honestly, the realisation that I am not free until September was like a sucker punch. I could have cried.

I explained that I would absolutely love to see K but that I couldn’t because of the children. But you know. The story doesn’t end there. Because K is amazing – that’s no secret – she offered to come to mine to do a session. OMG! My kids have been really good at entertaining themselves when I have had my online tutoring sessions and therapy with so I knew they’d be ok gluing themselves to the TV for a little while.

Because we’ve kept in touch throughout lockdown K knew how it’s been for me, how big of a struggle it’s felt, and has been bombarded with various hug gifs and heart emojis over the last few months. Like it’s basically been four months of ‘I miss you’ and ‘I need a hug’. Bless her she really puts up with a lot from me! To know that I would see her soon, and get a proper hug, not a virtual one was amazing.

So finally, it got to Thursday and yay yay yay! I can’t even put into words how lovely it was to see K in person after so long…it’s only been four months but to the younger parts it’s felt like a lifetime! And to be able to have a hug the minute I saw her was just the best. I mean if there was a scale of hug 0-10 she gives 10s.

We sat outside on my deck, had a cup of tea and a chat and it was just so nice to feel normal-ish again and catch up a bit…and to be able to talk about the stuff that I can’t say to everyday people: like the struggle I’ve been having with online therapy, the disconnect, and other stuff that is sandwiched with shame.

To be back on the couch was brilliant. Almost immediately I could feel my system responding to K. I can’t really explain the sensation of craniosacral therapy on the body because lots of different things happen over the course of a session – but initially, to me, it felt like everything that had been blocked in my system started to flow again. When things start to feel more in tune it feels almost like a tide is running through my system – like a natural rhythm is restored. I know that sounds properly heebie-jeebie but it’s true!

Another thing that happens is a deep sense of coming back into the body, this often takes a good while to happen – especially if I have been hurtling around out in space. It feels a bit like being in an elevator and slowly coming down, down, down, until you land, grounded. I have been so ‘out of my body’ lately that to feel embodied again is amazing but also fucking heavy! Like oh my god I had no idea how exhausted I was! And the hangover from it on Friday was so big that I couldn’t really do anything!

And all that is amazing… but what I didn’t anticipate (you’d think I would know myself by now) was that parts of me were still defended and protected. There’s still this massive hangover from Em and all the stuff with my mum that prevents me from saying exactly what’s going on – but it’s not surprising when what comes up is so overwhelming and the need is so huge. Although, as I said, K seems to understand without me saying anything.

At the beginning on the session she had said that the session was for all the parts of me, however vulnerable, and especially the baby who had been essentially stuck in an incubator (which is a big trauma – 3 days in an incubator when I was born and no contact with my mum) for the last four months…so I guess she must have understood what was going on – to a degree.

Anyway, it was all going well, my body was doing its thing – coming back into itself- when K gently put her hand on my chest – and boom – fuck me it was like all the stuff I have been tightly holding onto for…well…a long time…not just lockdown came up and out. Jesus. There was no gentle tuning into it, or slow bubbling up – it was like a defibrillator shock into feelings that I generally can’t connect to, especially in the presence of someone else. Actually, the only person I get close to expressing these feelings with is K.

I don’t know how it happens, or why, or what gets unblocked but it’s sooooo powerful. All of a sudden though, I felt about two years old, vulnerable, exposed, and just wanted to roll onto my side and cuddle into K and be rocked. It was so young. Ugh. It’s fucking mortifying. Like seriously, the shame around this stuff is just too much to bear sometimes. It’s not lost on me that I am a 37-year-old woman with two children of my own … but sometimes I have a hard job remembering that when this stuff comes up because those young parts take over and it takes an almighty effort from the critic to override that stuff…which is where the shame and self-loathing come in!

Anyway, I have enough of a filter to not do that (thank god!) but it’s so hard then navigating these intense feelings. I’ve been in this place enough times with Em – feeling young and then being faced with the distance and being immersed in the shame and it being so overwhelming that I end up creeping off into dissociation. The positive with a body-based therapy is that there is at least some touch – some contact – and so whilst in the past I might be flooded with that overwhelming need to be held and Em would be half a world away in her chair at least K is actually right there, still.

The young parts settled a little bit as the session went on but, as K reached my head there was part of me that really just wanted to hold her hand. FFS! It feels really embarrassing. But I think it is a bit like what I was saying earlier – it feels like I have been starved of this for the longest time and now I realise just how bloody hungry I am. And you know that thing that happens in sessions when you are mentally aware of the time ticking away? Like sand slipping through your fingers? Well, I know that it’s really common for my younger parts to get panicked – like the anticipation of it all being over and being back on my own makes those parts want to cling on. It’s as though their life depends on it.

OH THE SHAME!!!

The session was so nice (aside from my inner gymnastics). I think the other thing I realised as time was ticking by is that I need to stop fighting whatever it is that’s going on inside because all the while I am trying to keep everyone in check I am missing out on the level of connection I actually need. The shame keeps me isolated. I am certain K could handle me saying, ‘I feel really young right now and I just want to hug you’ like it’s fine…isn’t it?…it’s just feelings. But ugh… I wish I wasn’t so terrified of being rejected or abandoned or left. I wish that what has happened with Em hadn’t have made me even more cautious and guarded. It feels like such an almighty ask of myself to risk those parts coming forward again. I literally cannot bear the same thing happening again and being hurt.

What I have to remember, though is that both K and A are NOT Em…they have the power to hurt me like she did but it doesn’t mean they will.

At the end I said goodbye to K we had another hug and I told her, ‘I’ve really missed you’…it’s so much easier to say that when you can’t be seen and are being held…although there was a part of me that didn’t want to let that out at all! To a ‘normal’ person that would be a pretty simple thing to say wouldn’t it? Like isn’t it normal to say things like, ‘I am so happy to see you’ or ‘I’ve missed you’ or ‘I love you’…but anything like that just feels like I’m some kind of creep. Like it would make the other person feel uncomfortable. That it’s too much. Expressing any kind of emotion – good or bad – is really hard for me and increasingly so since Em’s ‘tick’ comment. I never want to be thought of that way…although clearly, internally, it has stuck.

Navigating Our First Rupture…

I made it through last weekend a little haphazardly and as it got to Monday, and almost time for my session, I felt anxious. I had every intention of telling Anita that her not replying to some of my recent (vulnerable) texts had unsettled me in a big way. I mean surely the evidence was there that she is safe enough to express that with? She may not have replied to me but we had talked in sessions about what I had said, more or less, and when I had reached out in the middle of the week and asked for a check-in she’d accommodated that. If I don’t tell her what’s going on how is she meant to know…and how can we sort it out?

I took a deep breath and waited for Anita’s call to come in, 10:00…10:01…10:02…10:03… wtf? I started to feel pissed off, angry, forgotten about…abandoned…rejected…and then I closed down. I know this is not all about Anita, that everything she does is also filtered through the lens of how Em behaved, but I nose-dived really quickly, ‘She’s the same as Em. She doesn’t really care. You’re a fucking moron for hoping that this time things would be different because the problem is you…not them…’

So with the Critic ranting in my head and my body feeling I almost just left it, ‘Sod her. I don’t even care anyway…’

Only of course I do care.

Having stared at my home screen for the last four minutes I opened up my Whatsapp and saw that I had a missed called from A at 10:01. My phone hadn’t rung or notified me of the call.

Really?

For fuck’s sake! I returned the call and A picked up. I told her my phone had glitched and she said she was glad to see me and was worried something might have happened. You’d think that might have been enough for me to settle down, connect, and talk but of course it isn’t that easy. In the intervening four minutes between expecting the call and realising I had missed the call I had run the attachment gauntlet and my body was in flight mode.

I wish I had have been brave enough to say, ‘I thought you’d forgotten about me and I feel panicked’ but of course because I was hanging on to all the worry about the last two weeks and her not acknowledging those few texts it felt impossible. I was already armoured up and so I did the thing… I talked BUT NOT ABOUT WHAT WAS REALLY BOTHERING ME. I spoke about work, my daughter’s return to school, and you guessed it… COVID!

Give me fucking strength!!

I’m not saying that what I spoke about isn’t a concern or wasn’t helpful it’s just on my list of ‘what’s bothering me’ those things probably come about 15 places down. Like even if I couldn’t tell her about the fear surrounding being rejected or her seeming to have backed away, maybe I could have talked about the fact I was upset about the anniversary of my dad dying which was happening the next day having touched on it in our Friday session, or told her about the fact that I had looked at Em’s website over the weekend – you know how I like to self-harm – and had seen that she’s updated her page to specifically list the issues she deals with. There are tonnes but imagine my horror when she lists: attachment disorders, dissociation, eating disorders, and trauma…

I wanted to puke.

I knew the, ‘I have reached the limit of my competency’ and I do not have ‘the relevant skills or training’…was utter fucking bullshit when she said it. It’s like the therapist’s get out of jail free card. How can you argue with that? It’d be like a student asking me to teach them German – it just wouldn’t be possible. They’d have to seek support elsewhere. But to see that she is advertising her services in these areas tells me that she has learned absolutely nothing from what has happened between us. That she takes zero responsibility for her part in it.

To think that she genuinely thinks she has the skills to treat people with these issues is absolutely beyond words. I am upset. I am hurt. But I am absolutely terrified that she’ll do the same to someone else. Perhaps someone else who doesn’t have quite as much resilience as I have. And it might sound dramatic but it’s not beyond the range of possibility that someone might really hurt themselves facing the situation I did.

If it weren’t for my kids and the fact that I quickly found Anita just as things began to unravel (tick gate!) I think there would have been a strong possibility that I may have hurt myself…or worse. Because annihilating a person’s young parts when they have been exposed and vulnerable is just about the worst thing that can happen for people with attachment problems.

Everything went wrong when we were kids, we learnt to protect ourselves, often using maladaptive coping mechanisms that hurt us further, and in many cases the damage that was done to us as kids led to us developing problematic relational patterns…this all causes us problems in later life and that’s how we end up in therapy depressed, empty, anxious, hurting…

We are encouraged to try again at letting people in, trusting some with the most vulnerable parts of ourselves… and it took years for me to let Em see what I was struggling with, how badly hurt I was, and when she saw the full extent of the need and pain, she abandoned me…only this time it feels worse because unlike my mother, she’s also rejected my adult self, too, so I feel utterly heartbroken.

But no. I didn’t bring ANY OF THAT to the session…because people refusing to wear face coverings in enclosed public spaces is clearly of greater concern for me! Jeez!

Anyway, the session ended it was fine, but not fine you know? I doubt Anita even knew I was keeping her at arm’s length. I felt so pissed off with myself afterwards, though. I convinced myself that she was fed up with me, disinterested in me, that I was wasting my time. And yet, there was still a part that wanted to connect.

On Tuesday I had a good day with work, back to face to face, but by the evening the grief around my dad loomed large. I had told Anita that I was really sad that this year I would not be able to go to the beach and ‘connect with my dad’ like I usually do, to mark the anniversary. I mean I know technically we are allowed to travel wherever we like but I don’t think that a trip out of county is essential right now.

On Tuesday evening I sent Anita some pictures I took from my trip last year with the caption ‘If Only…’

img_8103img_8079img_8101

And sure enough she did not reply.

And that is when my system went into full scale meltdown. Usually, before the message when I let her in, she would at least send an emoji and now nothing.

I had bad dreams all week. One where I was watching Anita with someone (aspects of me) at an outdoor café. As I watched I could tell that something wasn’t right. It looked fine on the surface but I just knew it wasn’t as it appeared. As she got up to leave, she handed me a rolled-up piece of paper that looked like a receipt and on it written in pencil were the words, ‘I’m sorry. I can’t work with you’.

Then I woke up on Thursday morning having had a dream about being on a paddle board with both my kids in a harbour (where I used to live). The paddle board had a puncture and was rapidly deflating. Neither of my kids (in the dream) were competent swimmers and I knew I couldn’t save both of them. I noticed Anita was on the harbour wall. I called for help and she turned and walked away.

I know they’re both dreams. Not reality. That these are my fears coming out. But it’s horrid because I ignored my dreams about Em and look what happened. What happens if my dreams are trying to tell me something again?

I felt so triggered and upset that I sent Anita a message to cancel the session on Friday. This is so unlike me. I never cancel sessions…ok so I cancelled that one with Em just before Christmas but never before! So I sent this:

Can we have a break tomorrow and talk on Monday instead? I feel really unsettled, disconnected, and that things aren’t ok/safe/something has changed between us. Bad dreams aren’t helping. Maybe it’ll feel less bad after the weekend. July is always hard.

I wasn’t sure what she would come back with but I wasn’t really expecting this:

Of course, that’s no problem.

I mean sure, I asked to not do the session but I explained why and for me to be saying I am feeling shit and unsafe in the relationship I basically did not need her to agree that it was fine to ignore that for another few days. The child parts felt so abandoned. I needed Anita to see past my defences and reach through to the little ones and she didn’t. I left it a few hours and felt really unseen and disappointed.

I am good at catastrophising and was really seriously thinking that this was it…it wasn’t going to work out – she just doesn’t get it. To be fair I also need make it clear that I was massively hormonal and I am never at my most rational when in the throes on PMS!

A few hours later I replied:

It doesn’t feel like no problem ☹

And then this came in:

No, I can hear that but not sure how to try and reassure you in a text. My guess is the closer we get the more your defences will try to sabotage the relationship to try and keep you safe. It’s a system that works as in it keeps you guarded but it also isolates you. I can hear July is a triggering month so maybe letting your defences step in for a few days is what you need and gives your defences the respect they deserve for trying to keep you safe. So try not to be too hard on yourself and try to give yourself the empathy you deserve.

Ugh. Yes. But. No.

Absolutely, the closer we get the more spooked parts will feel because the fear of loss and rejection becomes more acute but there’s more to it than that … and telling me not to be too hard on myself when I am depriving myself of connection feels like we’re letting the protector win when actually sometimes she needs to be shown that we’re ok and that it’s safe. But that message was enough for me to see that actually A is not trying to ignore me or disconnect…I don’t think… and so I asked if we could still have our session, feeling like a bloody dickhead!:

I hate feeling like this. And yes, you’re right. But I don’t want to feel triggered and then run scared from people because it is isolating. It’s that thing about leaving before I get left. I was hypervigilant before January but now it’s off the chart ☹ . I’m sorry. Is it too late to change my mind about tomorrow?

And of course, this is Anita we are talking about and she came back:

You really don’t need to say sorry and tomorrow at 10am is absolutely fine 😊

And so that was that. Fun times.

When it came to the session on Friday, I felt a bit nervous. I knew I had to tell her what was really going on if I was going to really sort it out. So we started and I said I was a bit embarrassed that I had made such a fuss and actually still ended up in the session…what a 24 hours! She was really warm and understanding. I asked her outright, ‘has something changed?’ and she was adamant from her side that no, nothing had changed, or yes, something had changed, but positively, she said she felt like we are getting closer.

I smiled.

Good. It’s not just me moving towards her then and her feeling repulsed and backing away.

She said that I had mentioned some bad dreams and asked me if I would tell her about them. So, I started with the one about the café and she said that sounded really hard and that she wanted to reassure me that she really has no intention of leaving and that I am not too much for her. She said she understood that might be hard to take on board, or believe, because Em will have said the same thing and then left (the warmth that she exuded as she said it is like nothing Em ever expressed in all the time I worked with her). It was easy to believe what she was saying because it felt real and genuine.

I told her about the second dream and she was really moved and replied that she could see how hard that was for me. Two dreams on the bounce where she’d abandoned me. She could understand my concern, what if I allowed myself to get into the water and it got emotionally overwhelming could I be sure that she wouldn’t let me drown, would she reach out and save me? And the answer to that was an emphatic ‘yes!’. We are in this together and she has absolutely no intention of letting me or my child parts drown.

I can’t tell you how much my body relaxed when she said that. I have never experienced any real reassurance in the relationship with Em. I’ve always been left second guessing, hoping for the best but fearing the worst…and then frequently hearing the worst. Anita isn’t like that. It’s so unbelievably refreshing. Healing.

She said that my protector is really strong and good at her job. I agreed but said, ‘the thing is Anita, I need you to be stronger than she is. I need to you to be able to meet her and diffuse her or at least side step her to get to the young ones because that will make her stand down.’ She repeated the idea she had said in the text about giving the protector space and respect. I said, ‘no’. ‘No?’ she wondered. ‘No. Because if we let her have free reign then the little ones lose out again, they remain isolated and unseen, and they’re the only reason she’s there in the first place’.

Anita asked me to explain further. I said, ‘my system works in a particular way. It’s always the same. If the young parts reach out and are vulnerable but aren’t met they are left in a whole world of pain, it’s awful. So in order for me to function, first the teen steps in with her bubbling rage which is externalised, and then if she can’t get a handle on it all,  the critic steps up and starts attacking me. The teen part is like a really angry big sister. When the young ones are abandoned, she loses her shit. There is absolutely nothing she won’t do to protect them from another unsafe adult hurting them. She’ll cut all ties before things get worse. She struggles to trust anyway but if the young ones are hurting it’s like all hell breaks loose.’

Anita really seemed to get it and said, ‘so what you need then, is for me to see the young parts and help them and the teen will step down a bit?’.

Bingo.

I think at this point she thought that the teen was having a meltdown because of the dreams. It felt like we were moving in the right direction but I still didn’t quite feel like I could tell her that I had been so upset about the texts. It felt stupid. Being face to face – or screen to screen – or whatever I could see that Anita was not trying to abandon me at all. I guess, though, there was a little bit of me that was thinking, ‘she only cares in the paid for time, outside that I don’t matter’… you know all the great stuff!

So instead I decided to tell her something else that I felt shame about but not quite as much shame as I did about overreacting to the texts… I decided to tell her that I had looked online at Em’s website earlier in the week. I waited for it…a raised eyebrow… look of disgust…an uncomfortable shuffle in her chair. Of course, none of those things happened. Just a look of care and understanding as though it were the most natural thing in the world that I’d be searching my ex-therapists website after terminating five months ago!

I expressed how upset I felt knowing that she had learnt nothing, took no responsibility, and basically that left me in no doubt that she absolutely thinks I was the problem. Anita empathised. I said I was angry. She asked me what I wanted to do with my anger and I said that I didn’t know right now, but that I was certain that I didn’t want to turn it in on myself…it’s not always possible but if I do that then she’s really won. Anita agreed and said she was glad that even though it was painful that I wasn’t abusing myself as well.

Anyway, we spoke about that and then I built up a bit more confidence…and asked again, ‘Are you absolutely sure that we are ok and that nothing has changed?’ She replied again ‘I’m sure’. I sat there quiet. ‘In the last few weeks you’ve taken steps closer to me’ she looked thoughtful for a second ‘and I really feel like we are getting closer… Do you think I have stepped back?’ I nodded. She told me that if I had felt that she is sorry but that absolutely had not been her intention. A little voice murmured, ‘but you’ve ignored me’. Anita looked shocked. ‘In session?’ she wondered. ‘No’ I whispered. I felt so small at that point and it was really clear to me that it was the young part that was talking to her. She was quiet for a moment. ‘Is this about texts?’ I nodded again. She thought for a few seconds and then started talking in a really open and vulnerable way,

‘I’m sorry if my text replies have felt not good enough or what you’ve needed. I think I told you before that I have really bad dyslexia. I almost couldn’t complete my training because of the written component of the course. I needed a lot of support from my supervisor and had to use voice technology to write my essays because I struggle so much with writing and typing. I could never offer email therapy for this reason. So, when I text I have to think really, really hard and the harder I try the less authentic it might feel because I lose myself in trying to get it right when I know I am likely to get it wrong. I’m sorry.’

Honestly, it was so heartfelt that I melted a bit inside. Like I really felt for her and was so pleased that she was able to be vulnerable with me. To have authentic communication modelled is really something. I hadn’t really thought about it from her side despite having been told in our first session together that she prefers to check in via calls rather than texts because she struggles with dyslexia and finds calls more connecting. I really heard it now, and realised that it probably feels especially pressured knowing I am an English teacher and will notice any errors in what she sends.

I suppose I tend to communicate in writing because it’s what I find easier but it’s also that I have not been allowed calls or any outside contact with Em and writing is all I had – even though I really shouldn’t text or email! In all the years we worked together we only had one phone check in…and it was a game changer for me…and yet the next time I walked into the room she raised the drawbridge and told me she’d stepped outside her role as a therapist by doing it. It was devastating.

I said to Anita that I really understood that, but actually I really didn’t have a problem with her texts, that her replies up until two weeks ago have been phenomenal, so holding, so attuned, and exactly what I had needed. I said that she had felt so connected, even when she might just reply with a smiley face emoji. I told her that two weeks ago, when I told her that my young parts missed her she stopped responding and since then every time I have reached out with something vulnerable she’s made no reply at all and it’s made me worry that something is wrong, that I am too much, and that she is backing away.

If I had said any of this to Em she would have thrown it back at me, telling me how I am just being sensitive and that the feelings are coming from the past and that it’s not how it is and that we need to keep communication inside the room and that this is her boundary. She could never step towards me in a rupture and instead left me hanging having to work through it on my own.

What did Anita do?

She leant in towards the camera and gently said, ‘I am so so sorry for letting your young parts down, I really didn’t mean to. I am so glad you’ve been able to tell me this because now I can make sure I don’t do it again. I have been really busy at home the last couple of weeks and I am sorry if it’s come across as me not caring. It’s not that, at all. I have been aware of how you’ve moved towards me and I didn’t want to get it wrong with you or give you an inadequate response’.

I explained that I really don’t need long or complicated responses to my texts and that I really understand the feelings around being exposed and not feeling good enough due to the dyslexia. I said I am not judging and that she’s always felt really authentic to me. My young parts just need to know that she’s still there when I reach out. I told her again about how I really struggle with object constancy and so that it really is the young parts seeking reassurance and an emoji can be enough…but getting no reply at all sends me into panic.

I told her that I genuinely thought she was trying to find a way to tell me she wasn’t able to work with me which is what’s been coming up in my dreams and why I had backed away on Thursday. She said she understood that there felt like there was safety in leaving before I got left. I said having just talked in the way we have it seems like a massive reaction to three texts being left hanging especially when in the same block of time I’d reached out and she had made time for a check in. I said it’s just really hard coming from a place where texts, emails, and calls hadn’t been allowed. I said how I had been ignored for years and years and it felt like a narrative repeating.

She reiterated that she is not Em but acknowledged how badly Em had hurt me in various ways and understands how sensitive this is. I said how I had worried that she’d been to supervision or peer support and she’d been told that she shouldn’t work with me in this way, and that if she took away the outside contact I’d really struggle because it’s been so important to me. I think she was genuinely surprised by my mental gymnastics and assured me that it was all ok and that she knows what I need now. She reiterated that the way we can keep moving forward together is by talking and communicating this stuff even when it’s tough.

I haven’t really done that exchange any justice at all but what I can say is that it is probably the single most healing moment I have experienced in talk therapy in all the years I’ve been doing it. Being listened to, seen, understood, and accepted (even if I was being dramatic and over the top)  is so healing. And it is such a contrast to being ignored, blamed, or shamed for how I feel. To effectively repair a rupture rather than be left holding the pain and upset is amazing. To know I can express how I feel and that be met well is so much healthier than feeling like there is no choice but to move through a rupture and let it go as it’s better than risking losing everything. I mean the last time I tried to sort a rupture I got terminated…but I couldn’t allow my therapist to think it was ok to call me a tick, could I?!

Anyway, after the session I sent A a short text thanking her for being real, and open, and hearing me. And she replied by thanking me for my honesty and signed off with a hug emoji.

And, that, my friends is how it is done! This tick is doing therapy! x

And So It Begins…Again!

I’ve been wondering when it would happen, when my attachment system would fire up and start doing ‘its thing’ in the relationship between Anita and I. I have had an easy run of it so far and it’s been such a welcome reprieve from the usual angst I’ve had in therapy. Sure, I’ve had to deal with the fall-out from what’s happened with Em but it’s been fine because my adult has attended the therapy sessions and has been able to get a lot of the work done with Anita.

So far I’ve shown her the map, explained the lay of the land, told her what it’s like for young parts and how what’s happened with Em has hurt them, outlined some of the past traumas, pointed out where the landmines are, but we actually haven’t properly set foot out on the landscape yet – we’ve just been warming up around basecamp.

So, I guess it was inevitable. The trek would have to begin properly sooner or later. I think we’ve adequately surveyed the course, we know (as much as we can) what’s out there, but we haven’t had to test yet whether, together, we are up to the challenge of navigating my system. I don’t know yet whether Anita has amount of stamina required to complete the hike. She says she’s up for it, seems to have the right footwear but … what if she can’t do it? What if I’m not able to because I still have blisters after my last hike?

Well, it’s too late now because the child parts have joined the therapy… the expedition has truly begun.

FUCCCKKKKK.

Here we go again…wish me luck.

I won’t outline again what’s happened here, I’ll just copy what I have sent Anita this morning as it says it all. God give me fucking strength…and her, too!

Hi Anita.

I’m feeling a bit anxious about our session tomorrow because something has changed quite significantly for me this weekend, and I think it’s important you know because I have a tendency to hide when I feel vulnerable in this way… but it won’t help if you are in the dark.

Until now, therapy with you has been easy – well not easy!! – but fine, because, largely, it’s my adult that’s turned up (I think!). So, talking about what’s been going on for me has been tough but also more possible because my adult has been able to express it and also, it’s been stuff from outside the room that I’ve been bringing to you.

As much as it’s painful and embarrassing to talk about what happened with Em, I haven’t felt triggered by you or really too concerned about your response because the relationship is new and if things had felt shit or you had responded badly, I would have just left. It’s not that I could have been in a therapy room with just anyone, because actually my system would have reacted negatively had I not felt like I could trust you or you’d felt dangerous to me, but I think that I’ve been so impacted by what has happened with Em and life in general, lately, that I just needed someone there to let off steam with – anyone- and in that respect I have sort of just talked at you, and kept you at arm’s length to a degree.

I don’t know. Part of it is that there’s so much backstory that it feels like there’s a lot to get through and I need to bring you up to speed, and so it sometimes it feels like I am unemotionally recounting and reeling off events just so you have some idea of what it’s been like for me. But I am also aware that I am really avoidant.

I find it really hard to get in touch with my emotions. It’s like I know bad stuff has happened and it has affected me but I can’t seem to access the emotion behind it when I talk about it with people. I am good at the rational, logical stuff – it’s a kind of protection. I feel safe being detached. Maybe it’s because I am not really seen, it’s almost someone else’s life…I don’t know.

I often begin our sessions by moaning about work, the virus, racism, the shit government and how disappointing I find society in general, because that allows me to stay in one piece when I know underneath there is a whole world of pain waiting to be uncovered. I suppose part of me wants you to see something other than the hopeless pit of need and chaos that is inside, because so often when I reach out to you from outside the session and ask you for something it’s from that other place – where I feel out of control, and small, and like I am disintegrating. And I am really aware that that part has been too much for Em. I guess somehow, I want to prove that I am not as worthless as she has made me feel and try and show enough of the unbroken parts so that you might actually want to stay.

I’ve really appreciated how you’ve responded to me in the time we’ve been working together. You’ve been so accommodating and understanding and somehow what you say seems to settle the parts that are struggling. And that’s great. BUT because you’ve been so kind and caring stuff has started to shift inside. I’ve had a couple of dreams this last week – and you’ve been in them…and so it begins!… They’ve been fine. You’ve been warm and present which directly contrasts against all the dreams I had with Em where she would physically, violently push me away anytime I tried to get close to her.

I’ve really been grateful to you for agreeing to work with me and helping me try and deal with the fallout of the therapy with Em ending. I have been conscious that I don’t want to mess things up and I want things to work. I do want to invest in the relationship but I don’t think I would have been devastated if you said it wasn’t working or you wanted to refer me on – until now.

Yesterday I was ironing and I felt a voice inside saying, ‘I miss Anita’…it was my seven-year-old self. So it’s no longer, ‘I need to talk’, it’s ‘I need to talk to you and I miss you’. And that has changed and unsettled everything because the child parts are really vulnerable to being hurt. So now I feel stressed because I didn’t expect this to happen, not yet, anyway, but it has. And I guess I need you to know about it because now that my attachment system has been activated in this relationship there are parts who are wanting to interact with you but who are terrified. It means that I am now going to be looking for rejection and abandonment, it means my defences will also be up trying to protect those parts that so desperately need to be seen from being seen, and it might mean that I end up dissociating a lot… even saying that fills me with shame…

I didn’t want this to happen, especially given that we are working remotely because I know that distance triggers feelings of being abandoned and being untouchable and I don’t want you think I am a basket case and dread working with me. Unfortunately, because of what’s happened with Em, I know that this next bit isn’t going to be an easy ride for us. I don’t want to make you feel like I am testing you all the time, but this is probably what it will feel like. As the various parts come out each of them will need to work out if you are safe…so it can feel repetitive. I get it’s all part of me but it’s like having an additional nine pairs of ears listening in on our conversations and what each of them hears and needs at any given time can be really different.
x

So, there we are. I’ve lit the blue touch paper and let’s see what happens. I feel nervous and anxious for having sent that. But I’m all in now, not running from this stuff, not that I did with Em either, but let’s see how it’s responded to tomorrow. I am braced and ready for rejection…!! Let’s hope she continues to be the Anita I think she is. I guess we shall see. Perhaps it’ll feel different to her now that the young parts are attaching to her. Maybe she’ll feel smothered and understand why Em likened my child self to a tick…

Best not go there, or I’ll wind myself up into a panic.

Deep breaths.