Fine But Not Fine…

Well, it’s been a while since I have blogged – in fact, it’s probably the longest I have ever gone without writing in any shape or form whatsoever. There’s no real excuse for it, I have had the time (it’s just been the school summer holidays here in the UK), but I just haven’t had the inclination to write. Almost every time I have thought about sitting down at the laptop, I have had a massive internal block, like something or someone inside puts up a massive barrier and so I haven’t bothered pushing it.

Instead of writing, I have sat in the garden, taken the kids to the park, met up with friends, gone for ice cream or to the beach or the woods, or done a million other things. I’ve even sat outside in the middle of the night under a blanket watching shooting stars!…or… I’ve simply done nothing at all…and it’s been great!

There’ve been days, like today, where I have thought I would actually like to write, where I have had stuff to say, and then I’ve procrastinated with the laptop turned on beside me and found other things to do like scroll through Insta, Twitter, Facebook etc on loop (!). I just haven’t managed to get my fingers typing. I guess, it’s probably something about how writing usually just flows for me and if I’m not in that space I find it quite arduous. I spend so much of my time teaching people how to write that I don’t want to have to think about the process when I am actually writing…or trying to find something to say.

The other thing I have noticed is that I have really struggled to read other people’s blogs. It’s not because I am not interested or don’t care – I am and I do…I just couldn’t. So I apologise if I haven’t commented on posts and have been AWOL.

I’m not entirely sure what is going on with me, to be honest. When I sit and try and look inside myself it’s like a vacuum – space – it’s just quiet – still – dare I say it, peaceful…… well, no…that’s not entirely correct…there is some noise from some of the parts…but I have largely been able to switch away from it (and them) and have been able to focus on other things not getting dragged into that mess… which is actually so refreshing.

I honestly don’t know if this is progress, or just another type of dissociation. I hate that I second guess myself like this. It’s like I don’t want to say all this positive stuff and it end up being too good to be true and then end up spectacularly ending up flat on my face in a few weeks (hours) and everyone rolling their eyes – like “uh huh, there she is, the nutter is back!” I suppose it doesn’t really matter what it is right now, because however I have achieved it, I finally have some clear space around and inside of me. Rather than feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders and feeling like I am being crushed in a vice, I feel like I have a little bubble of space around me that is preserving my energy but allowing me a bit of freedom to stretch out and unfurl, too.  

This newfound space has been especially apparent this week as I have gone back to work. Although I am tired (OMG I am soooo tired!) and have had some students really trying to push my buttons, I don’t feel like I am having my life force drained from me. I guess, what I am clumsily trying to articulate is like I feel like I might have got myself some kind of energetic boundary installed (finally!). I am not taking on other people’s stuff in the way I have previously and also not letting them take from me. I don’t mean that I am not caring or totally detached, more that I have plugged my leaky bucket and am retaining some of the energy that I need to function for myself which actually means I function better for others, too.

Basically, I am ok enough, and although things are happening (which I’ll get to in a minute) I feel like I have one foot in the process and another on the outside which is allowing me to get on and do things rather than be completely derailed – which is absolutely what would have happened in the past with any hint of stress in the therapeutic relationship… y’all know why I am here blogging today, right?! Don’t worry, the drama is coming soon!

The end of the summer holiday was really really good. I did some brilliant fun things with my wife and kids and made some awesome memories. The last Friday of the holidays we went to totally fabulous place with an inflatable assault course on water and had a blast. It’s the sort of place where you just let go and immerse yourself in the madness. I honestly haven’t had that much fun since I travelled the world in 2005. I felt so free, so full of life….and joy.

Joy??? What is joy?!!

My best friend from university came to stay on Saturday and we spent a fab 24 hours putting the world to rights, sitting in the sun on bean bags, incense burning, eating and drinking, and then retreating into the hot tub to star gaze in the evening. Again, it was another great day and really highlighted how lucky I am to have sound people in my life with whom I can be completely myself and relax with.

Then, last Monday, we took a trip to Harry Potter Studios and had such a magical time. I kept welling up, I was so bloody happy – like my entire system was utterly in its element – I was in my element. I kept stopping and thinking how great everything was. I guess, for the first time – maybe ever – I was able to be completely in the moment and not feel like I was on the outside looking in, or worse, not even there. My mind wasn’t wandering or fixating on stuff. I just enjoyed being present, experiencing life, having fun…

Part of me is so pleased to report this – I’m 38 FFS and maybe, finally, getting a bit more settled…I just wish I could have been like this years ago when I was doing so much amazing stuff and couldn’t really take it in. Oh well, small steps.

What was really a huge milestone, too, was choosing to do this stuff at a time when I would usually have had therapy with Anita. In the past, I would have really not wanted to book anything that would mean missing a therapy session. The insecure attachment I have/had just wouldn’t allow it. It’s bad enough when my therapist/s go away (more on this later, too) but I certainly wouldn’t have wilfully taken myself away from a session because the fallout from that would be too huge and destabilising.

But I did, this time.

Because…well…

I guess I know Anita is there. I know that if I go away or she goes away that she’s there to come back to – that the relationship will survive disruption. I mean there’s been a lot of disruption in the last 20 months. The world won’t collapse if I miss a session or two (Ha…you should hear what the little ones are saying to that!! “Who are you trying to kid, we’re in meltdown here, you gloating cow head and we don’t want Anita to go on her breaks in October and December and we’re not Ok!”).

I suppose what I have just started to take steps into, albeit tentatively, is going out and living my life instead of living from one therapy session to the next. I absolutely need my therapy. I really do benefit from my routine. Twice a week sessions is the sweet spot. And I do not like disruption – I wrote about how unsettling it was recently when A had to cancel a session due to sickness so I am not a bloody pro by any stretch of the imagination, I can’t just take it or leave it all the time. BUT…I can survive a bit of change and disruption…especially if I am doing something fun. And that is massive. Really massive. When I was doing all the things last week I occasionally thought of Anita and how I was looking forward to telling her about what I had done but there wasn’t any desperate missing her…in those moments. There wasn’t the big gaping sore hole #motherwound in my solar plexus screaming out in pain. There were a few bits of that this week as life returned to normal, though so I’m definitely not out the woods where that is concerned.

Yeah, you just read ALL of the above right. Don’t worry. It’s not some imposter having gained access to this blog – it’s still me – just maybe the budding version of a new me. I bloody hope so – anyway. What’s brought about this change, I wonder? I have to say that I think a good part of this more solid footing is down to the work I have been doing with Anita and K over the last couple of years. Don’t get me wrong, I am still a colossal mess (highlighted after Friday’s session), but I am not quite a big a mess as I was when Em terminated me in February 2020.

I really feel like the attachment work I have been doing is paying off. I can, a lot of the time, bring Anita to mind when I am not with her. Even the distressed child parts are getting a little more secure…which is amazing. As I say, sometimes it’s a complete shit show but there are glimmers of improvement. Even when I am doubting everything and feeling like things aren’t safe and a sham I can look back at the evidence to the contrary and generally talk myself around quite quickly. I can talk to those parts who are so upset and angry now, and tell them that it’s ok and explain why it’s ok.

I am very very aware that this is slow process and can be like a dance of two steps forward one step back. But I do think it’s important to celebrate small wins.

Another thing that’s jolted me into another space is that my childhood best friend passed away a couple of weeks ago – and suddenly life feels really fragile again. Not in an “OMG everything is dangerous” kind of a way, but in an “I’m only here once so let’s fucking do this!!” So that’s what I am attempting to do.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not going to be plain sailing, I’m not dim, and this was highlighted on Friday when Anita told me she had some breaks lined up.

For Fuck’s Sake…

I’ve just said how well I’ve coped with MY being away. It is an entirely different proposition when SHE is away and I am still here…and I want to be with her!

See, here I am, the RBCG you all know and love! Lol!

Over the last few weeks there’ve been some small rumblings inside from the young parts about the therapy. It’s hard to put my finger exactly on what’s been wrong other than a feeling in my gut that Anita is slightly backing away, maybe. There is no evidence of this whatsoever in the sessions – they are as holding and containing as ever – but outside them it’s felt like she’s taken a step back. But then this might be because she was sick and a few other disruptive things have happened.

We had that difficult conversation about outside contact a while back where she explained that writing was hard and that she hadn’t been responding because it was challenging. We agreed at that point that sending a GIF or an emoji would be fine because it’s really about settling the young parts anyway. And largely she has done that…but also at times she hasn’t. And that’s where it gets difficult for my system.

Consistency is so important for me and so any hint of change or reduction in contact can feel abandoning or rejecting and so set things into a panic internally. I have been sitting with this for a while and not said anything because when I think about it, it’s probably nothing. Most people would probably scan through my WhatsApp messages and see no difference at all. It is that subtle a change, but I feel it. And also people’s lives ebb and flow and their availability changes…I get it…just some parts don’t. And they’re the ones that need the therapy most!

I guess I will need to talk about it tomorrow, now, though, because Friday’s session has set off a landmine which might not have felt so massive if I wasn’t already brooding about the perceived change in our communications.

So, I was really looking forward to seeing Anita on Friday having not had my session on Monday. I had really missed her in the later part of the week and felt like she wasn’t there…ugh…and I felt a bit anxious going to the session. I really just wanted to go in and give her a hug on the doorstep, reconnect, and maybe read some stories on Friday. But I hadn’t even been in there thirty seconds, I’d barely sat down, when she told me she was taking some time off and handed me a piece of paper with the dates on.

Ugh.

I didn’t even look at the note and placed it face down beside my phone.

The armour that goes on when there has been a break, that I so desperately wanted to take off, stayed on, and I stayed in False Adult for nearly an hour. It was painful. Anita did acknowledge that she never knows when to tell me about her breaks but I was already so into ‘pretend that it’s ok’ that the conversation that I really needed to have, that the young parts needed couldn’t be had.

What I needed when I arrived was to land in the room. To reconnect. But instead it felt like the welcoming space was about to be taken away again so what was the point in getting comfortable? I felt a million miles away from Anita. She was sitting on the same sofa as me but she may as well have been on the moon.

It’s hard to really put into words how this stuff feels and those of you with complex trauma won’t need me to explain. Sometimes that need to be close is so overwhelming that my system shuts down, I am quiet, and it’s clear as day that something is wrong, and often Anita will ask me if I want a hug. However, when False Adult is running the show, chatting away, the young parts are so hidden that it really would take a genius to see that it’s all a front.

With about 15 minutes to go I ran out of steam. I was so frustrated with myself for not getting what I actually needed but I felt unseen too, and I think the Teen felt angry, actually. I might have been in hiding but I guess, I had hoped, by now, Anita would know that there’s more underneath. Sometimes I wish she would say something like,

“You seem really chatty today, and it’s interesting to hear about your work etc, but I am also aware that there are young parts inside that might need some attention after missing a session and also me telling you I’m having some time off. Can I just check in with how they are, too? Do they need space today, or are they ok for us to carry on as we are?”  

I can’t remember the last time I spent an hour sitting ‘far away’ from Anita. It just doesn’t happen. So often that space between us gets closed down and it settles things. I felt like I was on an island on my own on Friday. And that’s not Anita’s fault. She was there…but she wasn’t there for the parts that really need her.

In the end I gave up the pretence of being ok and asked for a hug. I spent the last fifteen minutes in silence, crying cuddled into her chest. With a few minutes to go, a little part asked, “Is something wrong?” – it was all the worry about the feeling like she has been trying to get away from me, the missed session, and the upcoming breaks panic.

Anita assured me that nothing was wrong and said that she wondered if this was because of the reasons I’ve just listed above – well the missed session and break. She doesn’t know about the messages.

We didn’t have time to talk about it because it was time to go. I left feeling flat and deflated and disconnected and generally a bit meh.

When I got to my car I took out the piece of paper Anita had given me with the dates of her breaks on…ugh…no…not good. I mentally calculated how many sessions I’d miss and realised that in December the way it might work is that I could potentially not see her for an entire month because of how her break and then the school Christmas break lands…and then of course there is Christmas itself which will be another break.

Deep breaths.

But the thing that really got me as I started to spiral into doom zone was the wording of the note. It’s typed and generic and what she will have printed out to give to all her clients:

Just a quick note to let you know I will be away from

 x date -x date

and

x date to x date.

I do apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.

With warm regards, Anita

And you know what. Adult me is completely fine with this note. It tells me what I need to know. It’s fine…it’s just…ugh…it’s really, really not fine for my young parts who haven’t been told what’s going on, haven’t had it broken down for them and explained that it’s not her leaving them or abandoning them and they haven’t done anything wrong and that it’s just a letter she sends out for information.

What’s sad is it’s that fucking reminder that whatever I think or hope the relationship is, when it comes down to it, I am a client and she can hand over a formal note and disappear. The young parts have seen the note and have no clue who the person is that wrote it. Is it Anita? She never speaks like that to them. And then of course it brings the protective parts rushing in. The Teen is doing her best to soothe the little ones but again is absolutely blind with rage at me for letting myself think there is anything special about the relationship.

Is this note from the same woman that holds me in session, or reads stories, or buys me presents, or tells me that she loves me? It certainly doesn’t feel like it. And I know it isn’t a case of it being one or the other, it’s not black and white, and for fuck’s sake it’s just a note about a fucking set of break dates….but it’s so much more than that. It feels distancing and disconnecting. Breaks do this anyway so the delivery of information about breaks is so important.

I really don’t want to sound like a nit-picking pain in the arse here, I don’t want to be hard work for Anita. But I do want to write about my response to something as innocuous as a note with holiday dates because I think it really demonstrates how complex trauma can come out. I don’t imagine that Anita would have it on her radar that I could have spiralled like this. But even a sign off can be really triggering. Warm regards…lukewarm regards.

And I am fine. Like I am getting on with my life. As I said from the top, I am in so much of a better place than I have ever been before, but these things still sting.

I text Anita on Friday because I knew this was going to fester:

Only having a little (large) meltdown about breaks…next time can you tell me about it first and give me paper/dates later. I’ll explain on Monday but the formal tone of the note just really jarred something internally – and whilst adult me is totally fine, the little parts aren’t at all. X

And there’s been radio silence to that.

Shit.

Arrrghhhh… this is not what I needed!

Like I get I’ve said we’ll talk about it on Monday, but I am surprised given the fact that I have said that the little parts are not ok that she hasn’t sent me a GIF with a hug or something for those child parts. It’s what we agreed before…so what’s going on?

And so of course, this has made me wonder if the niggling doubts I have felt for the last couple of months are actually something rather than nothing. I am hoping that it’s just me, it’s just life, that I haven’t done something wrong. It could be too that Anita thinks that things are ok, but maybe unconsciously they’re not.

Anyway, that’s that. Part of me doesn’t even want to go to session tomorrow now. It’s just so exhausting being like this isn’t it?!

X

ps. I do see how much of a contradiction this post seems to be! I’m fine/Ahhhh it’s all bad! But I guess what I am saying is although my young parts are reacting/reactive currently I am not overwhelmed or totally consumed by the stuff that is triggered. I see this as information about my internal world to be worked through, rather than a total catastrophe. Having said this it really all does depend on how it goes tomorrow talking about it!

* only if the person you’re working with is safe and trustworthy!

Disruptions Are Unsettling.

It’s been a few weeks since I last posted. Life has been just as hectic as ever this end. It’s all been pretty same same…where same same is high anxiety, stress, and general survival – holding it together with rubber bands and chewing gum!

Therapy over this time has been fine, there’s nothing really ‘big’ or ‘blogworthy’ I can think of to talk about hence the fact that I haven’t posted in a while…and add to the fact it’s the school holidays and we’ve had family visiting, there hasn’t been much available free time to sit and type.

Anita and I have been getting down to work and it’s been good. It’s felt really comfortable in so much as no matter what comes up, we can get through it and process together. I’ve had lots of really strong somatic responses to the stuff we’ve been talking about – I am so over pins and needles in my feet and cramp in my legs! When I am with Anita, I feel confident that she cares and that I am safe with her and that’s a big part of the work – it feels safe to feel the feelings with her.

I wish I still kept notes from my sessions because I literally have no idea what’s gone on in the last few weeks – the specifics escape me almost immediately after a session unless there’s something very important or memorable happened. Instead, what I tend to be left with is a feeling of how things are/have been…and that feeling is that it’s ‘fine’ or ‘good’ even if the content has been ‘hard’ or ‘upsetting’.

I think I had hit a bit of a complacent patch “Ha! I’ve mastered this therapy business.” Because the time between sessions has been ok (even if life is really tough) and it’s felt like two sessions a week has been just the right amount of holding and containment to cope with what the world throws at me…which btw seems to be giant dollops of horse shit a lot of the time!

So…good…it’s been manageable…

It’s not so good, then, when that routine gets thrown out the window at short notice.

Oh no!

It’s a fucking great disaster when that happens! That’s when I realise that things are hanging by a thread and not quite as good as I think…or…I guess a different way of looking at it, is that that my maintenance plan works but is very necessary to keep things going.

Anita and I have had some largely ‘adult’ sessions recently, where I have talked about some really big things that required a lot of trust to bring to the room – one of these sessions was last Thursday. Yeah, Thursday, not Friday. Anita had to reschedule my Friday session last week which was ok (only a little internal wobble!) but I was conscious that it felt longer until Monday. I knew I would cope but would be ready for the Monday session when it arrived.

Over the weekend the young parts started to move in after the string sessions with them being largely absent. I could really feel that little part missing A and wanting to be close to her. Rather than ignore that little voice inside, on Sunday evening I text Anita and asked if we could read stories in our Monday session. I felt really small that evening and like I could just use a session where we would connect and cuddle and hear some of the little one’s concerns. I needed a bit of a break from the hard work I had been doing in previous sessions and to give those child parts space so that they didn’t creep out into the week between sessions and hijack me when the attachment stuff got really activated.

I went to bed early on Sunday night, I felt really tired and a bit hormonal and figured the sooner I went to bed the sooner I’d get to therapy and put some of the things that were bothering me down for a while.

I woke up at 10:20pm and glanced at my phone. There was a message from A. I assumed it would be a message to say that we could read stories and she’d see me in the morning.

It wasn’t.

It took a few seconds to process what was there before my heart sank and that internal wailing from the youngest parts kicked in.

I responded to her message about cancelling the session and then turned over in bed and cried… a lot. Of course, Anita can’t help getting sick. It’s just one of those things that happen. It just felt really bad timing. Adult me gets it – those young parts who were so ready for a story did not.

I hardly slept on Sunday night, my anxiety sky-rocketed and every small sound in the house set my system jangling. On Monday morning I asked my wife if she might be around on Wednesday morning so I could get to session, but she is in meetings and has some big work stuff on this week that was already causing her/us stress and so she wouldn’t be available.

I’ve mentioned before that it’s been a real nightmare these last few months with my wife’s job, anyway, and it’s all coming to a head at the moment so I really, really needed to retreat into that calm space with A this week as I am freaking out inside. Sometimes it just feels like the universe conspires against me!

I’m still not sure if I can get to Friday’s session this week, and next week looks impossible, too. It’s a nightmare trying to rope in favours for childcare over the summer holidays in order to get to sessions, and whilst I’ve done reasonably well over this break it’s just looking really unlikely that I’ll get to see Anita face to face between now and school returning.

I can, of course, do online sessions which are better than nothing, but are far from ideal especially when my body is off its tits and just won’t calm down and the young parts are really activated.

I feel physically sick from the anxiety I am feeling this week. It’s so annoying because I had been doing well, even though things felt scary and difficult…but now, well, jeez it’s hideous. I think some of it is tied to my cycle too – I feel paranoid about bad things happening when I have PMS and this is really heightened this month…although I think I have mentally adopted the brace position until I know the lay of the land with my wife’s job.

I don’t really have anything much more to say – I guess I just needed to let off steam about this somewhere where people will understand how big a deal not getting to therapy and last minute disruptions are.

Hope you are all holding up ok. x

The Power Of Two Way Communication: Authenticity, Honesty, And Vulnerability In Therapy

A few weeks ago, I was really struggling with the sense of Anita being out there somewhere, still. It seems to come in waves. The protectors had been doing their thing and then the really vulnerable stuff from the young parts had been really activated and I just felt really at sea outside the sessions because so much was going on inside them!

I bang on so much here about the sense of object constancy (or lack of it!) and I was right in the thick of that horrible stuff again – panicking that something had gone wrong, or something had changed between Anita and I, that she was fed up or backing away…all that wonderfully destabilising shite! Although there was absolutely no evidence of this in the sessions AT ALL, because I was so sensitive and hypervigilant, I was looking for evidence of things going wrong. This was especially apparent and troubling me over the weekends which is always just the very best time for having a worry overload about therapy… you know, when the therapist ISN’T THERE!

Anita and I have a really great therapeutic relationship and I feel so blessed to have found her. It’s been incredible to have this amazing connection and to experience so much healing with my therapist – especially after what happened with Em. As I’ve said a lot, my relationship with A is not straightforward or plain sailing. It is not ‘easy’ being in the therapy. I don’t go in and relax and chat – we do A LOT of work both in the room and out of it and A LOT of my stuff gets triggered in the relationship with Anita. It’s certainly not pretty, but it is authentic and stripped back and it is really working with the wounding in a meaningful and productive way.

Anyway, you know what it’s like when you are stressed out and panicking about things going wrong in therapy. I trust Anita implicitly, but there are certainly parts that are poised looking for signs of abandonment and rejection. I figure this time I’ll get out first before being pushed away and having my vulnerable parts annihilated like what happened with Em. I said at the very beginning when I met Anita that she’d have her work cut out for her because she’d be tested so much more because of the breakdown of the therapy with Em. She didn’t seem in the least bit fazed and understood that my ‘antenna’ (her word) would be very active.

I posted a picture on one of my recent posts about runners

…and after what happened with Em my runners are race fit, wearing spikes, and waiting for the starting gun. Honestly, they’re set for a world record run if they need to go! How funny would it be to line up all our runners together in a mini ‘Therapy Goers Olympics’…It’d be the saddest competition ever but my goodness can you imagine the races?!

*I’m really sorry…this post, and my brain, is all over the shop.

I think the feeling of being distant from A outside the sessions was what was triggering the protectors in sessions at that time. It’s really hard to explain what exactly it was that was wrong. If you were to look through my message exchanges between A and I most people wouldn’t see anything amiss. I just felt like something was wrong. A is usually so responsive and yet she seemed to have backed away somehow. She felt distant and I didn’t know what to do.

I didn’t say anything when I first felt it because I know that I am so fucking sensitive to small changes and I also realise that A has her life and does her very best where I am concerned. I know she’s not big on using her phone and so if she doesn’t respond to me then it’s not her ignoring me, she is probably just outside with her phone away from her. So… I just sat with it, trying to remember all the evidence that things are actually fine with us. And I (adult) know they are fine… but it’s not the adult that sees and feels these minute differences in communication and when things start to get stirred up my body goes into a state of high alert and panic.

On her break in June (ugh) I felt really disconnected and was upset that in the first week she had seemed AWOL and I worried that something was up. But then she sent me a bunch of lovely photographs halfway through the holiday and was much more ‘there’ in the second week so it sort of settled stuff down. When she came back, she told me that her phone had run out of charge in the first week and as she’d been wild camping there was no power – so I do get it…well adult me does!

So, the other week I wanted to get a handle on myself rather than spiralling off thinking that something bad was afoot. But then a couple of weekends felt ‘off’ and my spidey senses were so alerted that I just couldn’t get over myself. I’d had a terrible week anyway, things have been really bad for my wife with work and she’d been away working most of the week. It was the same week where I had had the extra session (that I only just recently logged in my brain – what a fucking fool I am!) and coincided with the anniversary of my dad’s death.

Basically, I was a complete emotional mess, and my system was melting down (not that dissimilar to how things are now, actually!). The week was topped off with a really crap interaction with my mum that had exacerbated my stress and just left me feeling overwhelmed, unseen, and unsupported. I had sent Anita a text on the Friday afternoon where I said something about hoping she was still holding onto the invisible string…and she didn’t respond. On Sunday I sent her an ‘I miss you’ gif and still no response.

“OH GOD. WHAT HAS HAPPENED? WHAT HAVE I DONE WRONG????”

Anita is usually so good at replying to that kind of message but there was radio silence.

Don’t panic.

Don’t panic!

DON’T PANIC!!!!

In the normal run of things, I probably would have been ok with no response. As I said a minute ago, I get she has a life, and isn’t always by her phone – but it just felt really off. You know when your gut just ‘knows’ things aren’t quite right but you can’t put your finger on exactly what it is? Well, it was that. I just felt something was off.

Usually, if we’ve not had much/any contact between sessions then A will send me a message the night before saying something like, “looking forward to seeing you tomorrow” but again there was nothing on this particular weekend and because there was so much already not right in my day-to-day life my brain started to freak out and everything started to spiral. I felt sick to my core… “here we go again” I thought and braced for inevitable rejection.

By Monday morning I was terrified that I was going to walk into something terrible and convinced myself that it was better to stay away then go in and be rejected in some way. My runners were warmed up and ready to race…away.

I sent a stressed-out message first thing:

A, I feel really anxious and like something is very wrong – or that I have done something wrong. I couldn’t get to sleep for ages last night and when I did there were nightmares again. I’m scared I am not going to be able to connect because the protectors are so out, and I can’t bear the thought of it feeling worse than it already does. I’m wondering whether I should just stay home and give us both a break today – which is probably just running away but it all feels too much, and I don’t know how to make it better.

Anita responded warmly and said that from her side nothing was wrong, that she’d had a busy weekend, and that she thought that if I didn’t come that it might actually feed the protectors and that she was really like to see me.

I could see her point, but I also had that enormous feeling of dread in my stomach and didn’t want to go and it be awful. Anita’s message was clear – things were ok with her…but I was not Ok. My need for connection felt enormous and overwhelming and I feared that if the protectors kept me ‘safely’ disconnected from A it would lead to some really bad dissociation. But I decided I needed to go. I didn’t want this feeling of rupture to increase. I feared being abandoned and yet if I didn’t go I would be stopping myself from having any chance of getting what I needed.

Anita is so familiar with my inner battle and comments on it frequently…neither one of us is new to this push and pull dance that goes on for me. So I got in the car and drove to session. The closer I got the more anxious I felt.

I arrived at the session feeling sick, like I would actually puke, and so nervous I was actually trembling. Anita opened the door, sometimes I just walk in and barely look at her, but that morning I, somehow, managed to make fleeting eye contact.

She was not scary.

She was Anita.

Nothing had changed.

I moved towards her, she opened her arms and we hugged on the doorstep. I find that when I do that, it often helps to keep the protectors at bay. I needed to connect straight off. I didn’t want to hide from A, I wanted to be able to get to the bottom of things and make it feel better. I wanted to let her in not run away.

In a really soft, gentle voice, Anita said “I can feel you’re really struggling” as she held me to her. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. We hugged for a few seconds and then I pulled away and went to the therapy room. As I sat down and felt completely overwhelmed despite the hug literally twenty seconds previously. Anita gently said, “I am here. I know it doesn’t feel like it sometimes but I am.”  She was sitting beside me, but I couldn’t look at her. I felt so vulnerable and overwhelmed.

I immediately asked for another hug as I knew I was going to disappear and that there was a very small window before it could all go to shit. I’m familiar enough with myself now to know that there’s not much time to circumnavigate the protectors coming online and I really didn’t want to be imprisoned by them and unable to get to A that day.

(Yes, I am totally aware of how much UNNECESSARY drama there is! – chill your tits RB!!)

Anita opened her arms and told me to “come here” she said. I shuffled across the sofa and snuggled in close to her I could barely breathe. I felt like I was hyperventilating and struggled to catch my breath – I felt so panicked. It’s almost like being that close to her, being held safely by her, allows all the stuff I have been holding to finally come out and the strength of the overwhelm is right there in those moments. It’s like a dam bursting, but kind of in a good way. It’s a relief to let it out even if it is hugely draining.  

“I can feel you’re really shaky,” Anita soothed and held me tighter to her. I just lay there in her arms trying to ground and regroup and focus in on her steady breathing and slow, regular heartbeat. I can never get over how big a physical response to emotional upset I experience now. All those years of being numb or dissociated and now it’s like everything goes wild – I feel ALL THE FEELINGS with Anita. I am still not great letting it all out by myself: I get the panic and the anxiety and the tension and shaking at home, but the tears only come when I am safe with A and it is the tears that really need to come.

It can take quite a long time before I am able to actually talk when this sort of thing happens because my system takes a while to settle and regulate. I really, really need that co-regulation and proximity to Anita. She is so patient and just allows whatever is there to come. I was crying and hanging onto her like my life depended on it when she softly said, “I so wish I could take all this away from you…It absolutely cripples you doesn’t it?”

“I don’t feel very good.” I murmured.

“What can I do to help?” Anita wondered.

What more could she do in that moment? Not a lot. She was already holding me, trying to get me to a place where I felt safe and Ok…my struggle wasn’t about what was happening in the room. It was about my perception of what was/wasn’t happening anymore out of it. Somehow, I was going to have to tell her that I had got the sense that something was wrong because our interactions outside the room seemed to have changed and I needed to know if I had done something wrong and basically if I was about to get some kind of boundary talk.

Anita started talking. And to my complete surprise, she knew immediately that the state I was in was about was about the messages – or lack of them. I hadn’t said a word. And that’s why I love her. She’s so intuitive and attuned. Em would never have joined the dots on this, and if I had explained she would have shamed me and put me in my place…closed ranks, reasserted the boundaries, told me that it was my own fault, and I would have felt even worse than I already did.

Fortunately, Anita is not Em. She began by telling me that because of her dyslexia it takes her quite a while to formulate messages in text and that it’s worse at weekends because she has less time and needs to be on her own to think about what she needs to say. She said that when she doesn’t reply to me it’s not that she can’t be bothered, in fact, she said, “It’s the exact opposite. I don’t want to get it wrong. I don’t want to send the wrong emoji or message and it look like I don’t care. If anything, it’s that I care too much and I don’t want to hurt you by getting it wrong. My little ones get so overwhelmed that sometimes they run away.”

She explained that she’s so aware of how hurt I have been by other people that it’s the last thing she wants to do. She said that sometimes parts of her get triggered around writing, not necessarily to me, but admin stuff that might need doing and then they need, “Escape time”.

It was all going so well, up to that point. I could understand what she was saying. Her honesty about what happens, and her process was valuable. But the word “escape” sent fear through my system. Does she need to escape from me? Am I too much for her?

I had been quietly cuddling into A but I think I must have started to shake again, “What are you thinking” Anita asked. I took a deep breath and whispered, “I don’t want you to feel like you need to escape from me”.

Anita didn’t miss a beat and emphatically replied, “I don’t want to escape from you! It’s an escape from the parts of me that really struggle…escaping from needing to get it right…escaping from me! It’s me… it’s not you. It’s not your fault. You’re not too demanding. You don’t ask too much of me…I hope this makes sense…”

At this point I was sobbing fat tears into her chest. I so needed to hear that. There would have been a time where I would have just sat with that word, ‘escape’ tumbling round in my brain, doing so much damage, because I would have feared bringing it up only to have my thinking confirmed: I am too much and she wants to get away form me. With Anita, I still get triggered (!!!) – like I said earlier – but somehow, I feel like I can tell her what’s up. I’m confident enough in us, her, the relationship to be able to tell when things feel bad, and she so quickly puts things right.

“I hope you’re hearing what I am trying to say.” She soothed. “I’m sorry I couldn’t be there for you as much as I’d like to have been there for you this weekend. And it’s not because you are too demanding because you’re really not…” and she went on to tell me some things about her weekend and just how hectic it had all been and how she’d been overthinking a reply and a GIF to send me but couldn’t find exactly the right one and then how her phone had actually died again.

She reiterated how she really didn’t want to hurt me by not responding well enough. “I care too much for it not to feel like I really care. I want to show you that I really care. I don’t want to get it wrong. Then I don’t do anything…which is worse. Then I think I’ll do it later when I have the time…and…but it’s not that you’re too much.” The authenticity in her voice was so moving. It was so connecting and so healing and such a contrast of what I have been used to. “I really, really do care” Anita went on, “And maybe I should just put that?… I’m sorry.”

My young parts were really able hear what she was saying it was enough to settle them and my adult came back online (finally!). I didn’t say anything and continued to listen as she spoke about her struggle with writing being one of her flaws and a fault – we’ve spoken about it before a bit, and how this internalised pressure really had come out for her recently – not because of me. I realised just how much of a challenge it feels to her and I realised that it can’t be easy especially as I am an English teacher.

It was at that point I decided to tell her that my English teacher is not in a relationship with her and that I wanted her to know I don’t judge her messages in that way. I also explained that I felt really sad that she felt like she was inadequate or flawed because she absolutely isn’t. I do think this a is a legacy of the education system for dyslexic people – if not now, certainly in the past where there was very little understanding or support for dyslexic people.

More heartfelt words came from Anita. The poor woman was completely covered in my tears by then! “I’m scared of hurting you if I get the words wrong. I don’t want you to hear negative. And with trauma that’s what can happen. I am scared that I could hurt you and it’s the last thing I would want to do. When we are here in the room – like just now – you heard the word ‘escape’ and what you heard wasn’t what I had meant- but when we are together, we can talk it through…I really do care about you. I really, really do. You mean so much to me. And the last thing I’d want to do is hurt you. And I hear what you are saying, it doesn’t matter what I send, just send something.”

Anita said that she knew in the past I had told her that an emoji would be enough just to maintain the connection but somehow, she hadn’t let it sink in because she feels that sometimes it isn’t enough.

“It’s like you are dead.” I groaned. “Even a picture of the dog helps when it’s like that.”

Anita took it all on board and we agreed what we would do going forward.

It was a massive session – really huge. The entirety of that session happened in a cuddle and that feels really important, too. Feeling physically safe and held really helps me say what I need. I was so dysregulated to begin with but over time that closeness and proximity helps me get back into my window of tolerance.

I felt like I had run a marathon in that hour, but it was so helpful. The honestly and vulnerability on both sides was so connecting. The level of emotional intimacy we have now absolutely stuns me sometimes, but it’s really teaching me so much. It’s ok to be vulnerable, and wounded, and all the things that seemed so dangerous and shameful in the past. The fact that Anita models this behaviour is so massive for me. It’s such a contrast from the blank screen of Em – I mean it their approaches really are like chalk and cheese – but I find having someone tell me what’s going on for them, explaining their feelings, rather than leaving me doing guess work so helpful. I feel like Anita and I genuinely have something really special.

Since then, things have been great so far as our communications outside sessions has gone. We don’t have big, long wordy, messages – we never have (except when there’s been a big rupture). Mostly it’s photos of nature or GIFs that we send but it’s really helpful to me. A couple of weeks ago, though, things took a desperate nosedive. Lots has been going on here and I have been right up to my limit with coping. Anita and I hadn’t had contact since the Monday session where we’d read a new story book and we’d had a joke about it. When Anita sent me a message on the Thursday evening telling me she was looking forward to seeing me the next day I just crumbled. I was so ready to see her the next day.

Here is the thread of messages. It was bad but Anita in her magic really settled things.

Can you see why I love her?

This last weekend she reached out knowing I was going to the hospice to visit my friend to tell me she was thinking of me. I text her when I got out saying it had been really hard and she told me she to drive home safe, that she was thinking of me and sending love. The care she exhibits means such a lot. I have loads to write about but…crikey…this is epically long! Sorry! I’ll come back in another post.

I guess what all this post demonstrates is how important finding a good fit in therapy is. Finding the right therapist for you is essential. Everyone is different and needs different things. Some people would hate to work the way Anita and I do, and would prefer the detached, cooler approach of Em. But that didn’t work for me. I’ve seen a lot of therapists in my time, and I can hand on heart say, I wish I had met Anita years ago…and never crossed paths with Em! Because for me, it’s all about the relationship…and this relationship is so healing for me.

I saw this – and really it says it all. I don’t feel alone anymore, and my child parts don’t either.

Amnesia, Spinning Plates…And LOTS Of Broken Crockery

My life is so hectic and busy … stressful… right now that I seem to be hurtling through the weeks and stuff only catches up with me/lands way after the event. Like, in the moment, I know whether something feels good or bad (in therapy) but it doesn’t seem to stick and make a solid memory right there and then. It’s almost as though I have the pictures in my mind but no time to glue them into the scrap book and so instead they fall out and float away when I am whizzing along. It feels like my short-term memory is completely fucked. I’m so forgetful!… I suppose I should be grateful that things catch up eventually.

Time is going so fast that I am struggling to do the basics: my house is a mess, I’m not keeping in touch with my friends, and last week was so dire that I even forgot to send Zoom links for my lessons until they were just about to commence – really professional eh?! I don’t know where my mind is but it’s not here. I think maybe there’s just so much firefighting going on that I can’t keep all my plates spinning. Yeah, that’s it, because as I start to slow a little now the holidays have started I notice there is a lot of broken crockery on the floor.

Ugh.

Last night I took myself off to bed early because I was just totally physically and emotionally done in. Things are really hard again at the moment in my adult life and it’s sent my all of my system into a complete meltdown which is hard going.

Deep breaths.

The therapy session I had on Friday was fronted by the protectors AGAIN and it was agonising for about forty minutes until Anita and I managed to connect and the young parts had a cuddle and sobbed for the remaining part of the session which helped a bit but there just wasn’t enough time and I came away feeling sad and annoyed that yet again the protective parts had ambushed me.

I don’t like it much at the moment. The physical stress my body is under when I am like that is awful. The pain is unreal and the pins and needles and goodness knows what else is just too much. I am constantly fighting dissociation. Inside there’s a part that desperately wants to run away and not be seen. The internal battle is immense…and I just don’t have to energy to be at war right now…and certainly not with myself. Fortunately, Anita is patient and present but those parts are really trying to give her a run for her money. It’s exhausting.

Honestly, these protectors are ridiculous!

What’s causing all this? Well, the ‘need’ for Anita feels so massive right now. And because things feel so bad, part of me is absolutely terrified of being too much for her and then being left. Anita assures me that she is not going anywhere and that all she wants to do is be there and make it better for me, but it’s hard to let that filter down after what happened with Em. When I’ve been dropped like a hot potato when I was at my most vulnerable and struggling it’s no wonder the system is doing all it can to prevent that from happening again. I feel like my brain and body have got stuck in flight mode.

Anyway, last night I sent Anita a GIF to say goodnight and few minutes later she’d sent me something lovely back. As I lay there about to go to sleep, in the orange light of my salt lamp, I recalled what I am about to write about now having had it completely skip my memory this last few weeks.

I’ve been so caught up in survival and protection mode in all areas of my life, not just therapy, that remembering this day/session cut through the protective crap I’ve encased myself in and made me realise I bloody don’t have to go to therapy wearing armour and keeping my distance from A! And it’s really settled me down. I felt really unsettled and disconnected yesterday and now I feel like it’s ok. It’s crackers really because there are so many times when Anita has been great, and present, and accommodating but this recent memory recall seems to have settled stuff more.

A few weeks ago, when it was heading towards the anniversary of my dad dying I had a really bad spell of feeling utterly panicked and unsettled. It’s not unusual for this to happen at this time of year – so many memories of that awful time come up and the reality that, now, my dad has been gone longer than half the time he was with me and that hits hard. He’s missed out on a lot…I’ve missed out on so much, too. And thirteen years down the line I feel like I am forgetting things about him and it’s painful. There’s still so much left unprocessed and unhealed – especially where my family is concerned but I realise now, that I will never get the closure I want, and I think I won’t feel like it’s over until my grandmother actually dies. It sounds harsh but I have done all I can and so until she’s gone I can’t fully close the door on it. Anyway, that’s another story…

On this particular week, my wife was away for work too. It’s never brilliant when she’s gone – I never sleep all that well and I generally feel less safe. Even though, rationally, I know nothing bad is going to happen, my body doesn’t get the memo. I’d been to therapy on the Monday and my protectors had been really on guard but fortunately Anita had been her incredible, attuned self and had helped me connect in the end. Phew.

I woke up on the Tuesday and felt absolutely terrible. Everything felt wrong. I knew my wife was going to be away and I honestly wasn’t sure how I was going to make it through the day, let alone through the week to Friday. Part of me wanted to prove to myself that I can power through like I have always done but another part just wanted to reach out for support and not always have to struggle so hard.

With Em I could never ask for more contact. She didn’t do check ins. She wouldn’t even read my texts (and they were rarely sent). There was no sense of there being a support in her…even in the sessions it felt like I was being watched in my pain rather than being supported in it. So sometimes my brain doesn’t catch on that things are different now and I can ask for what I need with Anita and if she can she will try and help and be there for me.

Tuesday is my biggest teaching day:  9:15-4, 4:30-5:30, and 6:30-7:30 and it’s all one-to-one with high need students. I enjoy what I do, but it takes its toll, especially when I am trying to keep my littles safe inside and function. So, I decided that I would text Anita and asked if we might be able to have a check in sometime during the week just to hold things until Friday. She responded that she could do that evening about 8pm if I wanted. That was a perfect time and I snapped it up and thanked her. She then asked me if I wanted to do WhatsApp or face to face. Of course, as I was alone with my kids that evening it had to be WhatsApp.

As much as I hate online therapy, in this sort of situation any contact is better than no contact and to be honest I only expected to chat for ten or fifteen minutes. It seemed odd therefore, that A had offered face to face as an option seeing as it’s a 40 minute drive to hers but it didn’t matter as I couldn’t see her anyway but it was nice that the offer was there.

Later that afternoon I got a call from my wife to say she would be coming home as there was COVID in the place she was meant to be working the next day and so there was no point in staying over at the hotel as she would work closer to home the next day. My brain took about half a second to realise that perhaps I would now be able to see Anita face to face after all, as my wife would be back on time to be with the kids. IT felt like a massive win.

I text Anita and asked her if I could come and see her in person. The parts that were so upset and struggling would benefit so much from that contact – especially after all the shenanigans that the protectors have been putting me through. That day all I wanted was to go in and have a cuddle and settle those little parts who were struggling so hard. Anita said that she’d look forward to seeing me when I could get there.

So I arrived at 8:10pm and we had a really lovely session. There was a lot of talk and processing of stuff but from the get go it was close and connected. It was an hour session (which I hadn’t expected) and the entire time I was cuddled into A. It felt so safe and holding.

I won’t go into detail because it’s not really relevant now. But what is relevant it that I had ‘forgotten’ about this session until last night. I have been putting myself through the emotional wringer for weeks worrying about whether Anita cares, or wants me near her, or if I am too much for her … when clearly that’s not the case at all. There is no way she’d do the things she does for me if that was how she felt.

So, the upshot is, remembering that extra unscheduled session from a few weeks ago where Anita was so holding and caring and present and attuned and and and… has done a lot to settle the parts that have been freaking out. I’m hoping, therefore, tomorrow that I can just go in and be how it is, not be armoured up and pushing A away. There’s no need to put in a pre-emptive strike…because there isn’t an attack coming …well, not from her at least.

I am so far behind with the blog so hopefully over the next week or so I’ll be able to get up to speed as there’s been some amazing healing work done in between me being shut down and wearing a giant ‘keep out’ sign.

from risingwoman on Instagram.

The Invisible String

My last post here talked about the recent ‘shutdown’ Monday sessions where the teen ran amok for the first part of the therapy hour, and it felt like I was in an isolation zone. It was hard going, but the work that came as a result was definitely worthwhile. I think that those sessions have sent a message to the teen that she’s really ok with Anita and that Anita isn’t scared of her or about to shut up shop when she turns up in a rage or pushes away – in fact, Anita will come towards her and try and help her rather than punish her with more disconnection. This can only be a good thing going forward.

Despite this, I am hoping that the teen part stays in the background for a while now, because it thoroughly exhausts me when I have those emotionally charged, agonising sessions – especially when really, underneath, all I want is to be close to A. I know it’s protective and there for a reason, in the past (as a child) it was safer to hide or disconnect than ask for support or care and it’s hard to unlearn that. Although at least A seems to be willing to keep repeating the lesson over and over.

So, the Friday session that was sandwiched between those painful Mondays was different again. It was creeping ever closer to the anniversary of my dad dying and this always seems to result in at least one session where I re-tread old ground about the nature of the death and all the trauma that came at that time. I guess this is what we do in therapy, circle the same traumas but from different angles- each time we get a slightly different vantage point and perhaps a different insight. There is still so much pain around that loss, and as much as I cognitively understand a lot of what happened around that time, the physical and emotional trauma is still locked in my body and has caused me no end of trouble.

The conversations about that time are usually had by my actual Adult and not my False Adult but the content often activates stuff for the young parts inside who so desperately miss dad and who cannot understand why the family chose to scapegoat me for what happened to him. I don’t think those parts of me will every really understand what happened and why. The best my adult self can come up with is that my family have always excluded and demonised people and grief does strange things to people. Beyond that, I am stumped because the older I get and the more of life I experience I just cannot fathom how you could behave as they did.

Ah well. Their loss.

Only they don’t care… and much as I try not to, I do care.

After a lot of talk about all that and about three quarters of the way through that session I could feel that Adult was starting to disappear, and the young ones were moving in. I asked Anita at this point if we could read a story as I find that really settles the little parts and gives them time to connect with Anita but also process in a way that feels age appropriate to them. We have quite a stack of stories that we read and it’s nice because the repetitive retelling of the same five or six stories feels really grounding. I guess it’s a bit like with my kids, even now they’re getting bigger we still have some go to favourites that feel really connecting.

All of these books I read with Anita deal with feelings or attachment and relationships in one way or another and I can’t overstate how helpful they have been to these very young parts. Part of me is amazed that I have reached a point in therapy where I have been able to ask for what I need in this way. I guess it’s that thing, though, we inherently know what we need to heal and if it’s not dangerous then what’s wrong in it? Therapists don’t know everything and collaborating with the client to create a therapy that works for them is essential (in my view).

I used to feel so much shame having ANY kind of need with Em even, though I rarely expressed my needs because I was so clear that everything I wanted was a flat ‘No’. I don’t feel shame around asking for things at all now: reading books, washing my elephant so it smells like A, extra sessions, and check ins. I guess this is because I NEVER have to feel shame with Anita because she never makes me feel like asking for something is wrong, or too much, or pushing at a boundary. Everything is open to discussion and I know that Anita will try and accommodate me where she can, if it is reasonable to do so. This goes such a long way.

Looking back now I can hardly believe I am the same person who was made to feel so much shame for struggling with lack of contact between sessions. I can’t believe how bad I felt when I asked Em for the three dots to check-in midweek and she flat refused without even asking why I wanted it or why I thought it might be useful.

Even the transitional object with the pebble ended up doing more harm than good. And to think that Em thinks she works with ‘attachment disorders’ – it’s a fucking joke. Although, to even phrase it as a ‘disorder’ really shows the clinical and cold lens she views people with C-PTSD through. It’s pathologizing and demeaning suggesting that wanting to feel connected (perfectly reasonable human experience!) is a problem.

Leaving us stranded and isolated almost ‘outside’ the relationship massively triggers us and then more and more survival behaviours come out. No wonder we cling on tighter when we feel like we’re being abandoned or rejected or held at arm’s length. We have these ways of relating because of the developmental trauma we’ve experienced having often been abandoned by our mothers – that can be emotionally, physically, or sometimes both.

Wanting to be loved and cared for by an attachment figure isn’t mental or dysfunctional. In fact, I think it’s pretty amazing that even after so many relational setbacks, abandonments, and rejections that the part of us that wants to be loved still holds any kind of hope of that being possible at all. For a therapist to make us feel like we are ‘too much’ or ‘weird’ when we are trying to work on those most vulnerable and damaged parts is just the pits.

I would have loved to have brought stories into my work with Em but the one time I took a book in, ‘The Heart And The Bottle’, it was a total catastrophe and completely missed the mark. She sat and looked at the book on her own, in her chair, across the room, in silence and then said something like, “there’s some powerful images in this” but we never got discuss how it felt like the chair was empty when she was gone on breaks and how I felt like I had to protect my heart and not feel anything because otherwise I wouldn’t function. There was so much work that could have been done around that, but Em would never go there. She really didn’t like discussing what was going on between ‘us’ at all.

I remember in that session I ended up falling down the rabbit hole of doom in that and dissociated because Em just didn’t see me or my pain…actually, no, she did see it, she just chose to leave me drowning in it. As Em said, she was not prepared to ‘collude with the young part that wants holding’ and I was basically on my own – always.

Oh and then, of course there was the total shit show that happened just before we terminated when I gave her a copy of ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ for Christmas…

Anyway, that’s over now, thank goodness … and I have a therapist that works with me, not against me. Phew!

The best thing about reading the stories with A that it’s just another part of the work that we do. It’s not a ‘big thing’ or out of the ordinary. It just is. She’ll sometimes ask if I want a story and usually has them out in the room when I arrive just in case that’s where the session takes us. There’s no drama. Those young parts that like and need stories are as welcome as any of the other parts of me in that room…and that’s a really nice place to be. I really love snuggling into A, looking at the pictures and listening to her read the words – when the young parts feel scared or anxious it really helps settle them but also allows them to talk too.

It’s taken 1500 words to get here…but finally…to the point! On this day (the Friday!) we had a new book that I had ordered. I had heard good things about it but never read it. It’s called ‘The Invisible String’ by Patrice Karst. Anyway, after all the talk about my dad’s death and my family,  I asked for the story and cuddled in beside A as she started to read.

The book is about two siblings who get scared in the night when a storm hits. They go rushing out to their mother to feel safe. The children wonder about how they can feel her when she’s not there or they’re in their room away from her. The mother gestures with her hands that they always have an invisible string linking them and when you tug on one end the other person feels it in their heart no matter where they are. The book goes on and the children ask where the invisible string works: under the sea, up a mountain, and even to heaven etc. It’s so lovely and really talks about how everybody is connected by the invisible string of love. It says that love is stronger than anger and so the strings are really strong… (well they’re meant to be!)

The message is so wonderful and so good for those of us working on attachment and object constancy who so often feel like our attachment figures don’t exist or are gone when we can’t see them. Anita asked me what I thought about the book. In the moment I had such mixed feelings. I was left, in part, with immense sadness and told her that I felt like I was holding a handful of severed strings (my family cutting me off, Em…) Anita was so lovely and said that she understood but that I also have so many wonderful strings connecting me, to my wife, kids, friends and that it was nothing I had ever done that led to those strings being severed.

I didn’t say anything for a while and just listened to Anita’s heartbeat and started to settle.

Anita then said, “They also reach heaven you know. It doesn’t stop. The love still continues.” And this was what those little parts needed to hear after Adult speaking about my dad for most of the session.

Then more silence.

I was battling inside with letting this next bit out. Even though I know Anita loves me and she tells me and demonstrates it all the time, there is still something incredibly vulnerable about asking someone how they feel rather than them freely telling you.

A little part whispered into her chest, “Do we have a string?”

Without a hint of hesitation Anita replied, “I definitely think we have a string.” And held me tighter into her chest.

And then the time was up. What a great phrase to end a session on… I mean obviously there was the small talk that happens at the end as I put my shoes back on and the hug as I leave – but the session itself ended on that.

When things feel shit and disconnected I am trying to remember that we do have an invisible string…and it’s helping a bit!

The Protectors Dominate Therapy.

Therapy this last week or so has been a complete emotional rollercoaster. (How many times have I said this lately?!) Honestly, I can hardly keep up with myself! One minute, things are fine, the next it’s utterly desperate. The various parts of me are in and out on rapid rotation and I don’t know which way is up. It really would be really unnerving if I didn’t already have a reasonably good understanding of my system. Mind you, my teen trying to sabotage the shit out therapy is never a great deal of fun, even if I can see it and make sense of it after the event!

The last two Mondays have been quite similar…oh goody (*not ‘good’ at all) a pattern is emerging! I seem start off with a couple of minutes small talk – everything ‘seems’ fine (False Adult strikes again!) and then the clouds quickly roll in from the horizon and I am totally done for. The feeling of disconnection I feel is massive and rather than reach out for Anita, I freeze and get swept up in my internal storm which rumbles on and on about Anita wanting to get away from me and my not being able to trust her.

HELP ME PLEASE!

Last week (28th June) I walked in, sat down, and told Anita that I didn’t feel very good – I had terrible period pain and felt really drained and vulnerable and like my womb was trying to escape from my body. It was shit. I really just wanted a cuddle and to reconnect and feel safe with A – to rest in her presence – but instead of this, my teen went into complete shutdown and “fuck it all!” The young parts desperately wanted to be close, but the teen had gone into protect mode which resulted in a complete stand-off with Anita. It was agony. We’ve all been there haven’t we?!

When it gets like that, it feels like Anita is a million miles away even though it’s really me holding her at arm’s length and avoiding her. I think those young, vulnerable parts need such clear and demonstrative expressions of care and closeness when I feel off from the very outset of the session that a run of the mill, sitting next to me and tentatively asking questions just feels really … crap. Those little ones basically need Anita to be a mind-reader, and that’s never going to happen. Anita is amazingly perceptive, but she won’t know the second I walk in that I am crying out for a cuddle unless I actually tell her.

Anyway, the feeling of both physical and emotional distance between myself and Anita that I felt – or put between us-  was absolute hell for the youngest parts and fuelled the anger in the teen. The longer this ‘stand off’ went on the worse it felt inside and the further I retreated. It’s totally infuriating that when the need is massive I retreat…but then of course this response is rooted in not wanting to be ‘too much’ or get ‘rejected’ by the other and so it makes sense.

I sat there rooted to the spot, staring at the door, not looking at Anita. A kept gently asking what was going on with me… but I totally stonewalled her. I’ve listened back to the session and OMG it’s just so fucking painful. When I am in that place, I feel so isolated, so cut off, and nothing Anita says or does feels right or enough, other than her explicitly telling me we are ok, that she cares, and realistically I need her to be physically touching me, either by holding my hand or giving me a hug. When it feels bad, I can’t hear her gentle, calm invitation to join her, to let her know what’s going on, to reconnect. I just feel fucked off and angry! And because I am angry, I push her further and further away.

That day, I think the need for connection was so strong when I arrived at session because I had felt ignored and rejected over the weekend (don’t ask…it was just mega PMS and the wonderful fucked up lens that that brings with it!).

And because I felt abandoned it necessarily brought the protectors online almost instantly when we met. There was a narrative of, “Don’t get too close, she’ll push you away – and she wasn’t interested in you over the weekend” sort of internal dialogue. I always feel like this after a weekend, more than I do on a Friday session – which is nuts because I’m sure if I checked my messages there wasn’t radio silence over the weekend – it just sometimes feels that way.

Anita persisted, “What are you thinking?”

Silence.

“Is there anything I can do to help?”

More silence.

Anita persisted, “You feel very distant today…has something happened?” There was so much care in and warmth in her voice that it felt like Anita was begining to get under the surface of my armour.

The teen grunted, “What do you mean?”

Anita was not put off and replied that she wasn’t sure but felt like there was a big distance between us. She asked me whether she had upset me and I replied, “It’s fine.”

Reader. It was not fine!

I’m sure loads of you are familiar with this sort of situation and how agonising it is to be trapped inside yourself screaming to get out but being completely mute so far as being able to say what is going on goes. You’re stuck in your internal prison.

“Can you share with me what you are thinking?” Anita probed.

And out came a really angry, venomous, “I’m not thinking anything!”

Grrrr. Rarrr. My god, the wobbler was coming! Lol.

Anita backed off and tried to soothe me a bit, “Okay… it’s okay”. I could feel myself getting more and more tense and upset as time elapsed. I just wanted to be close to her, but the teen was doing everything in her power to make Anita disappear.

I sat there, frozen, and then I started physically trembling and hid my face in my hands. I did not want to be seen in this state. I was full of anger and shame and embarrassment, and ALL THE FEELINGS and the little parts were beside themselves too.

Anita, as usual managed to cut through and wondered aloud about what could be going on. She said it felt uncomfortable to her, but she didn’t know what had triggered it or what it was about. She expressed that she didn’t know if what she was feeling was hers, mine, or whether it was even real. She said she wanted to give me a hug but wasn’t sure whether that was for her or for me. To hear her think aloud about it and talk about her process in real time helped me a lot because it showed me that she was engaged and thoughtful and trying to find a way through for us both and it made me see that my behaviour was also having an impact on her not just me.

Even though I was giving off the biggest “Fuck off” vibes, Anita asked me if I would like a hug. I’ve told her a lot recently that when this part is about, I need her to do this because it’s what I want but so often that protective rage won’t let me anywhere near her and vice versa.

A miserable and quiet, “I don’t know” left my lips.

Arghhh. Yes of course I wanted a hug – but I was too ashamed to tell her after the performance I’d just given.

Anita gently asked, “Can you feel this as well, or is it just me?”

I nodded and stared down at the carpet in corner of the room. The atmosphere and disconnect was hard and I didn’t know how to step away from it.

“Yeah. It’s not nice” soothed Anita. That simple acknowledgment that what was going on wasn’t easy for her either, somehow felt connecting. So often Em would leave me struggling in my own misery and just observe me, untouched and unmoved by my pain or whatever it was these protectors were trying to express. Even on our last session when we terminated she watched me cry and said, “It seems you are experiencing a lot of emotion”… FUCK ME! It felt so isolating and like I was completely alone in that room. Well, I was…so…

Anyway, I looked over to Anita and quietly asked, “What’s wrong?” I didn’t mean “What’s wrong with you”, but “What’s wrong here? What’s going on with us?” – I couldn’t work it out. I was just confused and lost.

Anita used her really warm, soothing voice and gently replied, “I don’t know. I don’t know what started it, or where it came from. I’d like to know, but I’m not sure how we find out. I think I might have felt like I’d let you down somehow…”

“About what?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I haven’t had chance to read the blog you sent me…”

I had sent Anita a blog post the night before the session and I guess there’s a part of me that hoped she’d have read it and perhaps I was a bit angry about it knowing she hadn’t. Although up until that point I didn’t actually know she hadn’t sooooo??? I dunno.

It was the post about the False Adult and it’s interesting to me to track back and see that I had a session where the False Adult stole the show and the next session the teen was going berserk. It’s like the protectors are all out and doing their thing right now and I guess we need to try and understand why.

Anyway, what she said resonated and the teen part felt seen and heard which allowed that part to power down.

A little voice whimpered, “You feel really far away.”

And that’s when Anita really took the cue and joined the dots, “Yeah, I know. That’s what I’m feeling too, and I don’t like it…Have I felt far away over the weekend?”

The little one nodded.

Anita said something about never knowing how much of her stuff to share with me and what is useful and what’s not. She told me that it had been a busy weekend and that she had hardly been near her phone and by the time she saw my message about the blog it was so late, and she needed to go to bed because she was really tired.

She didn’t need to justify herself, or explain, but it did really help that part who felt like she had been ignored and side-lined over the weekend. I sat quietly taking it all in and felt myself thawing a bit.

Anita continued on, “It doesn’t mean I don’t care about you. Distance doesn’t mean not caring. It really doesn’t… does that make sense?”

I shook my head.

That young part was still so upset and now the teen had backed off I was left with that really vulnerable little one that just can’t understand where Anita has gone when I am not with her.

Anita went on to say that, “sometimes people get distracted by things in their lives, but it doesn’t mean that the love isn’t there. It doesn’t mean it’s gone. It doesn’t change. Not if it’s real. It doesn’t change. And it is real.”

This attempt to reassure and reconnect went such a long way. The confirmation that the love isn’t gone was all I needed to hear.

“Why are you so far away?” I whispered.

“Can I come closer?… Do want a hug?…this feels horrible to me too…”

I shuffled over to Anita and snuggled into her and silently cried into her chest. There was so much grief coming up and out. The pain of disconnection is so powerful and it’s really something watching it play out in the therapeutic relationship.

Fortunately, Anita is really patient and really understands what it’s like for the parts. She is so accepting of the angry teen and really wants to give her space to be in the room. She told me that she loves that part just as much as all the others and can really see how traumatised she is and how much care she needs. It’s a new thing for me to hear that the part that is so dismissive and stand-offish has her place and is welcome in the room with Anita. Em ran scared from her when she finally came forward, but Anita wants her to know she’s safe to be out and say what she needs to say.

As I was cuddled into Anita she said, “I think you are so vulnerable to rejection that you see my being distracted as a rejection. And that is the last thing I ever want to do [reject me]. Maybe I am scared of doing that, too, because I know how vulnerable you are to it. The last thing I want to do is hurt you.”

Anita held me closer into her and gently rubbed my back as I sobbed. Part of me felt so foolish for all the drama I’d created in the session because it’s so fucking obvious that Anita is not setting out to hurt me, or ignore me, or abandon me. How much more evidence do the protective parts require?? It’s so frustrating that sometimes I just cannot see her care or feel it or hold onto it when she’s not there.

I keep banging on about object constancy, here on the blog, but this really is it. That’s the problem. The parts get so spooked and are so poised for rejection that they haven’t yet got the memo that Anita really cares. I know she does. She doesn’t just care – she loves me. I feel it… just not all the time. And that’s the kicker.

Sometimes I sit in my room and look at my lamp, or my necklace, or breathe in the smell of my elephant and I can keep a sense of Anita, I can see all that she does for me. I can feel her love and care…and other times it’s just gone. I just get sucked deep into the black hole of the mother wound and it’s total doom.

“I’m scared” whispered the little one. I think it was the seven-year-old part.

Anita mirrored, “you’re scared?…what are you scared of?”

A barely audible response came out, “Something bad happening.”

Anita questioned, “In what way?… Bad between us?… Scared that the relationship might end?”

There was a barely perceptible nod into Anita’s chest.

“Yeah” she considered, and then so carefully and warmly said, “And I guess, inevitably, relationships do end at some point.” I could feel fear rising in my body fearing what she was going to say next, and I held on more tightly to her. Was she about to tell me we’d have to end one day soon? Panic coarsed through my veins. She continued on, “It could be through death… and it’s always sad when relationships do end… but I have no intentions of not seeing you. I really don’t! I guess none of us really know what life is going to throw at us…does this make sense?…but I have no intentions of going anywhere.”

By this point I was properly sobbing and moaned “It’s just really bad timing”. And it is. It was coming up to the anniversary of my dad dying, and then of course, my family disowning me as a result of what happened, and then my best friend from primary school is terminally ill and has very little time left, and one of my wife’s colleagues had just died of COVID over that preceding weekend despite being young and double vaccinated…and it just felt like everything was funnelling into a horribly scary place and the terror of losing A was huge.

Anita acknowledged that there’s a lot of loss around for me at the moment and at this time of year and reiterated that she wasn’t going anywhere and she said she understands my fear. She then told me I’m the only client she sees without a screen and that she does everything she can to keep herself safe (this in relation to the fear about COVID). I am amazed that she does this for me, then. I am astounded, really, that she is so able to see my need and knows just how triggering distance is for me and so has decided to work with me how I need and keep touch and close physical proximity as part of our work. I am so grateful to her for this.

“I’m sorry” I groaned.

I felt so stupid for how I had behaved. Everyday Anita shows me just how committed to our work she is and yet so often I get triggered and freak out. I guess it is part of the process and it’s really good that these parts are now able to express themselves freely and get the attention and care they need.

Anita responded with, “You don’t have to be sorry. I think it’s important it happens here. Because everything that happens with us is, all the time, helping you to see that it is ok. That’s what we’re doing. It’s like you said the other day, it’s like trying to reconfigure the computer. So, it really is ok. It’s just the protector going by what it’s learnt. It might not feel ok for you, but it really is for me. How I feel about you is not going to change.”

I cuddled further into Anita, content now that everything was ok. My body relaxed and I closed my eyes and focused in on the steady beat of her heart.

“I love you” I murmured.

“I love you too, I really do.” She replied.

The remaining time of the session was just holding and calming and soothing and then it was time to go. I felt utterly knackered once I got home! The emotional marathons are hard work and take their toll and so I climbed into bed for an hour when I made it home.

The next session (Friday) was different again and needs its own post for different reasons – there was no teen or protectors there – so I’ll leapfrog it and go to last Monday which was basically a re-run of the session I’ve just written here! FFS! WTF is happening?!!

Again, I found myself at a complete stand off with Anita. Just before the session I had messaged my best-friend and told her not to let me head into rupture zone this coming week. I could almost feel it bubbling under and was terrified that I would go into session and create a rupture that didn’t need to happen.

Poor Anita!

I sat down and everything felt really wrong. Something had happened that morning that had triggered me around my dad’s anniversary, and I just felt really shaky. Anita listened carefully but I just couldn’t really convey what I was feeling. It was all really messy. I started to disappear inside myself and once again became frozen staring into the corner of the room.

Within a minute Anita asked me if I wanted her to come closer, but already the protectors were up and alert and said, “No.” I knew from there on out I was in for a rough ride because that part was up and proving that she didn’t need anyone.

When Anita asked me what I was thinking, I told her I wanted to go home. Anita replied that I could go home because I am free to do what I want with her, but that she didn’t want me to go home. I could feel myself drifting further and further away. Everything felt so bad inside.

Anita kept gently trying to find her way in, she asked me if I’d like to read a story – I just shook my head. The little ones would have loved to have read stories together but the protector was having none of it. At one point Anita asked what I needed from her and I snapped at her that I just wanted her to, “Leave me alone.” I don’t know why I was so dismissive or rude – it’s really really not like me but like I say it just didn’t feel ok.

I sat pickled in shame and frozen in that disconnected agony again. After a little while Anita said something that completely cut through to my core and disarmed the protector in one sentence, “It’s hard for a rabbit to sit here and watch while you’re in so much pain – when all I want to do is take it away” she said, referencing the book that I gave her for our one-year therapy anniversary, ‘The Rabbit Listened’. When things feel bad, she sometimes sends me emojis or pictures of rabbits – because in the story it is the rabbit that sits patiently with the character as he cycles through all the negative emotions and waits with him and never leaves him. Anita has always been my rabbit from the beginning.

Note to self: Anita is the good guy in this!

I smiled inside and reached out to hold her hand, and then moved in for a cuddle and started to cry and Anita just held me to her and let me cry it out. Has anyone noticed how much I seem to cry these days?!

Over the rest of the session, we spoke a lot about the protectors and their role. At one point I asked Anita if that part of me, that is so horrible and pushes her away makes her want to go away. She emphatically replied that this was not the case at all and said that we all have these parts. She knows what it’s like to feel trapped and angry and threatened and attacked and have parts that try and sabotage relationships. She says it comes from trauma and the more trauma we have the louder those protectors can be. It’s needed to be like that to survive.

Then she went on to say, “Even though it’s really hard for them to engage with me, I have an awful lot of empathy for them. They’re so troubled and I get it. It doesn’t mean I can’t love them as much as I do the rest of you.” She explained that she knows that they come up because they are scared: scared of being too much, scared of being abandoned and rejected, scared of everything going wrong between us, scared of being hurt – and hopefully one day they’ll learn that she’s staying.

We had such a productive conversation in the end and the cuddles were very needed. I do feel like I am putting myself through the emotional wringer at the moment. Therapy is seriously hard work isn’t it?! Despite all this, I really feel like we are doing important work and bit by bit this repetitive, painstaking work with the various parts is somehow rewriting the narrative I had forged early on in life and reconfirmed in the therapy with Em.

I really feel like I landed on my feet finding Anita. I know this kind of therapy isn’t for everyone and is probably quite a departure from what a lot of therapists do, but it’s what I need and what works for me. And after years of being left out in the emotional wasteland with Em it feels so good to be brought in out the cold and be cared for by Anita. Her demonstrating that I am lovable is starting to make me believe it and I am far more compassionate towards myself as a result which has to be good thing.

The Massive Thing…

Last time I posted here I alluded to a ‘massive thing’ that Anita had told me towards the end of our first session back after the break. The ‘thing’ had really helped me feel loads better about myself and about how I had experienced the therapy (and end of it!) with Em.

Before this revelation I had been worrying about being too much and Anita being fed up of me – even though she’d done absolutely nothing to indicate this. During the break I was panicked that she would come back from the holiday and like Em (after our Christmas break 2019) everything would go down the toilet and we’d end up terminating because I was ‘too much’. I worried that Anita would have had a break from me and realise that working with me is a massive drain and she’d want to get away from my smothering her or sucking the lifeblood out of her ‘like a tick’.

I still can’t believe Em used this analogy – apparently this GIF is my child parts…

Rational Adult knows I’ve actually got more chance of winning the lottery than Anita doing this to me (my god that’s a big statement on trust isn’t it?!) but the young parts who have been so badly hurt by the way Em ended things still worry that something bad will happen and they need a lot of reassurance…which btw Anita is always happy to give.

I’d spent the entire session cuddled into Anita and it was so grounding and soothing. However, I find this sense of safety comes (and goes) in waves and even when I am perfectly safe my brain and body will wander and flip into panic. This is usually when another part will make its fears and doubts known. It must be like Groundhog Day for Anita repeatedly reassuring the various young parts that we are ‘still ok’ and she’s ‘not going anywhere’ but she doesn’t seem to get frustrated or annoyed.

When the little one asked “Are you fed up with me?” She emphatically told me that this was not the case at all, that I was “easy to love”, and that I am not hard work or a problem which is what I was made to feel with Em. It was lovely to hear. Anita was quiet for a moment, I guess pondering whether she was going to tell me what came next.

Anita has been nothing but supportive of me since coming to her and has never once made me feel like what happened with Em was my fault. She has been clear that what happened was harmful and has done her very best to help me get over the trauma of it and validated my experience saying that both her and her supervisor believe I have grounds to make a complaint to her governing body.

In the back of my mind, though, there’s always been a little bit of me that wonders whether it was me, you know? Like maybe if I’d just done x, or said y, or not got so upset when she called me a ‘tick’…perhaps it’s me and my trauma that did this and maybe Em is a good therapist and I’m the useless client that can’t heal and is resistant. Maybe I overreacted. Maybe she handled things as they should have been handled… ugh.

Last year when Em and I terminated I think I very loosely mentioned ‘something I have learnt about her that might explain why she was not firing on all cylinders and could have impacted her’ but went no further with it at the time here. But given I am talking about ‘massive things’ I think I’ll say what that was about- this is anonymous and so it won’t impact her but I think it’s important that people know that this kind of thing happens…and us clients usually have no idea about it.

Last year my wife was working closely with a Clinical Psychologist in the NHS in our area as part of a multidisciplinary working team supporting a client. She’d become quite friendly with this CP and had got to chatting about their own various lives over lunches – you know, like you do with friends. My wife was talking about me (thanks wife!) and mentioned that I had been in therapy for a really long time but seemed to be really unhappy and she felt almost like therapy wasn’t helping, just hurting me. The CP said something along the lines of ‘people with complex trauma can need years of therapy and this is really common’ trying to put my wife’s mind at rest, I think. My wife then said something like “Her and Em have been working together on and off since 2012 – they met in x (where the CP works)”.

Apparently at this the CPs face dropped and she looked really concerned. My wife asked what was wrong. And that’s when the CP said, “I don’t know what to say. I really, really shouldn’t be telling you this, but it’s your wife and you say she’s in a really bad place with her therapist. Is that ‘Em X’ she works with?” My wife confirmed it was.

The CP then told her that other therapists in the NHS MH trust had raised concerns about Em and she had been ‘asked to leave’. Now we all know how underfunded and short-staffed NHS mental health services are, don’t we? I mean it took three years on a waiting list for me to get psychotherapy on the NHS. So to give a senior CP her marching orders is quite something.

Em wasn’t ‘sacked’ the NHS rarely do this. They just move the problems around. I know Em is now working in an MH trust in a neighbouring county from some Google sleuth work at the time. Of course, I know now that all of this was going on in the six months before we terminated. I imagine the stress that would have put her under would have been immense. It’s not justifying what happened, but it does give me and insight into her as well as how other professionals perceive her practice.

I feel sorry for all the clients that have suffered – probably like me. I guess in the NHS it’s not quite so bad because therapy is time-limited and so perhaps the damage is not quite so massive. The 16 months work I did with her in the NHS did enough to awaken all my attachment shit and lead me deep back into anorexia…which in hindsight clearly shows that things weren’t great!  

Anyway, like I said, that information helped me a bit at the time of termination to see that maybe it wasn’t ALL my fault. Even with that, though, it’s hard to make it stick inside. Anita told me, last week, that she had been speaking to a friend/colleague (who she really rates and admires) recently who knows Em and her husband (also a therapist) well from living and working in the same town and crossing paths regularly in various working capacities. Apparently, this therapist is really horrified by how both Em and her husband conduct themselves and said that she would never in a million years refer a client to either of them because ‘they are horrible people’. She’s also certain that Em and her husband work as each other’s clinical supervisors……like what could possibly go wrong there?! No conflict of interest whatsoever, right?!

I know it sounds really gossipy, and probably not very professional for A and her friend to have that conversation in the first place – but I am sure people do it. Even in my line of work there are people I would recommend and those I DEFINITELY wouldn’t. Therapists know by reputation, through personal interactions, and through people like us who come through their door having experienced harm who they rate and who they wouldn’t.

I am glad Anita told me about this conversation – whether she was right to do it or not – because it really validated my experience again of what happened with Em not being my fault. I know Anita believes me when I tell her the things I do about how things were with Em, but to have this experience of Em corroborated by not just Anita’s friend but also the CP in the NHS might just now really start to help me let that self-hating, self-blaming, shaming narrative go.

I loved Em (and still do love her) but she really did a lot of damage and it wasn’t (all) my fault…

It’s Good To Be Back So Let’s Have a Panic Attack!…And False Adult Strikes Again!

So, Monday was the first therapy session back after the break and I only went and had a panic attack within seconds of getting sat down…

A panic attack with Anita??…WTAF?!!

Honestly, you just can’t make it up, can you? But this is me, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

I hardly slept on Sunday evening. I was struggling with a strange mix of emotions: part of me was like a kid trying to get to sleep on Christmas Eve knowing Santa is coming and just willing the time forward so I could see Anita and put an end to the painful longing of the young parts; then there were other parts who felt sick with ‘back to school’ dread who didn’t want to go to therapy at all.

The anxiety around going back and it, maybe, feeling ‘off’ or something having changed whilst Anita was away, was huge. There was also a lot of anger in the background from the Teen who just feels completely unseen in all this but who suffers so much during breaks – and whilst things mightn’t have changed for Anita some things have changed for some parts and that definitely needs to be given space at some point.

Anyway, when I did dip into sleep, I managed to reward myself with some pretty nasty nightmares so when I woke up on Monday, I was completely done in. I was sooooo tired. Not just physically, but emotionally too. I think sometimes I keep going during breaks (just keep swimming swimming swimming) in an avoidant blind panic…

and it’s not until it’s over that the reality of how much energy it’s taken to hold it all together becomes apparent, and I wasn’t actually ‘waving, but drowning’. I basically crash face first into it all. And that’s how it felt on Monday morning.

Driving to therapy, I was so anxious. I so badly needed to reconnect with Anita but there was a part of me that feared that False Adult would show up and do all the talking and leave the young parts out of Anita’s view. False Adult is so clever. She’s another protector but she’s so close to my actual Adult that it’s hard to tell that she’s a decoy to stop me getting to what really needs working on.

False Adult conceals the young and vulnerable parts but unlike some of the protectors that stonewall Anita and go silent, and rigid, and it’s clear as day that it’s not ‘me’ in the room and so Anita can tell she needs to find a way through to them and towards those behind them; False Adult talks a good game and it’s hard for Anita to know it’s not the me that I want her to see. I don’t know if that makes sense. Basically, Anita wouldn’t know that I’m struggling – EVEN THOUGH I REALLY AM. I don’t even know if I have told A about this part yet.

False Adult goes in and is articulate and funny and talks about stuff…that is hard… life stuff in the here and now, work frustrations, parenting fails, those kinds of things, and so Anita would have no idea that it’s classic avoidance because why would talking about having to call your oncology nurse because of problems with swallowing in the break be a ‘non thing’ or the fact that your best friend from primary school has weeks, maybe months to live and you found out on the break.

These things ARE THINGS but straight after a holiday they are not the most pressing things that need attention when my system has gone into meltdown on the break and my nervous system is jangling. But can you imagine? Anita would sound like a complete dick if she said ‘RB you’ve spent a lot of time talking about these things, but is it what you really want to talk about today?’ Because what therapist in their right mind is going to say that when we are talking about cancer and death???

And this is the problem.

I have so much going on that does also need attention (but maybe next session not these early ones) that it’s easy to overlook what’s ‘really’ going on inside. I might appear together but, actually, it’s like the swan – graceful on the surface but legs going like the clappers beneath the surface. And unless I magically manage to power down False Adult the young parts have no chance of getting free and being with Anita which is so fucking distressing.

Anyway, you’ll be glad to know False Adult didn’t come on Monday…but she did turn up and monopolise 45 minutes of Friday’s session which was really shit ☹. I could feel the young parts getting more and more upset as the time slipped away.

I realised afterwards that False Adult often turns up after really vulnerable sessions where the young parts have been really out. She almost acts to try and prove that I am not ‘too needy’ or ‘pathetic’ or ‘childish’. It’s like, “Look, I can do ‘normal’ and talk about things that regular people talk about in therapy. See how I am happy to sit here on my own and give you space…so now you don’t have to get fed up of the young parts and leave me.”

Ugh.

Fuck it.

IT IS SO BLOODY EXHAUSTING BEING IN MY HEAD. Anyone who is lucky enough not to have experience these horrible feelings and their attachment style not be such a fundamental problem area is so lucky. I am so over it all: tying myself in knots, worrying about being left, being too much, waiting to be rejected.

I am sure that Anita wouldn’t be the way she is with me if she didn’t want to be. I don’t get the sense that she is fed up with me. She tells me A LOT that I am not too much and actually on Monday’s session even told me that I am “easy to love” and yet there is a part of me that can’t fully trust in her love and care. Because … well… because there must be a line, right? …where I will be ‘too much’ and she’ll change her mind, I’ll get the ‘boundary talk’ and she’ll just want to get the hell away from me?

Ugh.

Anyway, back to Monday. I could feel my heart racing as I got to Anita’s. I really wanted to just give her a hug when she opened the door, but there was a part of me that was too scared to.

Like what if she didn’t want me to do that? Seems unlikely given she’d sent such a reassuring message the night before and offered to do a longer session…but try telling that to the parts that were freaking out.

As I made it into the room, I could feel things getting really bad inside. It was like all the stuff that I’d been holding, all the distress of those young parts came flooding and the dam burst. I sat down and asked for a hug because I felt like I was going to pass out from the overwhelm. I had a choice, disappear into dissociation, or reach out quick. So, I reached out.

The fact that more often than not I can reach out, now, is a real testament to the work Anita and I have done together – because there were so many years in therapy where dissociation was the only safe place to be. For Anita to have created a safe enough space and build a relationship with me where I can take risks and ask for what I need is massive after what it was like with Em and I am so grateful to her.

I snuggled [read ‘grabbed on tight as if my life depended on it’] into Anita and my whole system was in panic. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and my body was trembling inside. I don’t know if I was shaking externally or not, but inside I felt like I was experiencing an earthquake. I have felt similar to this before – the emotional overwhelm that becomes so physical – but never as bad as on Monday.

I really struggled to regulate my breathing and slow my heart rate. I tried to tune into Anita’s heartbeat which is always so steadying, but my own heartbeat was pulsing in my ears that I couldn’t hear anything for a good while.

Anita was so lovely in that session. She held me for the entire 75 minutes and bit by bit things settled. We didn’t really talk much about how the break felt – other than acknowledging that it’s really hard for me. I had been so dysregulated and really the session was just working on feeling safe and connected again. We talked about places she’d been on her break and all sorts of little things. It felt really nice.

Near the end, a little part, one of the ones that had struggled so much in the first week of the break when it felt like Anita had completely disappeared off the face of the earth asked, “Are you fed up with me?” Anita gently replied, “Not at all. Really, really not. I look forward to seeing you. You are not as demanding as you feel, you know. You’re really important.”

I could feel myself crying (again). Part of me can’t believe she is so nice to me. Like what is it that she sees that I don’t?…that Em didn’t?

I wish it were easier to hold onto the care and the love that I can feel in the sessions when I can’t see A. I’ve said so many times how hard it is to find somewhere inside myself to store the love so that it’s there to draw on when I can’t see her. But it’s like sand slipping through my fingers.

I have a few grains, some tangible reminders that there is something ‘real’ but it’s like a tiny flame compared with the fire that burns usually. This is the fall out of developmental trauma, there are just areas of my brain that just haven’t formed the pathways around safety and object constancy.

I am so lucky that Anita is demonstrative, and I have actual physical reminders of her care that she’s given me over the time we’ve been working together, and these really do help a lot when the Critic is trying to demolish everything. I wore the necklace she gave me every day of the holiday, every night I go to bed and the lamp she bought me for my birthday glows beside my bed, and this time I had elephant, too, that smelled just like her and that was so grounding and soothing…

But it’s hard enough in the week between sessions but this break was so much harder than I imagined it would be. All my fears about being left and abandoned came up. It’s so close to the anniversary of my dad’s death now that I think that all came online too. Sometimes people leave even when they don’t want to…

And that’s hard. Being left because you’re too much is shit but being left even when you are loved is…devastating too.

Anita carried on with her reassurances, holding me tight, “What you really need, and what I want to give you… is love. And it’s really, really easy because you’re so lovable. I think the trouble is, you’ve been surrounded by people who don’t know to do it. And it’s so easy. Because you really, really are lovable and I can’t emphasise it enough. It’s not you…”

And then she went on to tell me something MASSIVE that really helped me feel so much better about what happened last year with Em…but that’s for another post!

I’m really hoping False Adult stays the fuck at home tomorrow. The fall out of her monopolising a session is huge. This weekend the young parts have felt really unsettled and untethered despite getting cuddles for the last fifteen minutes of the session on Friday.

I just need a new brain don’t I?!

One More Sleep: Therapy Break Is Over

Sooooo I have made it – just about – through the therapy break and bloody hell…what a ride it’s been! This last week has been a real emotional rollercoaster.

Adult Me has been completely fine.

I’ve got on with work, been reasonably productive and ok…but the parts inside… CRIKEY! Talk about internal push and pull. One minute the protectors are certain that we need a break from therapy because this attachment work stuff is just too painful and exhausting,

the next the young parts are counting down the sleeps until Monday when they can see Anita.

I get that that was GIF overload but it kind of demonstrates how much varying stuff is going on – it’s not consistent at all!!

Last week when I wrote here, I was saying how disconnected I felt from Anita – and how the level of interaction we’d had (minimal) had felt really upsetting for the young parts who struggle so much with object constancy… and fearing she’s died. It had totally set the Teen off! Whilst it wasn’t ‘zero contact’ the GIF Anita has sent the day after I messaged her felt really empty – and impersonal (it wasn’t!).

I guess it’s because I am used to ‘more’ and usually if she sends a GIF there’s some kind of personal message written around it. I think, too, it felt a bit jarring because last year A was more communicative on her holiday. Anyway, it just felt bleurgh and by the time it got to writing last week I just felt off.

I just want to say before anyone starts getting their knickers in knots – that I do get that Anita needs her breaks and doesn’t need to contact me at all when she’s on holiday. If she does contact me there’s no ‘rules’ to how many or few messages she sends. Adult Me is absolutely fine with this and am just grateful that she even considers taking time to contact me at all and allows me to contact her if I want. BUT this blog isn’t just about Adult Me. Adult Me is capable and copes…this is about all of my parts and how they/I experience this stuff.

Of course, I’m not going to go in tomorrow and moan that she ‘didn’t message me enough’ or anything like that. I’ll certainly tell her I missed her (a lot) and that the first week felt unbearable, but it won’t be a ‘grrr you didn’t do this…’. It’s not going to be a rupture…

And this is partly because after I posted up the last blog, I got a massive, long string of photos that Anita had taken of where she was, telling me where she’d been and saying she was looking forward to seeing me when she got back. Then this last week she’s sent me a couple of GIFS, a few more pictures and last night some video clips. And it’s felt really nice – although some parts have had a trouble ‘trusting it’ because they’re wondering what happened in week one…?

Nothing. There was nothing wrong… but I felt like there was.

I just need to chill the fuck out, don’t I?!

This is my stuff to work through, though. It’s my process and it is how it is right now. Anita and I will work through it bit by bit. This embarrassing stuff is the experience. And sure, I could keep quiet about it here, or maybe I could drown in shame about being so needy and pathetic – but I’m not going to because I know that it’s not just me that feels like this. The one thing I have learnt through writing this blog over the years and the emails I get from readers, is there’s more people in therapy experiencing this kind of toe-curlingly mortifying stuff but not finding the words for it than you’d imagine.

So…I’ll keep telling it like it is…warts and all.

The photos definitely helped some parts this week, but I think, generally, the first part of breaks is the hardest anyway, as the time seems to stretch out endlessly ahead of us. Once I reach the half-way point of the holiday it becomes slightly more bearable (pictures or not). I think this is for a few reasons. First, the beginning part of the break feels like a huge shock to the system and the youngest parts really suffer and are really activated, “Where did A go?”

After about a week, the pain and distress experienced by the small ones eventually triggers the teen and other protectors come online and their protective anger (RAGE!) at the little ones being left kind of gets me through. “Fuck it! Fuck her! Fuck it all! I’m done” sort of thing. And so, the second half of break is always a bit easier because I am more disconnected.

Well, kind of.

Like I say though, it’s like a bloody rollercoaster. It’s up and down and round and round…and push and pull… and I can cycle through so many feelings in next to no time. It’s often not just one part feeling something at one time – it’s like layers – all the parts are there feeling and saying conflicting things. It’s a nightmare!

Last night I felt really sorry for myself, though. Anger was gone and vulnerable sadness washed over me in waves. The young parts got so activated and I had a little cry in bed. Every night before sleep I either do a guided meditation or listen to a story on the Insight Timer. Last night my wife suggested we find a new story. I scrolled down and picked a long one as we were fairly early to bed.

Only what I picked turned out to be a paraphrased rework of ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’. The characters were given names and it was modernised but lot of it was exactly the same and ugh…all the stuff with Em came flooding back. I wrote that blog post last year about how I had given her the book for Christmas and then how she’d rejected it and how I felt like it was a good analogy for therapy. And ugh…wonderful timing RB! Just what you need to be reminded of when you are on a therapy break and feel disconnected from A and anxious about going back to the room.

I finally fell asleep and went on to have graphic nightmares: one with a teenage girl drowning and I couldn’t save her, and then another one in the early hours of the morning where I (seven year old part) was looking for Anita, “I can’t find her anywhere”, I said. And someone told me she had gone away for good and I needed to go away.

Arse.

So yeah. It’s felt a bit shite really.

This morning I woke up and was really battling with myself. Part of me wanted to just text Anita and tell her I didn’t want to go tomorrow. But then of course lots of parts do want to be there. The overriding fear I have about tomorrow is not that things will have changed but rather I will go and not connect because I am in self-protect mode. I also know that after breaks I can go in and do the False Adult thing where I will talk and talk about stuff that appears like priority stress: finding out my friend has weeks, maybe months to live; having to contact my oncologist because things don’t feel quite right in my throat; shit with my wife’s ongoing health that’s really not good; work stuff…there’s enough to be going on with.

And yet, while of course ALL THOSE THINGS ARE BAD AND STRESSFUL AND NEED TALKING ABOUT Adult Me can handle it for now. What Adult Me can’t handle is the fucking mess that’s happened internally because my attachment figure went away on a holiday.

I really need to go in tomorrow and reconnect. I need to be close to A. I need hugs and reassurance. But there’s a very real possibility that I might go in and glide through the session and then land with a thud about ten minutes from the end, dissociate and then leave feeling even more disconnected.

FUCK.

PLEASE DON’T LET THAT HAPPEN!

I decided to text Anita this evening to tell her that I feel unsettled, that things felt off and my system was in meltdown. I told her that parts of me really want to see her but the protectors think it’s stupid. I said that I have been having nightmares all break where she’s either left or died. I finished up with, “It’s too hard. I missed you.”

Anita responded with a really warm message, saying she understood, telling me she was very much alive, home safe and sorting out washing in the rain. She asked me if I wanted to start 15 minutes sooner in the morning so we could have a longer session. She told me everything will be ok and that she promised nothing has changed and then signed off with a heart and some kisses.

Thank god.

That message has done a lot to settle the parts that were freaking out. I feel like she’s home. I feel like tomorrow it’ll be ok. I know, too, that there is enough time to land in the room after the break and reconnect.

Wish me luck and I promise I’ll come up with some sane posts again soon!

Things Fall Apart: The Teen Is Losing Her Shit Over This Therapy Break!

I am finding this therapy break really, really hard. We’re only 9 days in, still 8 days to go…and it’s like my brain has chosen this holiday to have a complete processing malfunction and fall to pieces. I’ve been having several nightmares each night: graphic stuff around my dad dying, my grandad dying, my estranged relationship with my grandmother, childhood trauma memories coming up, health anxiety stuff, and of course rejections/abandonments by Anita…it goes on and on. I am thoroughly exhausted now, and that’s just the stuff when I am asleep!

Shoot me now!

Waking up with either a jolt and my heart racing or crying in desperate sobs multiple times through the night is just fucking hideous. I mean it really is just bloody awful. My whole system is in chaos and disarray. This weekend I have been getting up when I wake up at dawn and the light is just creeping over the horizon because I can’t bear to be asleep any longer and don’t want to chance another nightmare. To be honest, I would rather have the very scary haunted house nightmares I was complaining about in my last post, than these ‘real life relationship’ horror interactions.

The more exhausted I get and the further into the break it is, the more my system is freaking out. It’s really bad. I feel so unbelievably disconnected from A that I genuinely feel like I won’t go back next week. Or at least that’s how it’s feeling for the teen part that feels like the system has been abandoned and so she just feels like setting everything on fire, running away and then having an enormous rage at Anita via text (so mature…so teen!).

For the youngest parts, it feels Anita has completely disappeared, and it’s really rattled and sent shockwaves through my system. I don’t understand what’s going on – or if there is something wrong. When Anita told me about her holiday weeks ago, she said she had been looking for the right time to tell me about knowing how difficult things were at the time and how hard I find breaks (but acknowledged there’s never really a good time). She told me it would be ok and that we could still have contact and text whilst she was gone. The idea of her going away wasn’t great but the reassurance that it wouldn’t be zero contact and radio silence helped ease things a bit.

Last year when A was on holiday, she texted me several times and sent some photographs of where she had been staying. This really helped to maintain the sense of connection and the photos especially helped me see that whilst she wasn’t ‘here’, she was still ‘somewhere’ and not dead which is what part of me panics about having had my dad die whilst away on holiday (anniversary of that is a few weeks away).

I wasn’t so upset or unsettled by the break last year – we’d literally just returned to the room and had two face-to-face sessions after the loooooooong first lockdown, so I was used to her ‘not being here’ and I was nowhere near as attached to her as I am now. The contact over the break, then, was a real bonus and just steadied everything and so I got on with what I was doing…painting my house! And whilst I missed seeing her, I just looked forward to being back in the room after the holiday. It wasn’t a distressing experience for the parts like this one has been.

Sometimes in the week between sessions or on weekends Anita will send me pictures of where she’s been on her walks, or something in the garden, and even though they aren’t pictures of her (it’s usually the dog or some beautiful scenery or something she’s been making) if feels like she’s letting me into part of her world and it feels like she actually gets how hard it is for the young parts who struggle so much with objects constancy and gives them just enough to hold onto.

On Tuesday evening I sent Anita a GIF which had two clocks on it. One that was standing still and one that was moving at speed. Basically, it said the one that stands still is what happens when we are apart and the one that accelerates is when we are together. Underneath I said, ‘I miss you’. And that was that. I could have written an essay about how shit it’s all felt (but that’s what this blog is for!) but I also really aware that A is on holiday and so there’s no point in burdening her – she needs space and time to rest and recharge.

The next evening A replied with a GIF that had a bear on it gesturing a hug that said ‘sending you a big hug because you are beary special to me!’. I replied with ‘thank you, I really needed that.’

And that’s great, isn’t it?

Well, yes and no…

Like I know loads of you will read this who suffer with the same attachment problems as me and will work with therapists like Em who don’t allow outside contact or whose messages are very clinical/sterile and would love to receive a message like that…but over the course of 9 days separation, that just is not enough for the parts that are struggling so much especially an entire day later.

It’s so hard!! FFS. I can hear how bratty and ungrateful I sound – but it is how the young parts and teen are experiencing things right now and that’s what I am chronicling here today.

I’ve spoken about this stuff (breaks/outside contact) over the years with various friends who have therapy and I think what therapists often don’t get is that for those of us with complex trauma, children who have grown up not knowing whether they are coming or going and never feeling safe, is how important consistency is and how hard change is for us. I’m sure many people (people who don’t experience the issues we do) would think that a two-week holiday is no big deal – but like I said, it’s not actually two weeks.

The therapist might be taking two weeks leave, but the time between sessions our is longer. In my case this time, it’s 17 days between my sessions. When I worked with Em and we were seeing each other once a week it would actually end up being three weeks if she had a two week break. And that is a long time for people like us…or people like me, at least!

The problem is not just about the length of time of breaks, though. It’s about the change in routine. Sure, 17 days isn’t all that long in the big scheme of things (I really get that!), but it equates to four missed therapy sessions and a lot of outside contact that won’t happen. So, if you view breaks through that lens rather than days, it’s a significant amount of lost contact time and that invariably shocks the system.

Let’s be clear, there is a reason I have two sessions a week and have a therapist that allows between session contact…I don’t have this intensity of therapy because I have nothing else to do and love losing two whole mornings a week travelling to and from the sessions. I do it because without that level of intervention I really struggle…so of course breaks are hard for me.

Don’t get me wrong. Anita more than deserves and needs her holiday. BUT I can’t lie. It is very hard when therapy stops and contact becomes minimal because my system is always so alert anyway, looking for signs of change or readying itself for abandonment and rejection.  Breaks do feel like an abandonment and lack of contact feels rejecting – even though they are neither abandoning or rejecting it is how my system experiences it.

I get that this is my issue to work through – THIS IS THE WORK!!! It’s all about attachment – GROAN! I understand I have to do the best I can to hold and contain the young parts over breaks. BUT my system is how it is and that’s not easy. I have ‘insight’ into why I am the way I am and why I react the way I do but that’s not always a whole lot of help when my teen is running rampage and is ready to quit because these last few days is evidence that as she sees it,

Anita only really cares when she’s in the room. She’s spent ages trying to get me and the young ones to trust her, coaxing them out, saying she won’t leave or abandon us. And when, finally, we let the most vulnerable self/selves out and attach to her the reality is the relationship is only ‘real’ (not real!) in that room at a specific time each week.

When it comes down to it, we are just clients. We are disposable. RB doesn’t matter and neither do the rest of us. Anita can just disappear – switch her ‘work brain’ off and leave us behind until she’s ready to become her therapist self again. Meanwhile we’re all left hanging – because this relationship doesn’t have an ON/OFF switch for us.

It’s all great when life is going as it should and the ‘therapy play’ can run as it’s mean to, but throw in an unanticipated lockdown and promises about staying because we ‘need to be face-to-face’ become meaningless. If something happens her end, a session can be cancelled outright despite the fact the she is still working online that day (still not over that one!)…basically – the reality is we don’t matter ‘that much’ and we are just her ‘job’. To think that there’s anything more is completely delusional.

It’s so hard because we are just one of her many ‘clients’ and yet to us her presence in our life is essential. Actually, no – fuck that – the little ones need the therapy and the holding. Adult thinks she needs the therapy. I don’t need anyone and am sick of the others putting me through hell! Why don’t they understand that people are unreliable, and their word means shit?

It’s better being alone.  If you don’t let anyone in no one can hurt you. It’s easier that way.

Soooo….the teen part is in a really good place right now – ha. It’s not funny, though. It’s painful.

I’m going to leave that here because bleurgh… I don’t want to bring the rest of you down with me and I’m sick of my own whining and sadness.

Raise your hand if you’re dreading the holiday season and the mass exodus of your therapist/s over the summer months?!