holding it together as I journey through therapy – a personal account of what it's like to be in long-term psychotherapy navigating the healing of C-PTSD, childhood trauma and neglect, an eating disorder, self-harming behaviours, as well as giving grief and cancer an occasional nod.
A few weeks ago, I was listening to a podcast by my favourite astrologer, Molly McCord, and she spoke briefly about something she called ‘relational laziness’. I’d never heard to term before but essentially (I think) what she was saying is that some of us are on this earth and really prioritise relationships, relational experiences, and emotional intimacy, connection and all that that entails (hell?!) and others of us centre our lives round other factors such as jobs, financial security, projects…etc. This second group of people are less impacted or affected by relationships, of course they have them – it’d be hard to live on the planet and not have relationships – but they aren’t the be all and end all for them.
I’m paraphrasing and massively condensing but she basically said something along the lines of: we are not all here on the same journey and those of us who are really motivated by relational depth can often end up feeling crappy when we come across people who aren’t on the same relational wavelength that we are on. Being in a relationship with someone who isn’t relationally motivated or is ‘relationally lazy’ can sometimes feel rejecting or abandoning. We feel like we are putting in all the hard work whilst they coast through life, dipping in and out of ‘us’ whenever suits them and seemingly not really valuing us or the connection.
This got me thinking.
I think it’s fair to say I’ve met a few relationally lazy people in my life…hello Mum! But then I started to wonder, am I relationally lazy? Or, at least, could I be perceived as relationally lazy?
My first response was – No – I am not relationally lazy but then thought – Yes- I could be perceived as relationally lazy.
But how can I answer both yes and no? I’ll get to it in a minute.
So, I continued pondering this stuff a bit further and it made me think about our ‘perception’ of both ourselves and others in the relationships we have – which then made me think of the love languages.
Yes, my mind jumps around like a bouncy ball and my thoughts resemble a tangled ball of string so that’s why these blogs are always so random!
I guess in relationships it tends to help if you mix with people who understand and speak your own love language/s. Essentially it makes sense that you’d feel happiest around people that communicate their love in the way that you do – and in the way your value. This is a bit tricky, though, because we are obviously drawn to people and connect with them and it’s not always immediately apparent you don’t talk the same language or, at least, prioritise the same things.
If you haven’t heard of this stuff before then there are, apparently five love languages:
Fortunately, I don’t think many people only speak one language which is a relief, or we’d all be screwed especially when you factor in our differing attachment styles too! But simplifying these ideas a bit. I guess, someone who demonstrates their love care through ‘quality time’ or words of reassurance and ‘affirmation’ probably won’t be all that impressed by the person whose primary love language is gift giving. To them they might feel like it’s ‘buying’ love or ‘just’ a gift and yet to someone that expresses love through gifts it is actually a huge gesture of care and love because of what the gift represents. It’s not just a gift but a symbol of thought and love. Equally, someone whose love language is ‘touch’ is probably not going to feel especially loved and connected when someone else’s love language is ‘acts of service’.
I just did the quiz on 5lovelanguages.com and was actually really surprised by the outcome:
I really wouldn’t have said my dominant love language would be acts of service but then I guess it’s come out in my career choice as a teacher and then over the years as I have become a wife and then a mother… a lot of my life has been acts of service – doing things for other people that may seem inane to some but are clear demonstrations of my care: there is a lot of love that goes into daily packed lunches, school runs, swim lessons, and the laundry – especially when it comes at the expense of ‘me time’.
I guess now that I am running too fast in the hamster wheel of life, I really now do value when someone lightens my load more than a gift – that is ultimate love. And yet years ago I probably would have said my dominant love language was gift giving. I would show people how I cared through gifting and would equally feel valued through gifts I received. That’s really not how I am now. I really don’t care about presents but I do care about ‘presence’.
Interestingly, touch is right at the bottom at only 10%. It makes me wonder if this stems from a deficit in touch that I had as a child. Like maybe I don’t see it as important as other languages because I didn’t experience it enough as a child to register it as a love language. But then that seems off/wrong, because look at how I am with Anita. My child parts’ love language by FAR – like 80%- is touch closely followed by words of affirmation and quality time. Those are absolutely essential to feeling loved and cared for and good enough in my relationship with A. It has been the lack of touch, quality time, and affirmations growing up that has led me to feel so unlovable and untouchable in the first place. Those are the core wounds.
So, I wonder, then, if I speak to the various parts of me and check in, if they have different love languages. As I said, the young parts are absolutely fixed on touch, time, and affirmations – basically keep throwing the cuddles and reassurance their way please AND LONGER SESSIONS! But what about the teen? What does she need? Probably quality time and words of affirmation and not so much the touch. This is something I will keep thinking on.
Anyway, I am really rambling – but I guess getting back to my original point. Am I relationally lazy? No. But could I be perceived as relationally lazy? ABSOLUTELY yes. I think this is really more down to love languages and also TIME.
Over the years most of my friends and I have walked down similar paths. Years ago, we used to be able to meet up regularly coffee, lunch, dinner, go for weekends away, spend loads of quality time together but that’s less and less the case as we get older. This has nothing to do with the love and care we feel for each other.
Life gets in the way.
We all have kids and busy demanding jobs.
And anyone with kids (and no childcare) knows that planning get togethers with friends can be a real struggle.
My oldest and best friend from university lives about two hours away. We put our diaries together in September via WhatsApp and have found a weekend in February 2023 where we are both not committed and can sort childcare to have a weekend together.
That’s just how it is.
A few weeks ago, I ran into another really good friend at a school open day (our kids are the same age). We used to meet up every week when the kids were little but somehow, it’s been two years – pre-covid since we last saw each other. We both now work more than we did when the kids were little. There are no blocks of time on weekdays off for a cheeky swim and a coffee and throw in the 45-minute drive to get to one another it all just gets a bit tricky! Yet we made a massive effort and met up last weekend and it was like no time had passed.
This week I managed to see a friend who lives in my city, and lives literally 10 minutes away. She’s my kids’ godmother and one of my very best friends. We haven’t seen each other since January and spoke on the phone May.,,like wtaf?!
Crikey I have been busy being social– which is obviously why I am on my arse. LOL.
Sometimes I feel really guilty about not being social ‘enough’ or checking in enough with people but actually when we get together, we are all in the same boat. I don’t think my friends suddenly don’t care because they haven’t text in a few months because I haven’t either. BUT because our lives are running down similar tracks, we all understand and are singing from the same page. We are all exhausted, hanging it together by a very frayed thread, verging on burn out, and the ‘to do list’ never gets any shorter -and at the bottom of that list is often our friends and loved ones.
Difficulties, I think, can arise when people’s lives don’t align in similar ways. If one person has no time to fart and is literally cramming stuff into every available minute, then someone who isn’t under those pressures mightn’t get it and might feel rejected or not prioritised enough when they would like to talk and hang out. AND of course, throw in the mix our varying attachment styles and quite frankly we’re all fucked aren’t we??!
The irony is not lost on me about what I am about to say now.
Why it is then that with my friends I can totally understand that they care for me, I can keep them in mind, and don’t need continual evidence of their care because I am a busy person too… I don’t see them or myself as relationally lazy….and yet…oh CRINGE…when Anita is busy and is less available, I literally have a fuck off meltdown?! Like why is she so busy? Why can’t she find time for me? Cue big dumping of toys out pram!
Honestly, it’s been fucking embarrassing this last week or so. I had a full-blown wobble this week and then today and it was just agony in session. I will blog about it over the weekend if I get chance. I mean, I get it, things work differently with Anita she is my attachment figure, I relate to her in a different way to my friends -she’s ‘just’ my therapist, but man it’s just bloody painful.
So, the last blog post was really about how bumpy and unsettled things felt over the summer with therapy sessions all over the place, and lack of touch due to the sweltering heat wave we experienced, and then about returning to the more regular schedule of my Monday and Friday sessions when school started back up. And basically, the fucking meltdowns I experienced! (ARGH!) It’s nuts, really, how delicately balanced things are and how little it takes to throw not just a spanner, but a whole tool kit, in the works where my sense of safety and connection to Anita goes.
Hang on. No. Not quite that. That’s not adult me. Adult me is fine, and trusts that Anita and I are fine and can get through whatever comes our way…so no, it’s not the whole ‘I’ or ‘Me’- it’s the young parts that really struggled with the frame being wobbled a bit and not getting the physical connection they are so used to. Adult me realises that sessions of long sweaty hugs would be grim, but the child parts don’t care about heat!! They just want mummy cuddles and stories…and to them, Anita is that attachment figure. Any sense of distance in the room sends terror down through the system and panic that something has changed…yeah RB – it’s the weather, the weather has changed…everything else is fine. I am not a big fan of winter but I can tell you I AM SO PLEASED to be entering hoodie and beanie season because that means cuddles are on the cards! (What a loser!)
Anyway, this won’t be a long post (ha! – relief!) because really there’s not all that much to report. Anita and I have continued to navigate the wobbles and now we’re on ANOTHER break. Oh man, I swear breaks and disruption will be the end of me. Summer break, Queen funeral BH, and now another two weeks, alongside a few reschedules…GIVE ME STRENGTH!
I want to get up to speed, here, before Monday as I’d like to be able to get back into posting a bit more regularly and not just these randomly spaced dumps of half-remembered stuff that’s happened. I miss blogging and as winter approaches and the dark and the cold sets in, I need to really up my self-care and part of that, I think, comes in writing. Taking an hour to sit, process, have a cup of tea, and sit by the fire is helpful. Sure, there’s piles of ironing to do and lessons to plan, but I need to take some time back because it’s starting to feel a bit like the balance is off in my life.
My wife has recently started a new job which means she’s away two or three days/nights a week and so everything has fallen to me and frankly I’m finding juggling two kids, clubs, work, the house etc a bit much. It wouldn’t be so bad if a lot of my work wasn’t also in the evenings but it’s a right nightmare trying to get kids fed and into bed around teaching three lessons each evening when they’re home from school. I’m going to have to rejig a bit before something breaks…and that something will be me!
So, what happened since the last post? Lots of talk. Circling the same stuff over and over. Abandonment, rejection, has something changed? Why do I feel so disconnected…on loop. It’s so weird, too. Like one session everything can be fine – cuddles, stories, talking, connection – and then the next it’s like I can’t connect at all and I can’t even see that Anita is the same person she was last session. To say that it’s upsetting is an understatement. But what I have noticed (once I can get a bit of adult online) is that there’s a lot going on for a lot of the different parts right now. It feels like they are all activated and jostling for attention in various ways. Everyone wants to be loved, but as we all know, different parts have different ways of expressing themselves- and the teen is especially good at shutting things down and giving massive ‘fuck off and leave me alone’ vibes when in fact what she wants is A to reach out and take her hand and tell her she’s ok.
Anyway… ha…ha…not funny haha but groan…
So, we were plodding along a few weeks ago and then the wheels just fell off big time. I didn’t know what triggered it at the time. I thought it was probably the hangover from things just not feeling quite settled enough over the last few months and the upcoming break, but actually it turned out I was getting sick…really sick…I have been really unwell for about a month now but at the time things started to shake inside I was just on the verge of getting poorly. I think that on top of the usual stuff just sent things into freefall. You jnow where it you just can’t keep the plates spinning any longer…well it was that.
I am usually pretty together (don’t laugh, it’s true!). I can manage the feelings that come up in the week between sessions. I can tune into the parts and hear what’s going on for them and then try and put things in place to settle things down. But this particular week no amount of cancelling my work, or taking a nap, or giving the littles space to snuggle elephant and feel what was going on helped me. I just needed Anita. You know? Like nothing else was going to cut it. And man, that is a bloody bind because I can’t have her whenever I want!
So, once again I faced a tricky dilemma. Should I reach out? In the past I would have had no qualms at all about asking for a longer session, or a check in, or an extra session in the week but these days I don’t. Part of this stems from feeling like I don’t deserve it and so I feel I shouldn’t ask. Because I pay a fixed monthly fee to Anita, I feel like I can’t ask for more than the usual number of sessions now because it feels like I am already not paying her what she charges so how can I possibly ask for more contact time even if I need it? (I think this is a problem for a lot of us on reduced fees and something that therapists probably aren’t even aware of – but money shame is huge). Another reason that I also struggle to ask for more time with A is because longer sessions were taken off the table in February.
I’ve been navigating this weird space where I might ‘want’ her but I don’t necessarily ‘need’ her and have been managing with the odd rupture blowing up here and there as a result of it all. Only what came up that week was different. It was that feeling of crisis where EVERYTHING was wrong, and I felt like I was disintegrating (well I was – my body just gave up!).
And so, after several nightmares on Monday night and as things continued to get worse I decided to ask Anita if we could check in or bring our session forward from Friday on Tuesday morning. I knew that wouldn’t help things later in the week but you know what, in that moment I didn’t even see how I would get to Friday. Of course, Anita was Anita, you know the one I fear doesn’t exist anymore… and offered me a session f2f on the Wednesday which I grabbed with both hands. Despite having that safe space booked in for less than 24 hours ahead, that day was bloody awful. I felt like I was unravelling (I was, but I was getting sick too).
I’ve said a million times that I am not a crier but that night I found myself in bed sobbing my heart out for three hours straight. It just wouldn’t stop. You know, that snotty, convulsive, gives you a headache and makes you feel sick crying? It was just so bad. I felt so sad and lost and little…basically it was an almighty grief dump that seemed to come out of nowhere.
But crying is good, right? No. Not in this instance. On my own it didn’t feel cathartic. It felt overwhelming and I was plunged back into that grey space where the little four-year-old girl is standing with her back to me on the barren wasteland. Oh great. Even though I knew I would see A the next day there was absolutely no consoling the desperately sad, abandoned parts. As I say, I know now that I was starting to get sick and not actually having an epic breakdown – I just didn’t know it in the moment.
The next day I drove to Anita’s and basically collapsed into her arms and spent the entire session cuddled into her. We had some stories and I really let her in in a way that I probably haven’t for several months. It was really hard but also really necessary. A was incredibly attuned and I felt her right there with me. I asked her if she has always been there like that in recent months and she insisted that she’s been there the whole time waiting for me, trying to connect. That felt hard to hear. I know my defences are strong and easily triggered – but here was A saying that she’s not changed and she still loves me and it’s been hard seeing me suffer so much…
It felt so good to feel so connected to her. It’s that feeling I think I am always searching for – and hope one day to feel that connected to myself. But right now I look for it in my relationship with her. To feel totally safe and totally held… it’s like being able to drop all the baggage, take off all the armour, and just be… it’s just great. Only of course sessions are not infinite, and I noticed I started to feel tense when I noticed the clock had five minutes to go. The idea of peeling myself away from A, leaving the safety of her arms and the room. I just wanted to cry…especially as I had forfeited my Friday session in order to see her which meant there was now a five day stretch of no contact ahead.
Imagine my delight then when Anita said to me that she was really, really glad we had had the session that day and how important it had been – but that she had kept my session open on Friday if I wanted to come. I can’t really explain what that did to my system, the system who for months and months felt like I was not as important to A as I had been previously, and that I wasn’t as worthy of her time as before. I asked, “Are you sure?” and she held me close to her and said, “Of course”. I left that session feeling so much better than I did when I arrived and felt so bloody grateful for Anita’s steadiness and care in what has been quite a bumpy few months.
You’d think, then, that that would be the end of the craziness for a while, wouldn’t you? – that things would settle down? But you do know who is writing this right? You know me! I am a magnet for disaster…and so it wasn’t long before the next rupture hit.
And deep breaths RB. The next session was different from the intensity of Wednesday and the visit down into the deep well of pain and grief. Instead, the session was connected but essentially small talk and stories and cuddles. It was lovely. When I left, I worried that A would think I had been wasting her time that week – having a MASSIVE crisis and then essentially being ‘fine’ by the Friday. Only it wasn’t that. I had needed that Wednesday to be able metabolise things and then be ok on Friday. The Friday session felt like I had finally found that calm space in which to rest away from the trauma and just be connected. I text A afterwards to tell her I hoped she didn’t think it was a wasted session and how nice it was to feel so close after such a long time – she agreed that it was not a waste of time AT ALL.
So, what the hell happened after that?
More disruptions – the Queens funeral day was a BH which unsettled my system – not that I could have gone to my session anyway because I got very sick following the Friday session with what we now think was Flu. I felt like utter dog shit and was not myself at all. I had to cancel work and was basically bedridden. It’s been a pretty ropey month and it’s taken a long while to start to bounce back. It definitely had an impact on the therapy.
Anita was still there (she sent some really kind, caring messages) but I felt so out of myself and so the way I read out communications was through a very distorted lens. I think basically I just really wanted mothering and it was painful to know that she will never be able to do that other than from a distance – it’s lovely having messages telling me to drink lemon and honey and stay warm in bed…but…well… you know…sometimes it would be nice to have actually had someone who would have done that as a child, someone to look after me.
It sometimes feels like a perpetual walking over the things that were missing and then having a meltdown about it in the here and now, despite knowing these things can’t happen and that it’s coming from the past.
I had a session booked in for Wednesday and by the time it arrived I was feeling out of sorts. I text A and said, ‘I am feeling anxious and small. Are we ok?’ To which she replied ‘Of course we are’ with a heart emoji. I don’t know why that wasn’t enough to settle things and the next two sessions felt ‘not good’ and disconnected. Or perhaps not quite connected enough rather than disconnected which basically amount to the same thing to the young parts. I was struggling to connect to Anita and asked if we could read a story. She asked which one and I said I didn’t mind. She started reading it, but I was still on the other side of the sofa. It sent panic further down through the system. Usually, Anita will ask me if I want to snuggle in. But she didn’t. I started to dissociate and felt awful. She had no idea. In her mind she was doing what I had asked for…only for the little parts it felt abandoning. FFS!
I do think that sometimes there is an internal pressure after very connected sessions to be searching for the intensity all the time. It’s not realistic to expect that, but I think a system that has been so deprived for such a long just desperately seeks that feeling of complete safety, and love, and care. Why wouldn’t it? Anita would say she’s the same all the time, but the parts can so easily freak out over perceived small changes and then make them seem like massive problems. I mean, it was literally sitting less than two feet from her having a story on the couch…but man, it sent shock waves. Then the Friday session wasn’t great… (although actually, probably fine!)
I can’t remember the details, but I know that after session I sent this:
Obviously, things felt pretty bad because I clearly felt like we were drifting apart. Or that I wasn’t seen. Or that she didn’t care… Honestly, I wish I had the clarity of mind that I have today in those triggered moments, but I was genuinely so poorly that I was thrown into survival and panic. I like the fact, though, that because we have so much shared experience, I can reference some of the books we read, and she knows what I mean, ‘The Invisible String’ and ‘The Rabbit Listened’ are two of ‘our’ stories in the now massive pile. We have that connection and that means a lot- especially to the young parts that wobble so much.
In another one of my recent ‘everything is falling apart’ moments before the break I drafted a text that was clearly coming from a young place…and I am glad, in a way, I was able to express it and let all that had been brewing come up and out because it’s really demonstrated to me just how bloody sad it is for the young parts to have been so damaged. They say you’re only as needy as your unmet needs and here was an epic list of unmet needs from the mouths of babes.
Adult me can see it for what it is. Anita can too. She isn’t scared by this level of outpouring. She gives it space and we work through it. I know Em would have (and did) run a mile when we came into contact with these parts and this need. Anita, however, realises that the changes to our therapy, the bumpy summer, the disruptions in scheduling, and her upcoming holiday would all have fed into this heightened panic and neediness and allows space for it all and meets me with compassion.
The irony is, in the moment when I was churning out the message it really felt so black and white…but of course when I went back over messages with my sane, untriggered, adult eyes – Anita has been responsive, she has checked in, she has said goodnight sometimes, she has held me close to her, she does tell me she loves me, she does talk to the young parts. It’s not all gone. But in that moment, or in those moments where adult isn’t available and something ‘bad’ has happened it’s really scary for the young parts and it all falls apart.
Tbh I am bored of saying it because it’s embarrassing – but it’s acutely clear that we are really in the thick of working with the ‘stuff’ now. And I am buckling up tight.
We’re on a break now. It’s been two weeks (and three days!). Back tomorrow. Anita has been away, but she sent me a message midway through the first week and then sent me another this week with a video of where she’d been. It’s been ok. I have been staggering my way through being really ill. In the first week I had a massive fever and vomiting. It was like my body just went into shock after so many weeks of having been so poorly with the cough, and sinuses and body aches and and and woe is me! The day after the big sick and fever I couldn’t walk properly. I experience peripheral neuropathy post-chemo, anyway, but it was as though all my nerves were set into a painful jangle in the whole of my body. It wasn’t much fun that’s for sure.
I spent the entire day in bed unable to do anything, dragged myself to pick up kids, and then had to order a pizza as had no energy to cook. We were all in bed by 6:15 that night! My wife was away for work, so it was hopeless. Again it was one of those times where I could really have just done with a mum to come and take over – like so many of my friend’s mums do. Someone who would pick the kids up, sort out dinner, and check I was ok. My mum doesn’t even know I have been ill. We have so little contact…and of course this all feeds into what happens between A and I.
Anyway, there’s not much to say now, more than, I’m glad the break is done. I hope that tomorrow is ok as I feel a bit ‘unsettled’. It’s just that end of break thing where the teen parts come up and get pissed about having been left at all and then want to push back and reject because they feel rejected. Fortunately, adult me knows this pattern. There is enough adult around to gently roll my eyes at myself and tell the teen I’ll make her a hot chocolate and we can watch a movie later. I’ve told the littles I’ll do my best to let them get what they need tomorrow and tell false adult to stay in her box so we can make the most of the hour.
Essentially, tomorrow I am taking elephant with me, and I need to make sure I ask for a hug and stories immediately. Wish me luck…because you never know how it’ll go when the minibus arrives on the doorstep!
I’m still here – just very very busy but also plagued with procrastination where my writing is concerned. I started this post AGES ago and yet here we are in October…two months between posts, whoops!…
Anyway – here goes:
Oh, the fucking irony! I’ve got to laugh, really. Last time I was here rabbiting on, I said that I thought I’d finally got through/over the ongoing feeling of disconnect that had been caused by the rupture that was triggered in February when Anita took a step back and stopped our longer sessions.
Boy, was I wrong!
Oh, well, I guess that day-and-a-half of relative calm was nice while it lasted! Lol.
As you can see from the title of this post, things hit the skids in a big way just as the break was about to begin. Ugh. Are you guys getting as bored of this pattern as I am?
It feels a long while since this all happened so it’s not especially fresh in my memory but from what I can remember it was, once again, sweltering for my Monday session and so, yet again, there weren’t hugs (even though I had promised myself I would ask for one…) That’d been the norm for a lot of the summer, but after the session the young parts were massively triggered, especially as Anita’s looooooonnnnngggg break was creeping ever nearer. It was that panic, “We only have one more session and then there will be no cuddles with Anita for AGES.”
Adult me knew the lack of hugs wasn’t a rejection, had I have asked, Anita would certainly have given me a hug, but honestly the heat – it was like being in hell at 30 degrees and so adult just chatted away and the session felt light and fine… but of course you don’t have to dig too deep beneath the surface to see the shit starting to hurtle towards the full speed fan when there’s a break looming and the inner creche isn’t attended to! [We’re on a break again now so I really am going to have to pull my finger out and get caught up!]
Whilst the evening sessions have been a lifeline this summer, when I have ‘lived the day’ somehow, I find it hard to peel back the many layers that shroud my vulnerable parts. I really wanted this summer to be a time to ‘do the work’. When I am not at work myself and manically trying to squeeze every last drop of productivity out the day whilst juggling the kids, it frees up headspace and time to really focus on the therapy…or it would, if I could only have got there on the schedule I am used to.
As I said in my last post, I was fortunate to be able to see Anita but it wasn’t in the usual routine, and so the ‘frame’ felt wobbly. I didn’t know most weeks whether I would see her once or twice in person and the times I could see her twice meant the spacing was off…and I’ve come to realise over the years just how important that structure is. 10am Monday and Friday…that’s MY time! (more on this in a minute!)
So, lack of touch was a trigger but then so was lack of talk about the actual break. I can’t remember what we spoke about that final Monday, just ‘stuff’ – you know ‘filler’ when really what I needed was a way in to talking about the underlying panic about being left, how we would manage the break, you know a bit of housekeeping before three LONG weeks apart. Anyway, it didn’t happen and I left feeling a bit annoyed with myself.
Thankfully, Anita had washed elephant for me, which was a massive bonus so at least that was one thing that was settling for the upcoming break but that’s about all.
Unsurprisingly, the wheels started to fall off a bit on the Tuesday as my final session approached on the Wednesday. It felt like there was going to be an impossibly long separation of 3 ½ weeks (how many times have I said this is a long break here????!!!) and the anxiety began to creep in like the tendrils of Dementors. I badly WANTED to see Anita on the Wednesday because I felt like I was unravelling inside but I was also very conscious of the length of the break.
My plans for the week had changed as my wife was now going to be at home rather than working on the Friday and so she was available and could look after the kids. I asked if I could see Anita on Friday instead of the scheduled Wednesday because I thought it would be better to cut the break down. To be honest I really wanted to see her both days…or to do a longer session, but I didn’t ask because I don’t want any more ‘Nos’ and it would have made the unsettled feeling even worse. However, that is what I needed and when things settle a bit again I am going to have to really talk this through with Anita so that this doesn’t happen again.
Still, as it turned out, no matter how I tried to avoid triggers I somehow managed to seek them out like dog shit in long grass. And so, it began…
Anita replied to my message that she could see me on Friday but that “Unfortunately, I have booked someone in at 9:30” so could I do 10:45 instead?
Reader… it was like a bomb went off inside me. Scrap the dog shit analogy, I’d walked over a fucking great landmine…or setting off something nuclear inside. (I am nothing if not dramatic!)
Of course, it was possible that Anita would have filled ‘my’ time but 9:30??? She’d told me in February that our early starts had had to stop because they put too much pressure on. And yet, here she was booking someone in half an hour before my usual start time. And I get it, before her break she was probably trying to squeeze people in here and there, but it triggered the shit out of me. And then hot on the heels of that message came:
Also noticed the Monday after my break is a BH so wondered if you could make 12 noon or 8pm on Tuesday 30th?
This was a like pouring petrol on an already blazing fire. Internally, I was really upset. Had she only just realised that HER break carried into a BH? Like honestly? I had clocked it when she told me the dates, ages ago. Knowing that I was facing a massive break I had decided to go away until the Thursday and be back in time for my Friday session and now here, at the eleventh hour she’s offering me a session.
I tried to play it cool:
Yeah that’s fine. I’m not here until the Thursday after your break so it’ll be a while until I can see you.
Oh, Ok, I didn’t realise that (with a heart).
And this is when it started to boil over inside. No, Anita, you didn’t realise it because we’ve done absolutely nothing around this break…and so things then erupted:
It was then that I realised just how much I had been holding in and holding back from the parts that feel so hurt and abandoned. As I have said lots of times Adult me gets what’s happened and why. I really do understand capacity changes, life events, and all the rest of it because I have had lots shift in my world lately, BUT the thing to remember her is that I am largely in therapy to address and heal the young parts, the past trauma, the stuff about feeling unimportant, forgettable, unlovable and all the rest of it that stems from childhood. Anita is not responsible for that wounding, but our relationship triggers it A LOT and we need to actively work with what comes up when it does… and we do…but fuck me it’s hard work and agony when it’s all live.
The message exchange went on a while, and I was throwing every single toy I had out the pram. Anita kept steady but it felt like she wasn’t there and to the parts in panic it felt like things were desperately bad. My Adult had was offline and I was operating from inner child chaos. I told her I was ‘done’ and it was fucking painful but when I say ‘done’ I mean I can’t tolerate how bad it feels. Anyway, long story short is I had my tantrum, asked her if she still loved me even if I was losing my shit and she came back with, Of Course. And that was enough. Simply that. She had not gone. She still cares.
So, of course (!) I went to the session on Friday, and it was hotter than hell again. Anita told me she was so glad I had come and that she knew it took guts to come when I felt like this. My heart was racing, and I felt shaky, it was almost like a panic attack (I’m getting this a lot at the moment). Anita ‘seemed’ to be Anita, the one I love, the one with the voice, the one who gets it. (I know she exists all the time but sometimes parts of me don’t feel her or can’t allow myself to access her because I am scared).
Anita asked if I would like a story (yes please!) and I chose ‘The Wobbler’ which seemed apt given what had happened that week. I really was channelling my inner Barbara!
And so, I ended up snuggled into A for a rather warm hug for the story and remained like that for the rest of the session. We settled the young parts and then just talked – although I can’t remember really what about…
It was one of those sessions where once we had ‘reconnected’ and dealt with the blow up that had happened it just felt really easy and safe and just what my nervous system required. I would, of course, like to not have to keep experiencing this horrible feeling of disconnect and intense feeling of abandonment but I realise this is my work and sadly I am going to get triggered. We just need to keep meeting it and working with it when it happens.
I decided to take Anita up on the offer of the Tuesday evening session at the end of the break and adjust my holiday, so I was back in the area to see her. It seemed like a good idea, and I started the break feeling pretty good all things considered.
The break itself was pretty fine, too.
It was actually really fine.
I wasn’t saturated by thoughts of Anita, of missing her, or of that deep ache and longing that can happen with separation where the young parts are screaming inside and need to be picked up and held – and that was a huge relief. I thought of her, of course. She is a big part of my emotional world. But I wasn’t wracked with that desperate need to be with her, to be physically held safely by her, or repeatedly needing to reach out and find some sort of connection. We exchanged a couple of messages here and there through the holiday (I’d just got a new kitten and wanted to show her) and she initiated a few ‘I’m still here and thinking of you, sending a big hug’ type messages but otherwise I got on with my summer holiday and enjoyed myself.
I think being away in a place I love also really grounded me. Being able to be where my fondest memories of my dad and share in that with my kids did something to me inside. Em used to always want me to create visualisations to help ground me and I never could. But recently, I have found that when I feel anxious and stressed, I can close my eyes and transport myself to that special place, I can feel myself on my favourite beach with my bare feet sinking into the wet sand and water lapping my ankles. I can feel the hot sun on my back, and I feel like I am ‘held’ in nature and return to my ‘happy place’.
And that’s great.
Alongside that I am also now more able to feel Anita when I am away from her. I mean if things are really fucking triggered there’s no chance (like in that rupture where it went tits up in seconds!) but if I can catch myself when the young parts are just feeling a ‘bit’ needy in the general run of things, I can soothe myself by imagining being close to her, hearing her heartbeat, and feeling safe with her.
I can ONLY do this, of course, because I have a template for it. I KNOW how it feels for her to hold me and to be able to hear her heartbeat, for her to tell me she loves me, and to be able relax into feeling ‘safe’ – it’s in my memory not just my imagination. It’s not always easy to hook back into that when I can’t see her, but I do, at least, have a reference point now, and this is especially helped by my soft elephant that Anita washes for me at intervals.
My elephant smells like her and so when I am feeling ‘off’ I can grab it and breathe in the smell to help ground myself. It’s not just the smell of the elephant (Anita) that helps but it’s the fact that I have a therapist that will do this for me. Anita has never batted an eyelid when I asked her to wash elephant. She’s never shamed me for wanting or needing this level of connection to her and that is something I can hold in my mind when things feel bad, “Look RB you are holding a soft toy that your therapist has washed for you because she cares about you enough to want to make your separations as easy as possible”. Actions speak louder than words sometimes – and I have actions and words.
I know some people will raise eyebrows at this, but I don’t care because I know a lot of you ‘get it’ and if I am a needy weirdo then so be it, because I am certainly not alone in this. When you think about this need through the lens of child development (and of course this is something A and I do for my child parts) then it makes sense. Babies have a really powerful sense of smell. They can ‘smell’ their mothers before they can even focus in on them with sight. It’s a biological imperative. When I got sick and had to stop breastfeeding overnight to begin chemo I couldn’t be in the same room as my baby when he was due a feed because he would arch his body over to me (and the smell of breastmilk) rather than take a bottle of formula from my wife. It was awful and heart-breaking…but that’s a whole other story.
The importance of smell and how it intertwines with safety is seen as children get bigger, too. My kids both have snuggly items they sleep with. I am not ‘allowed’ to wash them because they don’t smell ‘right’ if I do. There’s something about cuddling up at bedtime with an item that is both soft and smells familiar. So, this is why elephant works for me, it’s a throwback to that young child stuff. Anita feels safe and I associate her smell with safety and elephant smells like her.
Frequently, therapists want us to conjure images of safety up out of nowhere to help us ground but when you don’t have them to draw on in the first place it is upsetting and frustrating. Em never really understood this, and insisted over and over that I must be able to think of a time I felt really safe… what she didn’t get was that at that time I didn’t need to be imagining a time I watched a comedy and felt good (do you guys remember that? GROAN!) but actually I needed to feel her, as my attachment figure, I needed to be able to connect to that/her when we were apart.
Of course, she didn’t want me to be reliant on her for any sense of emotional safety or foster ‘dependency’ and was intent on her blank slate approach and placed a cavernous distance (both physical and emotional) between us. The most she gave me was a visualisation to imagine us sitting in ‘the consulting room’ together which obviously missed the mark for the upset young parts who couldn’t understand the language of the message. Anyway, lots has changed since then – thank goodness for Anita!
So, because I can now bring to mind and almost ‘feel’ Anita I can use that when I most need it. It’s often when I am really tired at bedtime where this makes the biggest difference – again just like kids needing their comforter. I used to really struggle with that felt sense of being completely alone and abandoned at bedtime and fall into that black hole of attachment pain and doom. The physical searing sense of ulceration in my chest that and deep sick feeling in my stomach was agony. I would get more and more distressed as time went on and then fall asleep to nightmares.
I guess things being most difficult at night is because when I am tired my adult is least available but also, bedtime as a child was a time when my mum wasn’t there…for 6 years. I would put myself to bed, read my own stories, and feel chronically alone. The young parts that needed my mum and maternal nurturing had to make do with a short phone call on a Wednesday. It simply wasn’t enough.
Anyway, this is not new news.
Sooooo…the break came to an end and whilst I was looking forward to seeing Anita. I wasn’t desperate, though. In fact, I was almost late getting there. The weather had been amazing at the beach and part of me wished I hadn’t decided to come back two days early and had have stayed surfing instead.
The thing is, I never know how things will be. Breaks usually are a real trial and the idea of three weeks gap was just too much at the start of it. But by the end, well, I could easily have stayed away a bit longer. Which is why what came next is so bloody infuriating!!!
That first session back was adult, as they usually are. I brought Anita up to speed with what had been going on for the last few weeks and it was completely fine. The hour sped by and when I got up to leave, I gave her a kind of lack lustre half hug at the door. The session was, ummm, I don’t know how to put it really – it was ok – one of those ones where it wasn’t especially connecting because it wasn’t about ‘us’, it lacked any real emotional intensity or intimacy, but then at the same time it was comfortable and ok, you know? I guess the child parts weren’t ‘there’ and so it had a different quality to it.
I wish I was better at coming back from breaks and being vulnerable and could let the most vulnerable parts out, but it takes time, and unless Anita is massively attuned and guides the conversation to say something like, “It was a long break, how was it for the young parts, and how does it feel for them coming back today?” I will stay in hiding. It takes a while for my system to judge if things are still the same and if everything is ok for all the parts to come out.
When we were talking Anita asked me if I was back now and around on Friday. I sort of semi-clocked it but just shrugged it off and said “Yes” and carried on with whatever I was talking about. When I was about halfway home my phone rang, I saw it was Anita but couldn’t pick up immediately because I was driving and I don’t like driving and talking using the car phone setting as the quality is pretty shit. I pulled over and called Anita back confused. “Hi, did you mean to call me?” It was 9:30 at night so I thought maybe she’d misdialled.
No. It was deliberate.
When I had had my meltdown before the break and ‘cancelled’ everything until the 5th September she hadn’t clocked that we had clearly sorted out the rupture and I had come to my session on the Friday and booked in to see her on that Tuesday. It was a diary malfunction but OMG it set off another landmine. I didn’t say anything at the time. Anita apologised and asked if I could make a 6pm session instead. I said I could and put the phone down abruptly.
Suddenly ALL THE FEELINGS came up and my calm ‘break’ mentality was gone. Instead, I was furious and upset. Yet again, she’d booked someone in ‘my session’ time. It was a cock up and not deliberate but to the young parts and protectors it sent the message that she doesn’t keep me in mind and doesn’t have her eye on the ball.
Anita text me to apologise and thanked me for moving my session. I didn’t reply. Then the next day to make matters even worse she texted me again to ask me to move the following week’s Friday session because she’d just found out she had a funeral to attend. Part of me wanted to rage but another part of me could really see that this was just a lot of bad timing. So, I told her I could move the session and agreed a time.
By the time it reached Friday everything was a mess inside. I felt really unsettled and generally like everything was going to shit. I sent Anita a picture message about needing to talk and she replied by saying she understood but that the relationship needed to feel safe first. She’d clearly picked up on things not quite being back to how they normally are and so I asked, “How does that happen when everything feels chronically unsafe?” She sent me a hug gif and said, “Let’s talk about this this evening”.
When I arrived I was not in a great headspace. I was overtired, overwrought, and the young parts were desperate to connect but I felt like Anita wasn’t there. I felt abandoned by her (AAAARRRRGHHHH please just give me a break, already). I felt panicked and shaky and like I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t look at Anita and I couldn’t let her close. I could feel everything unravelling at pace and slid off the sofa and sat on the floor with my knees up and my head in buried into the and covered my head with my arms. I was dissociative as fuck.
The only reason I know what happened in the session is because I have a recording of it. In the moment I was in complete agony. My body was trembling. I felt sick. My heart was racing. I felt like I was totally alone.
Anita and I couldn’t find each other at all. It was bloody awful. The time disappeared and it was time to go. A asked me what I was thinking and I said I felt like I wouldn’t come back. It felt that bad. Anita said she’s be sad and disappointed if I left but it just felt empty. I left feeling awful and like a baby whose mother was mis-attuned and had left the baby screaming.
It was far from ideal.
I cried all the way home from the session. I think in reality it was a culmination of the whole summer. Feeling like we hadn’t really connected properly throughout. The lack of touch. The break… I was just feeling vulnerable and needy and it’s taken a lot of time to recalibrate into the relationship…there’s more (yes MORE!) However, I’ll leave that here for now as it’s another epic post with not much to it.
I will get my shit together eventually… in all areas…but probably AFTER this current break. Two weeks… based on the above, I wonder how I’ll get on. Place your bets!
Well, blimey, where did July go? Ah, yes, work, work, more work, the kids, a bit of therapy thrown in here and there…and a lot of time at the beach! #Heatwave. You’d think July would be the time for things easing off and winding down in teaching but, honestly, it was like everything went on overdrive both with my work and all the stuff I needed to organise or attend for my kids: sports days x2, residential for my daughter, end of year assembly, random parents’ evening, school taster days, and end of year parties. It was full-on and I was on my knees a couple of weeks before term finished (honestly, some days I was close to tears I was so knackered) but somehow, I got to the finish line in one piece – or a collection of pieces deftly held together with rubber bands and chewing gum!
It’s week two of the ‘holidays’, now, and this is the first day where I have actually stopped and given myself permission to do nothing – it’s the anniversary of my dad’s memorial and picking up his ashes from a driveway next to his dive gear (don’t ask!) and so I feel a little fragile. I’m a long way on from that initial grief and pain of fourteen years ago, but I still find this time of year difficult. I get plagued by nightmares and I can’t help but remember just how bloody awful that time was.
Fortunately, I have Anita to take this stuff to and so I feel pretty ok having been able to let it out. I’ve had a cry and I feel sad to think how much I’ve missed out on with my dad over the years, but I can now see things in a different light. Watching my kids enjoy the waves and share in the place that my dad and I loved so much is so special and healing after so many years away from it – I can almost feel his presence when we’re there. I am loving being back on my surfboard and in the water enjoying the coastline where my soul feels most at home.
So, even when things feel unbelievably tough (which they really have done recently – our life seemed to just get wiped-out and body-slammed all at the same time), somehow, I am finding ways to not sink altogether and also trust in the fact that the universe will deliver, eventually. It’s not always easy to do that, especially when you suffer from anxiety. It is so easy to get caught in the endless spiral of doom when things are going wrong because it’s such a felt sense of panic, it triggers the flight response (for me at least) and the associated somatic experience is just fucking awful…
I have made it through every tough part of my life so far, and frankly even though the money stuff isn’t great (I have always really needed a sense of financial security to feel safe but am learning again that safety comes from within and not only from what you have) I’ve been through worse. It’s not a sudden, unexpected death of a loved one, and it’s not critical illness and a year of cancer treatment. THOSE things were the big deals. Money makes the world go round and that sucks but currently I have my health, a partner, two great kids, wonderful friends, and a roof over my head so really, I am winning at life. My bank balance is pretty ummm…’low’ (read empty!)…but I can work more hours (might have a breakdown in October though!).
This year, unfortunately, I am working a full day each week with a student in the break (fortunately one of my home-school kids wanted lessons – phew) so it’s not quite the long holiday I had envisioned earlier this year but it’s a financial imperative after everything that’s happened with my wife’s work and so I’m making the best of it. To be honest, doing 7.5 hours once a week is way less stressful than my usual 25 (28 in Sept – eek!) hours contact time plus school runs etc so I can’t moan. The fact I only have to get up early one morning a week is a game changer and the fact I am lying on my bed in my pjs at 11am on a Thursday…well, that’s pretty good. So, yeah, all in all it’s ok. Great, in fact.
Don’t get me wrong. I have had weeks and weeks of stress and panic about our situation but there’s another part of me that’s trying to have a chat with those freaking out parts who is saying, “Look, right now, we’re still afloat. We’re doing what we can to make the situation better. The winter is going to be difficult, but we can’t change anything more right now so try and enjoy what we do have and make the most of the summer” — I don’t know who this pep talker is but right now the other parts are paying attention. I think the reality is that adult me knows I am going to be up against it in a huge way in September and I need to go into the new academic year as refreshed and recharged as possible or I don’t stand a chance.
Anyway, what else? I’ve been away from the blog for a long while. As usual I haven’t been posting because I haven’t had the time to write but I have also been thinking about the blog, too, and social media in general, lately. In recent weeks I have spent much less time on SM and I have to say I think it’s done me the world of good. Despite my best efforts to keep the majority of the SM content that I access light and uplifting (thinking Instagram here – cue astrology, spirituality, and comedy…oh and crazy animals!) I have found in recent months that my feeds across other social media platforms have been really negative. And it’s not surprising. Life is hard for so many people right now and everywhere you look there is injustice and that is playing out on the internet.
I am socially minded, and politically…what’s the word??… Appalled?! And so, I find it hard to switch off from it altogether because I don’t think we can live in a bubble. I like to know what’s going on, even if it is heart-breaking. However, I am finding places like Twitter and the comment feed on news posts really depressing. It feels like there are so many angry and disenfranchised people out there on all sides that take to social media and let it all out – but at strangers. The projection and the vitriol are really horrific. It reeks of bullying behaviour. And to be honest, I don’t think it’s doing me any good absorbing it in large quantities which is why I am spending less time online.
I think too, that what I have realised more and more is sometimes I want to respond to stuff online or defend someone or something but sometimes it just fuels a fire, and it isn’t worth it. Thankfully, I think WordPress falls into a different category where this is stuff concerned (thank goodness). In my experience over the years blogging here, it is rare to see abusive content or bullying or personal attacks. I think I can remember two or three pile-ons over the years on some accounts I follow (from people being in very bad places or who are massively triggered) but otherwise I have always found it to be a welcoming, supportive place. And I am grateful for that but I am also aware that these public platforms are open and so you’re never completely immune to someone wading in.
So yeah, I can wholeheartedly recommend a social media cleanse every now and then.
And therapy, what of that?
Well, you’ll probably be pleased to hear the Anita and I are out the other side of that epic rupture that was triggered in February when the time and contact boundaries changed. To be honest we’ve just been ticking along doing the work. It’s been ok enough. Sometimes it’s felt disconnected but that is linked to touch (or lack of it). Since the holidays started the sessions have been disrupted which has been a bit stressful, but so far I have managed to see her twice a week (Monday and Tuesday evenings). I’m not massively keen on the spacing – it feels like there’s a huge gap between the sessions after Tuesday but at the same time I am seeing her in person twice a week when I had thought I would only see her Monday. I still don’t know about next week.
It’s been so hot here that it’s caused the young parts a few problems here and there. As I said, I haven’t been hugging Anita in sessions because frankly it’s like a sauna here right now and it would just be too uncomfortable. Of course, the longer this has gone on the more the young parts have started to activate and wonder what’s wrong? Why doesn’t Anita want to be near them?…blah blah blah…which of course is not what’s going on but you know how little ones think!
Fortunately, though, it’s not been too loud and boisterous because a few weeks ago there was a slightly cooler evening and having refused the offer of a hug when I sat down (ffs RB!)) I broke my walls down for the last fifteen minutes and snuggled in and it felt lovely and deeply connected. I told Anita I had missed her, and she told me she’d missed me too. Sometimes those small interactions are everything and do so much to solidify things. The heat has definitely been the biggest driver for not asking for a hug but there is also another part underneath that is starting to retreat in preparation for the upcoming break.
Since that evening it’s been a bit of a touch drought and it’s just now starting to feel a bit eeek because Anita is off on holiday after next week for two weeks but I won’t actually see her for three weeks. This is going to be the longest I haven’t seen her I think (excluding the lockdowns – but then we were at least working online). Again, I am trying to employ the ‘don’t panic’ stuff and face it when it comes – but I know it’s going to be messy on Monday! Heat or not I think I’m just going to have to suck it up and ask for a sweaty snuggle!
I asked for stories at the end of the session on Tuesday after spending 45 minutes having a huge sweary outpouring about my mum, so the young parts are at least getting something but we need to make next Monday count. It must have seemed really incongruous, “Fuck this, fuck that, FFS…” and on and on and then…“Can we have a story?” I text Anita yesterday and acknowledged just how much I was swearing in my session and how really my anger is a body guard for sadness. I am free flowing with my ‘fucks’ in therapy but Tuesday was something else – there was more than one ‘c’ bomb and even for me I was like “whoa I am mad!!” Anita text me back this infographic and said I think there’s more than sadness under your iceberg with two hearts:
Of course, she’s right. And I knew this. And a part of me chuckled at how ‘therapisty’ that reply was.
Last Monday night as I was leaving Anita asked if she could give me a hug (thank god)…so it’s not that she’s not wanting to touch me it really is the heat and it felt good for her to reach out to me when I have retreated from it. I will be so glad when autumn comes, I can tell you!
So, the touch stuff has been a bit of an issue and then, to add insult to injury, on Tuesday my new puppy (yes, I am mental – but he’s a rescue and I couldn’t say no! especially after the heartbreak of losing our pup on Father’s Day) stole elephant and covered him in drool. You cannot even begin to imagine the internal meltdown the young parts had. I cried.
At that point I didn’t know I would see Anita that evening and though that I would only have one face-to-face session before the big break…and elephant would be stinking and untouchable because there was no time to get it washed by Anita. Mannnnnnn! It was very bad. I text K about it because she is one of the few people who really get it. She responded with such understanding that it took away any shame I was feeling but not the disappointment of having my transitional object out of action.
However, as luck would have it, Anita had a cancellation and offered me a session that evening and so elephant is now with her being washed ready for Monday and so the break …well, it’s going to be tough, but it’s a whole lot less tough when elephant is there and smells right!
Anyway, that’s about it I think. Bit of a boring, non-post but that’s sort of life right now. I’m sure to get in touch with my feelings from next Friday and then we’ll see what kind of carnage ensues!
So, the last time I was here talking about therapy– rather than how my day-to-day life is on the rocks- I wasn’t in a great place AT ALL. I had written a letter to Anita that I was debating sending it to her as a voice note outlining just how desperate it was all feeling. We were on a therapy break and everything just felt desperate and like the foundations that I thought we had built our relationship on over the last couple of years were not, in fact, rock solid but actually built on sand. It was terrifying and crazy making.
The session before the break I had walked out and it just felt like Anita wasn’t there anymore, didn’t care, you know…all the stuff??! It was bad but things had been escalating for a while. I was tying myself in ever tight knots and feeling more and more distant from A. I longed to be close to her but my protectors were on sentry duty and there was nothing I could do, or A could do, to get round them.
Tbh it’s not surprising. It had felt like Anita and I were stuck spiralling in a never ending rupture that had been triggered when I had got back from holiday in February. Things had been plodding along, I knew what was what, and then suddenly the longer sessions were off the table and outside contact felt dramatically reduced. Looking back now I think that my sense of texts being lack-lustre and not enough was driven by how terribly I took not being able to do 75-minute sessions. Anita was still responsive but the lens I viewed our less frequent interactions through was through about scarcity and abandonment and I literally could not see the wood for the trees.
All at once it felt like Anita had withdrawn – taken herself away from me, or worse, taken herself away from the young parts who need her so badly. She insisted that her need to step back was nothing to do with me and all about her life (which has shifted dramatically), and how she needed to reconfigure things to be able to give anything at all. Adult me could hear it but the child parts were devastated.
I mean to have the sense of someone being so close to you, so connected, so safe and then to be hit with that all too familiar feeling of being pushed away is hard. But it’s especially difficult for those of us with childhood trauma and attachment issues. It felt like a re-enactment, yet again here is a mum who is too busy for me, I am not ‘important enough’ to make time for, I just have to fit it with what’s available. And I get that – I am a client after all, Anita’s job, but the young parts that were affected, the parts of me that need the therapy, don’t see Anita as just a therapist, they see her as the caregiver, the attachment figure… they see her as mum and it was heartbreaking.
And so, unsurprisingly, being flung back headfirst into the motherwound I had a long long long meltdown about it. Every time I thought I was rounding a corner and getting my feet back on the ground, something would trigger me and it all went to shit again. It was like climbing up a hill, nearing the top, and then losing my footing and rolling right back down to the bottom again.
There was a lot of silence and tension. Lots of feeling like Anita ‘wasn’t there’, ‘didn’t care’, was ‘rejecting’ me and FUCK it was uncomfortable (understatement) for both of us. I felt she was pushing me away she felt I was pushing her away…it was utterly horrific. There was a lot of testing. And pushing. And withdrawal. And dissociation. Desperation. Tears. Walking out the sessions!! (ffs RB!)… Oh, look I don’t need to explain to you guys, you know the drill!!
So, when I wrote that letter it was from a place of feeling completely at sea, not waving but drowning, and like I was losing Anita…or had already lost her.
And I so hadn’t.
I so HAVEN’T.
But I just couldn’t feel it.
I couldn’t feel her. And that feeling of disconnect feels like annihilation to the young parts.
Throughout all this time, Anita has remained steady and present. I’ve just looked back over messages from this time and honestly, she really bloody dug deep and tried to show me she was there I just couldn’t see it – as I said, I couldn’t feel it, I couldn’t take her love and reassurance in because my armour was keeping her out. My teens were locking everything down and couldn’t trust or be vulnerable because they felt so hurt.
It wasn’t ideal, and I am not sure it was helpful for Anita to tell me this, but her supervisor had mentioned that with Anita’s change in schedule and how badly I was reacting to it that maybe she should refer me out to someone who could give me all of what I need. This set the cat among the pigeons in a massive way. Anita told me that she didn’t want to do that, that she hoped that she could be enough for me, that she loved me, but that if she wasn’t enough then we had to look after me and do what was best for me because this is my therapy and not about her or her needs. I remember crying and whimpering into her chest “I don’t want anyone else” and her holding me tightly and saying, “I don’t want you to have anyone else, but I don’t want you to be hurt if I can’t give you all that you need, I need to look after you.”
It probably sounds like a complete shitshow these last few months and it’s felt it!- but oh my god it has also been so fucking human, so real, and so intimate. Like we really have gone deep into the trenches – face first into the shit together – and somehow come out the other side. And dare I say it, there’s been healing in it all…but it’s been hard won.
The stuff with the supervisor really wobbled me but it was also a moment where I took stock and thought, what the actual fuck am I doing here?! (working through a lot of triggered trauma obv!) Am I really going to let Anita go because she can’t do the odd extra 15 minutes in a session every now and then and isn’t texting quite so frequently (but still very regularly) ? How many therapists out there give anything like what Anita gives me? Two sessions a week at a massively discounted rate, outside contact, touch, presents for the young parts, washing elephant so it smells right, reading stories…and ALL the other things… and I think I’d find the answer is NOONE.
When I was able to take a slight step out of the feeling of being abandoned and triggered, get a little bit of Adult online, I realised that Anita is the person I want to work through this with. It takes a long time to get to the point where the shit comes to the surface and all the mess is laid bare. I could go to another therapist and eventually these same triggers would come up again and would need working through. I don’t want that… and actually… I don’t need that. I want and need A.
During this period since February I have had a no holds barred fuck off meltdown on and off on repeat. I mean it was VERY bad. Part of me (probably the Teen) felt like I was going to be got rid of because I was reacting to the changes strongly and having a full-on wobbler even though that is not ever what Anita had said. I was so angry that the supervisor seemed to be saying that I should be moved on and not taking into account how fucking damaging this would be given what happened with Em and how much time A and I have had building trust and the relationship.
Anita totally got it and fought hard for me I think, she said that her supervisor is there to discuss thing with but can’t tell her what to do, and that after twenty years as a therapist she can make her own choices and work with what is best for the client. I told her just how awful being referred on would be and what message that would send to the young parts. Anita was very clear that she wasn’t trying to get rid of me, wanted to work with me, thinks we can do this work but that I need to do what’s right for me and if that means finding someone else then she’d support me in that. But in that moment, snuggled into her and feeling both seen and held in the pain of it all there was absolutely no way I was going anywhere.
After that emotional session where we’d finally reconnected really powerfully after weeks of distance I messaged her with a picture of a rabbit:
You have been, and will always be, my rabbit that listens. I don’t want anyone else. I don’t want to replace you – because it’s simply NOT possible to replace you! – that’s not how this works and anyone that thinks otherwise really doesn’t understand deep attachment work. I know it’s not been easy lately and it’s been really messy (total carnage!) but then relationships aren’t easy – and I think this is the work. I genuinely think we can come through this – because from my side (at least) the love is there (soooo much) and I hope we’ve done enough foundation building so far to be able to survive big earthquakes. I just need a lot of handholding whilst I learn to stand up in the wobble. A you are so important to me and the reason I have lost my shit so badly is because this relationship matters such a lot to me. I love you x
And so, we have carried on working through bits and hitting more landmines on repeat…and somehow it is nearly July!
Anita couldn’t always reach me over this long drawn out rupture, but she has really tried. And that is one of the benefits of the messages and of having recordings of the sessions. Sometimes I was so triggered and so dissociated that I really and truly believed that Anita had abandoned me in the room, that she had given up, that she was happy to let me suffer (hence the running out of the session before her break and losing my shit). But when I have listened back to the sessions – there was lots of silence (mine)- but I could hear Anita trying so hard to break through and reach me. So often she’d ask if I wanted a hug – of course I did. But I responded with a venomous ‘NO’ and refused to look at her and so returned to feeling trapped in my own misery.
Anita and I definitely need to find a strategy when things are like that because of course she has to respect my ‘no’ even if that ‘no’ is only from a protector and the rest of the rabble inside is wailing ‘yes’ and wanting to be held close but we do have these conversations – we can talk about the hard stuff. It’s such a huge contrast to sitting in agony with Em and just feeling chronically abandoned always.
So, it’s nearly 2000 words in and here we get to the bit with ‘what happened next?’ I am clearly not good with the economy of words. Lol!
After so many of you guys coming forward with supportive comments to the feelings spurge I had written, I felt so much better than I had done. Honestly, this space has been such a lifeline over the years, and you really are fab cheerleaders 😊. So, later in the week I sat down and recorded the letter as a voice note for Anita…all 27 minutes of it! The voice note is so helpful as there is no way A would get through reading that with her dyslexia and hearing it, I think, connects us in a different way. She can hear my voice and the feeling behind what I am saying.
I waited until the Friday to send the voice note as A was on holiday- not away- but not in work mode and I knew she needed time out as she’s been so stretched and . I didn’t expect A to reply before our session but she sent a holding message on the Friday and Saturday and Sunday:
I felt worried and anxious about how she might respond but she was fine. She’d really listened to the message and this was demonstrated through a reassuring message on the Sunday of a photograph she’d taken of where she had gone away for the weekend. Since then things have been much more settled. There’s been contact between sessions (probably the same as it’s been since February!) but how I am reading it is so different. I feel like Anita is there again…or… I am connected again. Whatever it is, it feels much better.
So much of what has happened has been my processing and my trauma responses flaring in a big way. Because my life has been so up in the air I’ve felt like Anita and I weren’t safe too. But we are. She has been so lovely these last couple of weeks since the puppy died and when I can let myself be present and connected with her I see that nothing is wrong, nothing has changed, and I have a rock in A.
Don’t get me wrong, I know this will all go up in flames again shortly – as we hit another trigger point but what I can see is that Anita isn’t going anywhere. She is in it for the long haul and will be there alongside me even if I won’t let her in, waiting until I can.
So I’ve come up for air and am not drowning as we speak!
I have other things to write about – I’ve experienced somewhat of a parallel process with what’s happened in my therapy and what happened with my friend ending our friendship. It’s interesting how things play out and give you a different understanding and perspective. Because of what’s just happened with my friend I feel a different level of compassion for Anita’s situation now. All the times she’s told me that she is trying hard to make it so that she can be as good a therapist as she can, but that her life has changed and that’s meant there’s some things she can’t do, have left me feeling rejected and abandoned and like she doesn’t really care.
No matter how many times she has said her feelings for me haven’t changed, it’s her situation that has changed, I have struggled against it with a voice saying “if I really mattered then she’d make the time”. But then a similar thing has happened with my friend. I am not able to be as present or available as I once was but have been trying my best with the time that I have but ultimately my family have to come first right now.
I can see that can be read as not giving adequate time and care to nourish the relationship, though. And what I can offer isn’t enough. But losing a friend when my feelings never changed, my love and care are still as strong as they ever were – well it’s gutting, really. But then I guess that is life. Relationships are complex because there are two people in them and people have different needs and expectations of what they want and need in a relationship. I decided to stay with A because even though I get ‘less’ than I perhaps used to, what I do get is so valuable to me. Other people would make different choices, I’m sure.
But losing a friend has given me a weird kind of security in my relationship with A. I know I love my friend – I always will. Even if we are not connected anymore I am grateful for the time we did have and will always hold that dear. So even though I am busy I know my feelings didn’t change and therefore I know that A loves me even though her life has changed beyond recognition. I feel it.
My goodness, time just keeps accelerating, doesn’t it? … whilst strangely seeming to stand still, too. I can’t believe it’s been so long since my last post. I have been meaning to follow it up sooner than this, because it was clearly a crisis post and so many of you were so kind and supportive in your comments and have subsequently checked in, but I have been so bloody busy that I just haven’t had any time to fill you back in.
I am on burnout right now. The tank is totally drained. It’s gone 6pm on Saturday and I have been in bed all day trying to recuperate after yet another brutal week. It’s survival…but barely.
I spend so many hours staring at my laptop, teaching online, and some days most days, Adult me is literally coaching myself out loud through the day. I’m staring at the ‘start meeting’ button on Zoom and every fibre of my body is railing against it, “Come on RB. You’ve got this” I say, whilst the very tired and strung-out younger parts cry, “We don’t want to. We need to snuggle and a nap and cookies.” There are days where I am holding back tears because it’s just ‘too much’.
That quite literally is the story of my life at the moment and has led to some really crap outcomes. I have wanted to write but the idea of spending another minute at the laptop during the week is revolting and, frankly, when I teach until 8:45 most nights I am almost catatonic, and words fail me – I couldn’t string another sentence together if I tried! There are things I need to attend to but simply haven’t the time to do them properly and so it’s all sort of falling apart.
My ‘busy’ isn’t through choice. It’s through necessity. I was planning to scale back my work and allocate more time to ‘me’ and just resting. Ha. Universe thought otherwise. Things have blown up again with my wife’s work and she’s just changed jobs but at a massive cut in pay but, hopefully, a reduction in stress for her. She was on the verge of a breakdown and a job is better than no job right now…well…
Somehow, though, we need to find around £800 a month from the shortfall and …frankly… I don’t know how to make that happen. And seeing as everything is also going up: food, petrol, utilities, oh and my mortgage has just increased by £100 even going straight back into a fixed rate I just don’t know what to do because I am already on my edge. There’s only so much you can cut. You can shop in the cheap supermarkets but even then, the cost of food is going up and up and up. My car used to cost £45 to fill, on Friday it was £80 and I use a tank a week….FUCK ME!
The cost-of-living crisis is real – even for two reasonably well-paid professionals so I have no idea how people are coping on low incomes. Well, they’re not. It’s heating or eating, not using the car, being plunged into poverty. It’s absolutely sickening and just should not be happening.
I’ve juggled everything to be as tightly aligned in my week as I can, getting the kids to and from school etc, and reckon I have space maybe for another three more students in my week which would take contact time up to thirty hours (which is more than a full-time teaching contract), but I am already at breaking point now. Thing is, I don’t see that there’s a choice here, even then it’s not going to be enough. I have to keep a roof over our heads and do whatever is necessary, though. So it’s dig deep and try not to collapse.
I have to protect my therapy with A for as long as I can (already on a discounted rate), as without it I just won’t function, but I have had to scale back my time with K. My body needs the craniosacral but the stress I feel going when I know I can’t afford it drastically outweighs the benefits of the work. K said she’ll reduce the fee further but as a single, self-employed person I know how she needs the money so it’s better if she can fill my time. Ugh. I am so sick of everything revolving around money, or lack of it.
So, the financial stuff and work stuff has been massively stressful, but I am resourceful and will do my best to find a way through it. Because of all this I’ve been really struggling with anxiety and stress, not sleeping properly, you know all the stuff that goes to shit when things get too hard? I’ve had to withdraw into myself just to keep going and have nothing left to give. I prioritise my children and wife, but everything and everyone else has gone on ‘hold’.
So that’s been crap but not completely unfamiliar. I have had a lifetime worrying and feeling unsafe, so this is nothing new. However, there’s been the added weight of grief thrown into the mix. I don’t think I mentioned it, but three months ago we had to have my elderly dog put down. It was heart-breaking and she left an enormous hole. I don’t think non-pet people get how much a part of the family animals are.
By chance a friend of ours had had a litter of puppies and we welcomed a gorgeous boy into our home 8 weeks ago (this was just before the financial shit hit the fan). He was an absolutely lovely little fella and he really picked me up and was a wonderful companion. Last weekend though- father’s day- we were driving home in the evening and he had a funny turn in the car, vomited, started breathing erratically and died – just like that…my wife tried to resuscitate him but he was gone.
I haven’t coped very well, the timing was appalling, and to be trying to save a baby dog stuck on the moors in the middle of fucking nowhere and losing him…jeez. I mean it really devastated us. The kids witnessed the whole thing and we basically spent most of this last week in tears. The vet thinks it was heart failure which was hard to cope with given that’s how my dad died. I feel like there is so much loss right now. I’ve also lost a close friend too which has been an interesting experience as an adult as I’ve never had a friendship ‘end’ before. So, yeah, lots to grieve. My mum is still AWOL and not responding to any messages but there’s a part of me that just can’t cry any more tears about that. She simply doesn’t care or want to be in our lives so I need to let it go.
So as much as I have wanted to come here, and put something out there, and touch base because I find writing cathartic and therapeutic, I just haven’t been able to fire out a therapy blog in 15 minutes which is the longest break I get in a week now -and this week has just been flatlining.
I appreciate none of this is about therapy or what happened with Anita which is why you are here – but I will get to that in my next post (maybe tomorrow). I guess this is just to put my head above the parapet and say “I’m still here” and things are ok, good in fact, with Anita. The recent events over the last month have made me really take stock and see things in a different way. If anything we are more solid than ever …which given everything else is a huge relief!
Anyway, I will be back really soon, but I don’t think shoving a big therapy post on top of this already 1400 words is a great idea.
Take care and hope you guys are hanging in there…especially with the horror of abortion rights being repealed. What the actual fucking fuck?
The Handmaids Tale was not a fucking road map, nor was 1984…and yet here we are. x
For once – brace yourselves for this- I’m going to write primarily about my mum and the mother wound, rather than wax lyrical about my therapist! Of course, the work I do in therapy relates so much to my relationship (or lack of one) with my mother, but usually I’m here talking about what’s been triggered when I see Anita and how that works out rather than stuff in the here and now with my mum.
However, my most recent rupture with Anita was so powerful and so painful and it coincided so neatly with something that happened with my mum that it was so obvious to see that what I was bringing into the room, to Anita, was decades old hurts from another relationship altogether. Afterall, my therapist not being able to offer slightly longer sessions really should not have triggered the colossal meltdown/s that it did. I mean it’s literally been a solid two months (and still going strong!) of internal chaos and anxiety and frankly, that’s disproportionate to what the trigger actually was.
When you dig beneath the surface, though, and get curious about what the feelings in mine and Anita’s rupture were about: feeling unimportant, easy to put down, and being unworthy of Anita’s time and care, it’s not hard to see why this triggered such a big meltdown. Those feelings are so huge and so raw and yet SOOOOOOOOOOO fucking longstanding and familiar. The sense of being unlovable and inadequate has covered me like a second skin. It’s like being doused in a thick tar of shame. It’s bloody awful.
The need to feel… loved… is (still) so massive. For years and years, I felt like there was something wrong with me for needing connection and that I must be fundamentally lacking in whatever it is that makes people want to be close. No. Not people. People do love and care about, and for, me – I have great friends and a wonderful partner… what I really mean is a mum. A mum that loves me. Is proud of me. Wants to spend time with me. Is interested in me as a person. Feels protective of me. Is there. Available. Attuned. Someone whom I can be myself around. Someone who can give physical affection. Someone who is safe.
That’s a big wish list isn’t it? Perhaps as an adult, yes, but as a child, they are the basic fundamentals, surely.
But then is it really too much to expect – no, not really. I am a mother and these things come naturally. Sure, my kids wind me up and drive me fucking mad – but they are also bloody amazing, and I love them more than anything. There is absolutely nothing I would not do to ensure their happiness and felt sense of safety and being loved. My kids roll their eyes when each day I say, “Guess What?” and then reply “We know Mummy, you love us!” But I love that. I love that there is no doubt in my kids’ minds that they are loved. I love that they come to me when they are hurt or scared or just plain bored. I love the fact that they witter on for hours about boring shit but know that I’ll listen and not just send them off so I can have some time to myself. I love that they know that I will be there every single day to pick them up from school, to read a story, to put them to bed…
They probably have no concept of what this time means because it forms part of the fabric of their existence, but having not had that growing up I can say it has left a massive hole. The sense of being ‘left’ as a child has been hard. I know and understand the reasons my mum went away and her achievements have been significant, but the impact it had on the little girl who was left behind was significant too. And that’s been a big part of my therapeutic work. The coping mechanisms I put in place over the years to deal with that gaping hole inside have been huge and massively detrimental to my health. As I wrote recently, I am through the eating disorder stuff now – but it has taken the best part of 25 years. 25 fucking years. I mean hell, wtf?
As I have said before, my relationship with my mum isn’t perfect but it has been something that evolved and has worked for us both over the last decade or so since having my children. We don’t see much of her, but it’s felt like there has been a reasonable level of contact. There’s not been any drama or fallings out since I announced my first pregnancy and I have come to accept that my mum will never be a hands-on grandparent like my friend’s have. She’s not someone who will take the kids for days out, or have them for holidays or whatever but it’s been ‘good enough’…well…no…it’s been what it is. I feel sad for my children, having had a set of grandparents who were so much fun and child-orientated myself, but I give them these experiences as their parent so it’s not desperate.
Only recently, I don’t know what has happened. It feels like something has shifted and changed and I have no idea why. Like I just can’t put my finger on it. Before Christmas I mentioned that my mum seemed to have dropped off the face of the earth – and at that time I started trying to figure out what was going on. Had I said or done something to account for the radio silence? I couldn’t put my finger on anything and started dredging up things like, ‘could she somehow have found my blog and taken offence about what was in it?’ but then out of nowhere she rang me and it was as if nothing had happened. It was a total head fuck to be honest with you.
So, fast forward to now. And we’re in similar territory. I think I mentioned in one of my recent posts how she’d taken a few weeks to reply to a text but had prefaced her reply with the fact she’d had covid. I mean, she hadn’t had covid the entire time and let’s be honest, a quick message on WhatsApp doesn’t take a second but – whatever. And then it was my birthday and the thing about having not been able to get out to get a card- fine. Whatever. Whilst I was away on holiday in February, I had sent a message asking if she could have the kids for a day in July and she replied that she couldn’t as she might be doing something…nothing in the calendar yet, but you know, something might come up as a priority. This message coincided with all the stuff with Anita and the stopping longer sessions and it just really triggered the stuff about being completely unimportant and inadequate.
Anyway, I sent flowers and a card for Mother’s Day – and she sent me a message then….but that’s it since. I have sent several messages (5 if we’re keeping tabs) over the last month – and the ticks have gone blue but there’s been no response at all. It’s been the kids’ Easter holidays and in the past we’ve done Easter egg hunts in the garden and she’d bring them an egg. Not this year. No acknowledgment at all. And whilst I may or may not have done something to offend my mum (literally no clue – other than having this blog) I can’t understand why she would not want to make and effort or spend time with her grandchildren. They haven’t done anything wrong…but then neither have I.
I find myself tying myself in knots trying to second guess what’s going on. It feels so reminiscent of my teenage years, trying to make sense of a situation and work out my part in it. Like it makes no sense to stonewall someone unless they’ve done something wrong – so what is the thing I’ve done to deserve this?
Of course, there’s another part of me that feels like I need to stop trying so hard. If she doesn’t want a relationship with me or her grandchildren then that’s fine. Let her get on with it. I need to stop putting myself out there to be rejected or ignored. Every time I message her and there is no reply I am engaging in this weird dynamic. I keep knocking at a door that is locked and bolted. It’s like Em and the empty cupboard. Get the message RB – if she wanted to engage with you she would reply to you. So I need to stop, don’t I?
Some people have asked why I don’t just ring her up and call her out on this, but it doesn’t feel as easy as that. For someone who is usually really assertive and articulate, I just can’t do it when it comes to talking to my mum. I mean I’ll go head to head with her Tory Brexiteer bullshit but when it comes to, “Mum, I feel really sad that we don’t have a good relationship and I’ve really struggled over the years to understand what it is about me that makes you be so distant”… you know, why put yourself out there to be shot down in flames? Especially, if the narrative that still runs loud inside is, “You think you’re so perfect. Who do you think you are? I wish you’d never been born!”
I may not be great at ignoring the triggers or coping with the anxiety that some unreturned messages evoke but I sure as shit will not put myself out there to be hurt further. And I can see the whole thing being turned on its head, that I am somehow the aggressor, and she is the victim, “You have no idea how hard it was for me, what I sacrificed for you…” and it’ll become a character assassination. I am not here (on the blog), trying to blame her for anything – but how things were as a child has left an imprint on me (and that’s what I write about). It’s been really fucking hard, and the mother wound is painful. I’m nearly fucking forty and yet, here I am after more than a decade of therapy writing about how painful it is to be ignored by my mum, and by extension – my therapist (even though A doesn’t ignore me).
Perhaps I am deficient and too needy and am ‘mental’ and pathetic. Perhaps that’s what she sees?
But I’ve done enough work now to challenge that narrative. The Inner Critic that was forged from my mother’s voice can get back in the box. I don’t need it anymore. I have a level of self-compassion that can counteract it. I developed the critic to protect me. By being my own biggest critic and attacking myself meant that nothing anyone else could say or do to me could be worse. I had my own trump card. But now I have seen the role of the critic, and realised I don’t need it anymore. What I need to do is look at WHY it developed in the first place and look at what I was trying to get away from – the mother wound – of course.
So, what do I do now? I guess, I keep taking this stuff to therapy and working through in the safety of the room with Anita. And I stop putting myself out there with my mum. If she chooses to get in touch then great, but I am not going to keep flogging a dead horse – for want of a better expression. What would you do? It’s one of those situations where I wish I could just take the bull by the horns and ask what’s happened – because ultimately if there’s a bad reaction what am I actually losing? I can’t be any more anxious or confused than I am now. I guess, though, right now I can feel some sense of it not being ‘my fault’ and if I confront her the likelihood is the situation will be made ‘my fault’ and then I’ll start doubting myself… in some way, backing off and ‘letting it go’ is the best I can do right now.
Anyway, I’ll leave that here. I’m just off the back of a therapy break and so I’ve been grappling with that alongside this mum stuff. Unfortunately, there’s quite a few bank holidays coming up in the UK over the next few weeks and so there’s more disruption to the therapy but I’ll get through it. I always do.
Last night I was driving to therapy and Destiny’s Child’s ‘Survivor’ came on my random playlist. That album was the soundtrack to my second year of A Levels – and, man, did I turn up the volume last night and belt it out – I was 18 and it was 2001 again!…
I mean, the title of this post says it all really? Pre-warning this post ends up nearly 7000 words so you might be just as well making your own inference from the title!
It’s been a long while since I have written anything about the day-to-day of my therapy and that’s partly because I’ve been so busy with just ‘getting through’ my days that I haven’t really had time to type, and also because Anita and I are navigating the rupture from hell and I wanted to be out the other side of it before I wrote anything. The thing is, it’s been almost six weeks now, and it’s still dire and so I think I need to put something down for my own sanity as much as anything as it’s all kind of blurring into one long disaster and the chronology is skewing in my head.
It feels like there’s just been an awful chain of cumulative events that have totally derailed the therapy and I am really all over the shop right now– I couldn’t even get out the car yesterday for half an hour to go to my session because I was frozen and kept dissociating…that’s how bad it’s felt. Part of me (thank goodness) feels like things will work out in the end because the feelings haven’t changed between Anita and I, but right now I’m having a hard time navigating everything that has happened and the changes in the way we do therapy because it’s sending shockwaves through my system and the child parts are terrified.
I guess I should go back where I left off when I was on holiday. My kids had COVID just before we went away which meant some online sessions which are always tough but I had managed a face to face before I flew off on my trip. My holiday was amazing, and much needed. Anita and I had a couple of exchanges – basically I sent her some photos of the sun – and everything was pretty ok until I got home to the UK on the Friday. That’s when the longing of the young parts kicked in full force. I was sooooo ready to see A after what had felt like weeks of not being able to get what I really needed and I really just wanted to go and reconnect and have a massive cuddle. It was going to be a lumpy period of time going forward, too, because I had just one session before Anita was due to be away for a week herself and so it felt really important to have that one session and to reconnect before yet another disconnection.
I sent Anita a message on the Sunday outlining where I was at. I had this sort of sick feeling as the day went on but hoped it was just anxiety and that everything would be ok when we got to see each other in person. Unfortunately, as the universe would have it, that session didn’t go ahead. Anita was away with her partner and got a flat tyre where he lives which meant she couldn’t come back home. It was going to be challenge enough sorting the tyre and still getting across country for the ferry. I was so disappointed when I received Anita’s message but could see how annoyed she was too, and it clearly wasn’t deliberate, just one of those things, but my goodness, the disappointment I felt was massive. It was clear, too, that she had literally been coming back for me that day when she could have stayed put so part of me felt heartened by the fact she did want to come, just couldn’t.
Anyway, no surprises that the online session was a car crash. I tried really hard to stay present and adult but it just fell to pieces. I was sad and disappointed. I had given her my elephant to wash when I went on holiday so it could be ready for when I saw her and before she went away. Obviously, that didn’t happen and so my go to transitional object was not where I needed it to be and that set the child parts off even more. After that session I text Anita to apologise for giving her a hard time and said I understood what had happened, but it was just difficult and that I missed her. I rounded off the message by asking for stories and cuddles when we got back.
The week whilst she was gone led to an escalation of panic inside. The child parts felt so untethered, ungrounded and try as I might to soothe them it just didn’t really work. I was due to see A on the Tuesday as wasn’t due back on the Monday until after our session. Of course, I was more than ready to see her. She’d text me to tell me that she was looking forward to seeing me and I felt huge relief about being able to go in and just unpack how hard the last month had been. Disruption is so hard for my young parts, separation is painful…
On the Monday evening I was really aware of how bloody sore that mother wound had got. It felt like I was bleeding out tbh. I text Anita and asked if over the next couple of weeks we could do some slightly longer sessions because things felt so wobbly and I needed space and time to settle and reconnect.
Probably once or twice a month Anita I have 75 minute sessions and I have written before about how helpful these can be, especially when stuff feels shaky as it gives time to settle into the space, ground, and then let stuff out and then give it time to be repacked safely.
Anita didn’t reply.
WARNING bells started ringing but I tried to put them to one side.
I was nervous as I walked up the driveway for the session but figured if I could just get in the room and the protectors would stay offline then the child parts could get what they so badly needed and things would start to recalibrate inside.
I walked into the room and our story books and elephant were not in the room.
Instantly I froze and the protectors went live. I basically shut down. I couldn’t even look at Anita.
It felt like Anita hadn’t kept the child parts in mind and it triggered the fuck out of me. I mean it was REALLY BAD. Having had so much separation and disruption, already, it just seemed to confirm that fear that the young parts have of being forgotten about, or not kept in mind, or generally just not being very important.
The session was uncomfortable because I couldn’t really speak – I just felt so little and lost – and Anita seemed to be unable to join the dots. She reassured me that we were ok, and that nothing had changed but to be honest it felt like we were on different planets. It felt like she was phoning it in and not really ‘there’. Of course, it’s difficult to tell when I’m in that state because everything feels bad and listening back it was nowhere near a terrible as it felt. She asked me what I felt was different because from her side nothing was and that she still loves and cares about me – but when you feel little and abandoned it’s hard to say, “Where is elephant and why aren’t the books here and I missed you and I need a cuddle and and and…?” It’s so fucking cringe.
I know she offered me hugs early on, but I refused them. I so badly wanted to be able to bridge the gap, but the protectors just weren’t allowing it. About half-way through the miserable silence and Anita asked again what was up, I was able to reply, “It doesn’t feel safe.” And she asked, “What can I do to make it feel safer? What do you need?…I really am here for you no matter what…” but that was met with more silence. I just needed her to physically reach out to me which I know is impossible for her to do if I have told her I don’t want a hug. (I do want a hug!)
Later she wondered it I felt like maybe I thought she didn’t care, and asked me what gave me the impression that she didn’t care. I was so far gone and wedged into that dark pit of doom that I just couldn’t get out, I couldn’t tell her why I was so upset and the longer it went on the worse it got.
Anita said something about how she knows my system is programmed to think “it’s dangerous to have time and distance” because of what’s happened to me in the past, but that separation doesn’t have to me that everything has gone wrong. She told me, “I am here, and I really want to be closer but you’re not letting me.” After a little while a tiny voice whispered, “It feels like you’ve forgotten about me.” Anita emphatically told me she hadn’t but of course all I could see was the evidence – elephant wasn’t there, and neither were the books and so in the eyes of the child parts they were out of mind and that is AGONY.
I felt so overwhelmed that I got off the sofa and sat curled up in a ball on the floor. I couldn’t bear to be seen and just sat there trembling with my face on my knees. It was fucking awful. Anita shuffled herself across the sofa and put her hands on my back in a kind of hug and kept rubbing my back. Physical reconnection is so important after a big break to let the young parts know they are still welcome, and I really needed that touch. I just wish that we had hugged on the doorstep when I arrived because that would have gone some way to reminding the parts that she is still her and I am still me and so forgetting things doesn’t mean the love and care has gone…but then of course child parts don’t see grey. It’s black and white. And any hint of retreat on the part of the other signals imminent abandonment and rejection and so we are doomed!
I left the session feeling desperately sad and activated. In the past I would have written, got it down in words and filtered whatever was coming up through the adult but it felt really important to honour what was coming up for the young parts and so I did something different. I got out some crayons and let the young parts draw and express themselves. I used my non-dominant hand…which was weird, but actually really freeing. I am not good at art, anyway, so it really did look like a four-year-old had been let loose with the Crayola but that was the whole point, it wasn’t meant to be polished it was the actual feelings in the moment. And once I got going it all came.
I was in two minds what to do with them. Part of me wanted Anita to see them and part of me felt ashamed and embarrassed. However, I felt it was important that this ‘voice’ wasn’t hidden away because it was the true vulnerable stuff. So I sent them and WHOA NELLY the shit then hit the fucking fan – deep breaths for a RB meltdown!:
Crikey that felt so massive at the time. It felt like I triggered Anita into defensive parent, an almost “look what I do for you and it’s never enough” when actually I think what she was trying to do was reassure me and prove to me that she shows her commitment in so many ways. It was just terrible timing, though. I shared the most vulnerable stuff with her and suddenly money and time boundaries we coming into play. I felt like I had showed her how hurt I was and she was now taking stuff away. Jeez. It really set the cat amongst the pigeons.
After a lot of back-and-forth things settled but I felt like I’d been on the emotional waltzers – I bet you guys do too having seen it in all its glory!
Somehow, I regained my equilibrium after that (I have to say having K on my team has really helped buffer this stuff and give me space to process it a bit outside the immediate triggering situation) and the next session was largely adult – I talked about all sorts of things, I was settled enough, felt safe enough, and then with twenty minutes to go I leapt in and talked about what had happened that last session and how it had impacted me. Anita was really understanding and apologised for not having my stuff in the room and wanted me to know it’s not because she doesn’t care it’s just sometimes she forgets and it’s not intentional.
So what’s going on then? Why has everything just flipped on its axis? It turns out Anita is stretched to her limit and has basically had to rein everything in so that she doesn’t burn out.
Oh great. Here we go.
Timing is everything and coming off the back of a holiday and disruption the last thing I needed was a shift in the frame and boundaries.
Part of protecting herself from burnout is changing how she works…which is bad news for me. Adult me gets that people’s lives don’t stay the same and things change – I mean look at my life over the last two years – but it’s felt so fucking hard having my therapy impacted through no fault of my own. Stuff in Anita’s life has got harder and in order to manage that, it’s my therapy and time with her that suffers (well not just that, but you know what I mean). She’s told me that she’s tried really hard to not let what’s happening impact me and tried to keep things the same as I am so impacted by change but she has to make changes or she’ll be no good to anyone.
The child part keeps looping round to “What have I done wrong?” and has asked her several times because the extra time being taken off the table and the outside contact seemingly being reduced too…well it feels punishing. And no surprises it has a huge impact on how safe I feel in the relationship. Things have escalated into a total shitshow when they previously wouldn’t have because I have stopped reaching out for fear of being ‘too much’ or not getting a reply when I need it. It’s basically a recipe for disaster.
Case in point was recently I had a fucking awful dream about Anita- and usually I would have reached out at the time, and she would have responded with something caring or holding and it would have put it to rest until the next session when we could look at it together. This time, instead of letting her know about it, I held onto it, and it just festered and snowballed as the week went on. Then that same week Anita text me midweek to tell me she was having to cancel a session the following week but might be able to rearrange and would let me know the next day…but she didn’t let me know and so I felt panicked and stressed and forgotten about and abandoned….and that was another straw on the camel’s back…nearly at breaking point.
The dream was hideous, and it doesn’t take all that imagination to see what it was about:
I was due to go to my session and when I arrived Anita was already sitting in the room. She was sitting on the sofa, but it had been cut in half, and the part that I sit on had been removed from the room and instead replaced with a desk/workstation. I looked at Anita and her face had no expression (like still face experiment). It was like her body was there, but she was absent. I felt instantly sick. I said, “you’ve changed it” and she swore blind that she hadn’t and “nothing was different”. I pointed at the desk and said “you’ve made it so we can’t sit together, and I can’t be close to you anymore”. And she denied it again. I walked out crying knowing that I wouldn’t see her again.
I woke up trembling and shaking on the Monday morning and it niggled away at me for the rest of the week. By the time I arrived at the session I was done in. It never used to be like this and it’s really taking its toll.
And so we go on and on and on in this messy spiral.
I will get my head round it eventually but right now it’s like I have had the rug pulled from under my feet. I feel like I have been cast adrift. I feel like I am questioning the relationship because if I really ‘mattered’ she’d find the time for me, wouldn’t she? And then of course it all comes back round to the fact that I am work, a client, and she can switch off from me whenever she chooses, and I don’t have any power in the relationship other than to leave. It’s that kicker of a reality check that really gives the critic and protectors power. They will burn the house down.
Part of what’s really hard is that the changes in Anita and I work have not been discussed or mutually agreed, they’ve been imposed by her/done to me. And this triggers back into what it was like as a child. I either went along with what was happening or I lost out altogether. I feel desperately sad that the therapy that felt so containing and holding now feels threatening to my system. Suddenly I want more than Anita can give, but my needs haven’t changed, I am not asking for more – it’s her capacity that’s changed…and that’s really hard…I am trying to get adult on board but it’s tough when all the child parts have been triggered and trust feels wobbly.
And yet, deep down, I really do know Anita cares about me and loves me. None of what she has done is meant to hurt me. There isn’t anything fundamentally wrong between us. She isn’t pulling back because of me or because I am too much, but it’s so hard to accept that because that’s how I am experiencing it. It may not be me that’s causing her to retreat, but it is still a retreat, and I am still feeling the impact of it. And no amount of her explaining she has to rejig to be able to work safely is cutting it, because little me feels like mummy has decided that little girl is able to cope alone and that her needs don’t warrant attention anymore…ouch.
And basically, we’re right back in the thick of the mother wound where I had to be an adult too soon. And yes, I get I AM AN ADULT but this inner child work is such delicate work and I feel like it’s hit the skids in a big way. It’s no surprise that I am dreaming of careering down hills and my brakes not working. Argh.
Of course, I still have my two sessions a week. I can still text Anita and she does reply most of the time (just not in the way she used to). We still get to cuddle. She still reads stories. She is still Anita. In so many ways nothing has changed and yet internally EVERYTHING has been blown up. There feels like there is no space for me now. Like what if I need her, or an extra session? That’s not available and so that makes it feel unsafe and uncontained…even though I don’t need an extra session right now!
I am trying to tell myself and remind myself all the ways that things are still ok. How committed A is. BUT those teens and the inner critic can be so vocal can’t they? And it’s hard. Sometimes all I can do is take a step back and go…’but look how much you still get, look how much you NEVER got with Em, and do you really think there’s anyone who would go even halfway towards what Anita gives you?’ and when I do this I realise that actually I am so fucking lucky. I’m lucky that Anita is dug in deep too and can hear me losing my shit and accept it and apologise for her part in some things and keep showing up for me, like we are in the trenches but we’re not admitting defeat.
After the episode (meltdown) with the young parts’ drawings and elephant not being in the room Anita has had the books out in every session. She was so sorry that the little parts had felt disregarded and assured me that it was NEVER her intention and that there was no message or change to be read in her forgetting. So, I try and let that filter in. I do feel her authenticity and humanness – she is not perfect – and I guess this is another lesson to the littles that idealise her. Actually, she’s just like the rest of us – flawed – and she regularly says this herself. But she’s better than anything I have experienced previously, she is a better therapist than Em and she is more nurturing and available than my mum!
It was my birthday recently and she remembered, and not only remembered but bought me a present – a soft toy…a soft toy that I had sent her a picture of last year and said how much I wanted one because they are soooo soft and she wrote me a lovely card, too…unlike my mum who didn’t even send me a card.
Like this woman cares A LOT. She listens and she takes me, all of me, in. I feel it, I see it, and yet because the relationship is so deep and intimate now it touches on every sore bit I have when things shift and change. In fact, I text her after another disaster session yesterday and said, “I love you, but it would be so much easier if I didn’t.” I get that this is part of the work. It’s where I am at right now. We’re dealing with all the triggers and all the landmines, and I need to learn that change doesn’t signal disaster but my god it’s sending me through the crazy mill!
I absolutely love my squishmallow. I love Anita. And yet, hardly any time after my birthday just before Mother’s Day… I got up and walked out of a session … as you do. Talk about yo-yoing! It was another intolerable situation I found myself in. I had got myself worked up about that dream about the sofa, how I didn’t feel like Anita was ‘there for me’ anymore and then the thing about not letting me know if I could see her when she said she would had left me in a state because it felt like she just doesn’t get how impacted I am by disruption. It turned out she could reschedule but ahhhhhhh by the time I found that out it was too late – I was full blown shut down!…
AND YES I DO SEE HOW NIT-PICKY IT’S BECOME but this is what happens.
Trigger after trigger after trigger sees us going mental with the hypervigilance and every small thing becomes fucking massive. I know it, and yet, it’s so hard to step out of it when we’re so far out the window of tolerance – which in my case is painfully thin like a letterbox even at the best of times! I feel like I need some space to just settle and breathe and yet we keep hitting landmines. Yesterday Anita said, “it feels like one disaster after another with us at the moment, doesn’t it?” before enveloping me in a tight hug that was so very needed. The fact it had taken me half an hour to be able to get out the car because I felt so upset about a lack of acknowledgment about a card I had given her…well…fuckkkkkkkk.
Anyway, that ‘walk out’ session before Mother’s Day was another disaster. Another massive sense of disconnection. Another time when I couldn’t allow myself to let Anita close and in pushing her away fuelled the fire of feeling abandoned. She repeatedly asked me if I wanted a hug and I repeatedly said “NOOOOO”. I was keeping her at arm’s length, protecting myself but also, deliberately punishing her a bit, I think.
Parts of me are so hurt and so angry about what’s happened with the change to the therapy and my sense of her taking herself away, that I think there’s a bit of me that wants her to feel it and understand it. That’s new. Usually, my protective parts are all about keeping me safe and nothing about trying to have an impact on the other. But is it her, that I want to punish? No. Not really. It’s my mum. It’s my mum’s deficits and lack of care not Anita’s that are the problem. Anita isn’t my mum and yet she’s been more of a mum to me in the last two years than mine ever has been…and yet, my therapist, poor woman is bearing the brunt of someone else’s legacy. She didn’t create the injury but she’s feeling the full force of it.
In a recent session A told me that my silence and pushing her away can feel punishing sometimes and then she had started to cry. I was blown away. So often she’s said how she respects my protectors and the job they are trying to do so it was a revelation to hear that, actually, my self-protection can feel hard for her too, and that how I am impacts her. I mean I guess it must, but sometimes I think we forget our therapists are not robots (well, Em was!). I had said at the time my silence and shut down is self-protection not rejection, and she said that her having to look after herself was self-protection but I am experiencing it as rejection, too. Neither one of us is aiming to reject the other but that’s what it’s feeling like. FUCK!!! Being in relationship is hard isn’t it?!
Unfortunately, the day I walked out of session – or should I say what prompted me to do a runner was that my silence and difficulty saying whatever it was that I was feeling led the conversation round to the idea of control and Anita saying I have control and power in the relationship and that I can look after me. It felt like she was saying she was no longer prepared to look after me and set the fireworks off again. SHITTTTTT. Reader, that is not what she was saying at all, but it was enough for me to get up and leave. I couldn’t tolerate the pain of the disconnection anymore and ran out. FUCK. Man!!
I sat in my car crying for a bit and then text Anita and told her that I knew we were done and that I needed time to process it. I felt so desperate and lost and alone.
She replied an hour later with:
“If that’s your choice, I truly respect your decision. You need to do what feels best for you.”
Ouch. Ouch. OUCH!!!
That felt so much like the ending with Em. “Ok, thanks for letting me know.”
I knew Anita had a huge few days ahead, which is why we’d had to reschedule in the first place, and realised it was not the time to get into a huge back and forth. I might be triggered but I am not a complete asshole. I sensed she was not on her A game and whatever came next really could be make or break and it would be unfair to expect her to interact with me in the way I wanted when she had stuff on. I was triggered and she was elsewhere, so I decided to try and hold it for the weekend. That was not easy, I can tell you!
Weeks ago, my best friend had an idea that maybe I should catch myself in the moment when things are raw in voice notes rather than trying to write stuff down – partly because Anita is dyslexic and partly because I filter so much when I write (not here obvs!) and so a voice note means A can hear how I’m saying something and takes out that stuff where what’s written and what is seen don’t quite align.
So, I recorded a message to Anita on the Friday and sent it to her on the Sunday. She messaged me on Sunday night when I was down at the seaside. I’d been away for the weekend and trying to ‘not get bogged down in panic’ but I knew from the message she sent and that she hadn’t yet had chance to listen to it but was trying to open the door for me to come back (although it also felt defensive to me), so the next morning, when I woke up, I text and asked her to listen to it when she could and then text me when she had done it and then I’d come in – so I expected her to text at 10:20 as the message was 19 mins long!
I knew it was going to be hard to get to the session because I was drowning in shame and anxiety about how things had gone on the Thursday and how things have been since coming back from holiday. The message she had sent on Thursday felt like she’d checked out (but understandably so given what she had coming up) and I was struggling with that but also trying to tune into the Anita I know. Around 8:30am I got a message from A saying she’d listened to the message, and she ‘really hoped to see me’ and it felt like she was back and warm and basically ok! Phew!
I found the voice note was a really good way of saying what I needed to say in the moment. I was able to really hook into the issue but also let my mind go where it needed. I was able to be honest about how much losing the extra time felt, how hard I find it to ask for things in the first place, all kinds of stuff really- and it clearly landed as I hoped with A.
That session was a tough one, but massively connected/connecting. We talked through so much. Particularly about what happens in those awful states of shut down and what I need in those moments (Not to be told I can leave and have a choice!) but also when I run out or back myself into a corner I need her to give me a way back in, i.e the message she sent but with a caveat at the end “I’ll be here on Monday, I still care, and we can work through this if you want to”. There’s so much processing going on right now! Anita reiterated her commitment to the work and heard what I had to say and it felt ok…so you’d think that’d be the end of it wouldn’t you?
Hell no! We’re on the fifth round of the rollercoaster ride and everyone is nauseous! I want to get off!
Part of me is just watching this like a slow-motion car crash. I feel dizzy from how much stuff is going off. It’s like someone kicked over the dominoes! Another part is laughing and rolling their eyes. Like, I suppose it’s good that I feel safe enough to kick off and get upset and show my dissatisfaction and stamp my feet with A, where previously I’d sit with Em and be a ‘good girl’ and just dissociate instead…. and so that’s progress…but then the level of tantrum and upset is catastrophic and feels like I have been catapulted back into being a kid or a teen when I just want to be ‘normal’.
I’m trying hard not to judge myself too harshly or sink too deeply into the shame when it comes but it’s certainly not easy.
Right, so what else went wrong??!
Btw – sorry, this is so looooong – I should probably have broken it into separate posts but I would forget to schedule them and know I won’t get chance to come back to this for a while so we may as well do big rupture blog and then breathe! Not that anyone will read this anyway – but I need a record of the chaos!
So, of course a lot of this was happening around Mother’s Day…not a triggering time at all is it?! Weeks ago, before my holiday (which feels like a lifetime ago now), I saw a card in the shops for and I really wanted to give it to Anita – this was obviously way before the recent crap that’s gone off. I gave her a card last year and it was received well and so I bought it for her – it was more from the young parts than the adult so when it came closer to the time, this year, I felt scared and worried, and like she may not receive it well. I’d literally just ran out the session the previous week so I didn’t really feel I could go in a give her a card when we had been teetering on the edge of me walking away!
But, after the (latest) repair session I felt more connected and safer to express what I wanted. So I wrote out this message later in the week and took it to session on Friday just gone:
I saw this card ages ago and wanted to give it to you – and then everything went to shit recently and I didn’t because I thought you might see it as another example of me wanting more from you than you can give or me overstepping a boundary. But it’s not that. Sure, I wish I had a mum more like you and I feel sad that I don’t, but like last year I wanted to acknowledge, again, how grateful I am to you for all that you do for me and to thank you for the love and care that you show me week in, week out, year in, year out – especially at the times when I am really not deserving of it and am pushing you away.
You said on Monday that you were like a wall, that you were solid and not going anywhere and despite recent walk outs and tantrums more and more parts of me are beginning to see this – I must trust that solidity or there is no way I would feel safe enough tell you how things feel, have so many meltdowns, and generally lose my mind on loop! Things do still feel unsteady and it’s going to take time to adjust because when I wobble it’s like a full-on earthquake inside – but when I stop and take a step back and breathe, what’s left is a really huge sense of love and gratitude. I really just want to say thank you – for your patience, kindness, generosity, trying so hard to make me feel safe, all the cuddles, stories, presents, washing elephant…not giving up on me or shaming me…and giving me the best experience of mothering I have had. I love you x
And that felt really big- so vulnerable- after how it’s been the last few weeks. I gave it to Anita at the end of the session because it had taken that long to work through the catastrophe of the previous session, and she said she’d look at it over the weekend. Knowing how crap things have been lately I imagined she’d read that and go one of two ways: 1) everything is fine, she’d like the card and the sentiment or 2) it’d be too much, and she’d feel like she needs to pull away.
In the past when I have sent Anita things she would usually respond in some way whether it be a message, a gif, or sometimes a photograph of whatever it is I have given her.
Not this time.
It was radio silence all weekend. I knew she was going away because she’d told me and that had led to another complicating factor about something I had offered her that I don’t have time for now as we’re 6000 words in (SORRY!)! So because of this, I basically went into a massive panic over the weekend. Her silence seemingly confirming everything I was worrying about. Another retreat from me. I threw myself into housework and blitzed the place because I knew that if I stopped, I would fall apart. I’m absolutely knackered this week as a result but better than a complete emotional breakdown!
Because I had heard nothing from A, a big part of me was scared to go to the session on Monday. I felt like I was just going to be walking into the lion’s den of rejection. I felt so overwhelmed. I tried hard to talk myself down but my system was in bits. I could feel the internal tremor or my nervous system freaking out and it felt REALLY BAD. I arrived at Anita’s ten minutes before time and text her and told her I was struggling to get out the car.
This is the conversation that happened that day. I was so dissociated at points I don’t even know where the time went.
After half an hour I managed to get myself in a state where I could get out the car and into the house. I more or less collapsed into Anita’s arms on the doorstep and we had a massive hug. When I got into the room Anita was so kind and said she understood how hard it had been to come today. I told her I felt ill, and she moved over to me and wrapped me in a cuddle. I cried and cried and trembled and ugh it was painful. Anita thought I was upset about the other thing that’s too long winded to go into – and I was – but actually it was really the card that was the kicker. It was not knowing what she thought or felt about it.
It turned out Anita had rushed out on Friday and left her phone at home for the weekend which is why she hadn’t replied to a message I had sent on Friday and she was so sorry about it. We only had half an hour because of my inability to get into the room and with about five minutes to go I told Anita that I wasn’t all that upset about the thing she thought I was upset about. She stopped, and wondered what I was upset about.
A minute passed. And then I said, “did you read the card I gave you?” I felt Anita take in a deep breath and kind of freeze for a second. I knew instantly that it was a no. I felt such a rush of feelings: disappointment, sadness, shame. She told me she hadn’t. My system went off its tits again. I said, “Just put it in the bin, then”. Anita asked “Why?” and moodily I whispered, “Because it doesn’t matter”… when what I really felt and meant was “Because I don’t matter.” Right now everything feels like such a huge contrast to how it used to be and how it is now and I keep coming back round to the fact that I am no longer important enough to Anita to warrant her time.
I know that this isn’t the case…well part of me does…but there are so many parts struggling right now.
Anita then went onto tell me that she had opened the card and saw that there was a lot of writing in it and had put it away for later because she knew it would take her an hour to read it and make sense of it. That’s how dyslexic she is. I had no idea it was so bad. Hearing her be vulnerable and tell me how much she struggles and how much it takes out of her to write and read really hit home. If that card would be so big a challenge it made me realise how much time she must have spent trying to read stuff in the past for me. Instantly, I felt different. I then asked, “Was the voice note better?” and she said, “Yes, that was amazing because I could hear what you were saying and didn’t need to actually work out what the words are and what you mean.”
She went on to tell me that it wasn’t that she couldn’t be arsed to read my card it was because she physically hadn’t had the time over the weekend to give it the attention it needed. I felt a bit less disgruntled! She told me that none of this is about her not caring or not loving me or me having done anything wrong but that stuff in her life is making her have to really rejig and she knows people who have lost their marriages over the same thing.
Again, that isn’t easy to hear because I feel like I have lost so much lately. In therapy we can be selfish and ask for our needs to be met without considering the other too much – and yet here I am, and my therapist’s life is impacting my therapy – the boundaries have changed and the frame feels wobbly and my safe container feels like it can’t hold me how I need to be held. It’s tough, for sure.
I told Anita I could read her the card aloud if she liked, but we had run out of time by then. She told me she would find the time to read it before Friday but I am preparing myself to read it to her in the session because I know she is flat out. Before I got up to leave, I said, “It feels like you have taken yourself away from me.” Over recent weeks I have said this a lot and she’s kind of denied it or made out that nothing has changed, but finally she acknowledged it – but she reiterated that it wasn’t because of anything that I have done and her feelings haven’t changed.
So. There we are. That’s the last few weeks of chaos. And 7000 words. I think my undergraduate dissertation was only 8000! Lol.
I’ll get round to commenting on people’s blogs over the Easter break but right now I am drowning in work and this rupture! I am very aware that I haven’t actually done much thinking about this stuff here, and there’s a lot that can be said but mainly I think the thing I am trying to take away from this is that people change, lives change, but it doesn’t have to mean that everything is doomed even if it feels like it. At least, that’s what I am hoping. I think falling headlong into my trigger zone has been unfortunate, but it will and has opened up a lot of conversation about my early years and relationships with caregivers. If anything, this unfiltered shit show is giving Anita a deeper insight into the damage and hopefully we’ll find a way through.
This post is massively delayed so the first part feels pretty ancient now – so if this all feels disjointed it’s because there’s a month to catch up on rather than the week I had anticipated when I began. I started writing this the day before my kids were struck down with COVID and ironically was banging on about self-care and taking time out. Life got ridiculously hectic with both kids off school and still trying to work and honestly, that two weeks floored me. I mean, really, it was as though a whole other trapdoor of fatigue opened up beneath me…and of course, there was a massive wobble due to the unscheduled therapy break, well from f2f, too… so there’s lots that’s happened but I can’t necessarily remember the order of events- apologies if there’s a bit of jumping around.
As you all know, I was having a big wobble last week (last month, now!). My energy was so low, my capacity was non-existent, and the resources I usually draw on to get by, were flashing a red warning light. I had to stop. Or rather I could no longer keep going, and so had to take the day off. There really wasn’t a choice, I simply couldn’t keep going.
I’d like to say that taking time out was massively restorative and I bounced back and was good to go again, but it’s not always like that. As I was saying in my last post self-care is often framed as bubble baths, and walks in nature, and eating healthily – simple acts of filling your cup – and it is, but what I was trying to say the other day is that sometimes self-care is none of that, too. Sometimes you don’t have the energy for ANY of that and so self-care can be temporarily stopping the stuff that is depleting you, whittling things down to the absolute essentials in an effort to function. Wednesday was me sticking a band aid over the wound so as not to bleed out.
Taking the day simply meant that I didn’t crash and burn later in the week. I didn’t replenish anything that day. I didn’t top up my internal tank at all – it just meant that I didn’t drain myself dry which meant I could limp towards the weekend instead of stalling and then completely conking out midweek. And that’s good enough. Sometimes self-care is just that, knowing your physical and emotional limitations and listening to your body and inner wisdom and trusting that you know what’s best for you and giving yourself what need.
Honestly, if I wasn’t self-employed I would have taken the week off sick, it felt that bad. There are so many upsides to being my own boss but not being able to afford to get sick is certainly not one of them! In the ideal world I’d have a savings account where I put a percentage of what I earn away into some kind of ‘sick fund’ but the reality is there’s always something that demands money: my car has just cost me a fortune and still has something wrong with it, bills keep creeping up and up, and I have kids…that need clothing and feeding! My life seems to work on the juggling act of 0% balance transfer credit cards – there simply isn’t a pot of money for off days.
Alas. Still, it could be worse. I, at least, have my health (at the minute) and that has not always been a given.
So, back to therapy. And Anita. Oh. Thanks to the universe for sending me this therapist. Because honestly, she’s just exactly the stable loving force I need in my life. I was spiralling like a tornado last week. Everything felt disastrous (and yes, I was due my period so that wasn’t helping!). As I said in my last post, I don’t think I’d really recovered my footing after the breaks in December and the anniversary of all the shit hitting the fan with Em just compounded my sense of things not being ok, not being safe.
Things were so tense in one of my sessions, recently, that Anita asked if we should go and have a walk around her garden. I was in such a protected grumpy teen space that I snarled at her, “No, it’s too cold” and then went back to my silent treatment and feeling like I had been abandoned. On reflection I wish I had taken this opportunity – sure it was cold, but to be invited into another part of Anita’s space and share that would have been nice. Still, my teen wasn’t having it that day, so that’s that.
—– 18th February…
So fast forward several weeks and here I am writing this from 36,000 feet on my way to the sun. THANK FUCK. It’s the first block of free time I have had in weeks, and I cannot tell you how delighted I am to be headed away on a holiday. Having said that, the take off in storm Eunice was….a… bit… (a lot)…HAIRY! I booked and paid for this trip in December 2019 before my wife got made redundant at the start of the pandemic and then went on and lost her next job in the February…it was booked and paid for before everything got so financially stretched and strained.
The trip has been cancelled four times over the course of the last couple of years due to COVID. Every time it’s been cancelled, I have been offered a refund by the holiday company and each time I have been so tempted to take the money and pay off some debt. Each time I have gone to therapy and discussed the situation with Anita, she has encouraged me to keep the holiday (if I can) and I have. And then it gets cancelled again and we have the same chat. For the last couple of years Anita has repeatedly voiced how badly I am in need of a holiday and honestly, she is so right, and I am so glad that we are now able to get away after the couple of years we’ve had.
Because I get a discounted rate in therapy it sometimes feels like I shouldn’t have ‘nice things’ if I am not paying Anita’s full fee. I simply couldn’t afford £120+/week to see her now, so I am really grateful that we have found a rate that works for us both. I pay a flat monthly fee and it’s the same regardless of whether we have breaks or not, or whether we have extra time. So, this month I miss three sessions because I am away and then another session just after I get back because A is away (groan!) but the cost remains the same. I know where I am at with this system, and it means that sometimes it works out better financially for Anita too.
Anyway, nice things…or lack of them! I take care of the kids’ stuff – their trainers were literally falling apart this week, so I had to get them new ones and also had to buy them some summer wear (they’ve grown since last year) but my wife and I are sporting clothes we’ve had for over a decade and topped up with the odd bit of Primani. It’s been a bit of a challenge with clothing for me lately seeing as in the last year I have gained a stone and finally kicked my 25 year ED into touch (I will write about that soon!).
My arse simply doesn’t fit into my size 6/8 clothes and for the first time in my life I am wearing a size 10 – which being 5ft 7, being nearly 40 and having birthed two kids feels right for me. Anyway, what I’m trying to say, is that taking a holiday feels extravagant right now but I am so glad we managed to hang on to it and I intend to make the most of it because, quite frankly, it’s been a really tough two years has been tough…
So, therapy…well… what can I say? The short notice move to online sessions when my kids tested positive with COVID was really hard. Fortunately, the preceding Friday session that Anita I had, had been very connecting and I left feeling really settled…which is lucky because what came next was a complete shit show. The Monday session was ‘meh’ again. False adult fronted and talked shit for an hour. I disconnected the call and felt numb. Empty. Well, that was until all the big feelings from the young parts flooded in and derailed the week.
It was awful.
I felt so disconnected from Anita and it escalated at the week went on. As I’ve said before, lack of physical proximity and working on the phone just plunges me back into my mum being away for all those years when I was a child. It’s really painful.
I text Anita the night before the session to say that things felt bad…
The morning of the session I got up, got showered, got dressed, and got stuck…or rather, frozen. I was sitting on my bed ready for the session. Anita’s name flashed up on the screen. It rang and rang and rang and yet I couldn’t answer the call. My heart was racing but I just felt paralysed. Part of me wanted to talk to Anita and another part couldn’t face the idea of another session like Monday.
I sat staring at the screen and after a few minutes text Anita – here is the exchange:
d parts were absolutely besides themselves. It was agony.
In the end Anita called in and I left the phone on the bed pointing up at the ceiling. My cat had come in for a cuddle and was purring in my arms. Anita began to read ‘The Invisible String’. It took a long time for me to be able to tune into her voice and the story but eventually the child parts felt a little more settled.
The session was over and it felt awful again. There’s so much going on internally that needs sorting through and talking about but I have found lately that I have been so strung out just getting through the weeks that I simply haven’t had the capacity or energy to dig into what’s coming up. I am hoping after this holiday I’ll be able to – once Anita returns from her break.
Fortunately, for my system I was able to go to my Monday session and see Anita f2f as both kids had tested negative and I had avoided it all together. From what I remember we had a connected, holding session but I can’t tell you what happened as I have absolutely no idea!…oh hang on…yes…we’d been talking about how hard disruption is for the young parts and then Anita told me that she was going to be away after I get back from holiday for a week. I burst into tears as I snuggled into her chest.
Poor A! All I seemed to do that session was go through various states of upset and then calm down and then cry again. This extra revelation, I think, meant that the overwhelming feelings just burst their container in a big way. Nightmare. We spent the remainder of the session regulating and containing the young parts who are so scared that something terrible will happen or things will chance when we are apart.
The sessions leading into this holiday have really been a mixed bag. There’ve been really close sessions and ones where I have completely kept my distance and pushed Anita away in anticipation of the separation. I find those sessions really painful. No matter what Anita does it feels impossible to cut through. My protectors are so powerful. And my goodness it’s soooooo exhausting.
And so, to Monday – and our last session before the break. I felt mixed feelings heading to the session. Part of me didn’t want to go and another part felt like the stakes were really high because I so needed to leave feeling settled and connected because of this latest period of disruption heading all the way into mid-March.
”Is there a medic anywhere on the flight?!!! If there’s a medic on the flight PLEASE make yourself known!
… the joys of being a nurse eh? So that’s been my wife busy for the last hour with a passenger. At least the years in acute care and crash response have been put to good use again! This is the first time in all the years I’ve been travelling this has happened. I think my wife most definitely deserves her holiday now. Still an hour until landing and I’m sure once we land, she’ll be so glad that I pushed her from her seat!
So, back to the final session. Because we were headed into a break, I asked Anita if we might start earlier. As I have said before, 75 minute sessions feel a bit more containing because it feels like there’s enough time to drop the defences (if they’re there), land in the room, connect, do the work, and pack everything back up carefully.
So, it was lucky we had more time as it turned out to be one of those sessions where what was said and what was heard don’t quite marry up – and not in a good way – or at least not for the young parts who are so quick to feel abandoned and rejected – especially around breaks. I’d sat down and downloaded the stresses of the week (too much to do, not enough time, body shakes, nervous system overwrought…blah blah blah) for about fifteen minutes and there was a natural break in the conversation. I felt myself step out of that day-to-day headspace and became quiet as what was underneath came to the surface. I felt the panic that I’d carrying all week acutely, and the memories of the nightmares I’d had came up. Ugh.
Anita wondered aloud where the young parts were at and asked whether I wanted a cuddle. I nodded and shuffled across the sofa towards her and into her familiar warm arms. My heart was racing and I was physically trembling. Anita commented on this and said I felt cold to touch and gently rubbed my back. I tried to tune into A’s heartbeat but the sound of my own heart hammering in my ears meant I couldn’t. After about fifteen minutes my heart rate finally slowed and I could hear A’s slow, steady beat. I felt my whole system settle and felt soothed and calm which was a welcome relief after how hard things had felt these last few weeks.
23rd Feb…(loving the holiday btw!)
There was quiet for a while, and I asked Anita what she was thinking. She said she was thinking about what was going on between us and about Transactional Analysis. I was so deeply in that child state that I felt panic rise through my body as she continued to talk. She said something about how for growth we are aiming for my adult and parent to be able to hold the child parts and how one day she won’t be there.
From that point everything got messy inside and I felt like I was going to actually going to have a full-blown panic attack. As all this was rising up in me and then something flicked, and I froze. Dead still. Hardly breathing. And I remained that way for a long time. I was completely out of my window of tolerance.
This was not the fucking plan for the session.
Just for clarity, what Anita was actually saying is one day I will have done enough work in therapy that I won’t need therapy in the way I do now or need her in the same way I do. But this is not what I needed to hear before a break when the child parts were so present because all they could hear in that moment was ‘She’s gonna leave me – everyone always leaves me’.
Anita said something about her acting as like a nanny or grandma who can settle the young parts when everything seems bad, until one day there will a point where my adult can take over and do it for myself. That’s what we’re aiming for. Again, nothing wrong with that, because I’m guessing that when I have worked through the early stuff, I’m unlikely to want to spend hours of my week cuddled into her but it just felt so rejecting in that particular moment in the particular young state I was in. And let’s be clear here, my child parts don’t see her as a nanny or a grandma…they see her as mum. And so, even this very warm, caring statement felt rejecting.
Anita went on to say that we are slowly trying to repair what went wrong as a child and redoing some of the stuff that was missed along the way and there’s a part of me that is glad to hear that after so long being told that, “The time for those needs to be met has passed and you need to mourn for what you didn’t get.” I guess what Anitas is saying is that what we’re doing is a kind of ‘limited reparenting’ perhaps. And I can definitely see that. From the very beginning she has been clear that it’s ok to have needs, express them, and if possible (and within reason) she’ll try and meet them. And she has. She’s been really great in the two years (TWO YEARS) since we met.
As I was lying cuddled into her with my elephant (ready to be washed as there’s one session back before Anita goes away), yet frozen, A talked about how with deep wounds you can’t just put a plaster over them and hope for the best. It’s a long process and the wound has to heal from right deep down in the core. She said she’s in for the long haul and won’t abandon the young parts. She’s there for the journey, but of course the original sound bite that was drowning out everything was “I won’t be able to do this forever” and so lots of the different parts were freaking out, ‘What if she leaves before we have done the work?’…etc etc.
Adult me gets what she was trying to say because it was said with so much warmth and love, and I know the intention was meant to reassure the parts of me that worry about being too much about the strength of the relationship – but the child parts have hung onto this and have filled up with shame about it. I’m going to have to talk about all this on Monday because it’s hurt me and yet I know this is not Anita’s intention at all. She was so good in the session when I was quiet and crying. She asked me to tell her what I had heard and clarified what she meant over and over – and after the session I sent her a message and she reiterated her position again:
I think this episode just really goes to show how easily triggered young, vulnerable parts are. It takes such a long time to build trust in the therapeutic relationship, to let these parts be seen, and then any hint or sense that the safety of the therapy will be taken away is massively triggering. Anita has no plans to stop the therapy. My therapy will end when it feels right for me. But coming off the back of a premature ending of a long-term therapy due to the young parts being ‘adhesive’ and ‘like a tick’ to Em means that I panic if Anita hints at us ending, or her not being there, or me not needing her.
As I’ve said a million times, Adult me gets it. All of it. But man, these child parts are right in the thick of the work and such a long way off ‘not needing Anita anymore’ and as I said, on the eve of a break the last thing I needed to hear was about a future where she isn’t as she is now, when the young parts needed reassurance that nothing is going to change. (And yes she did say all that “I’ll still be here when you come home. I won’t change. We’ll still be ok. And you are not too much for me…” on loop.
I don’t know how much of this has made sense because it’s been so split.
The last session before the break wobbled me a lot – but it’s ok!
p.s Sorry I have been AWOL on your blogs. I’m hoping to get some time online over the weekend to catch you x
This week has totally kicked me in the tits…is that even a phrase?! I mean, wow. What can I say? I feel so utterly knackered and overwhelmed at the minute that I could cry. Actually, I have cried, which is really unlike me.
The alarm went off this morning. I ignored it. It went off again. I ignored it again. I left it until the last possible moment and then dragged my arse out of bed and tried to get the kids up and out the house without too much fuss. I was on autopilot going through the motions of the morning, all the while I felt like that attachment wound, the dark pit of doom and need, was wide open and sucking my life force down into it. I’d been dreaming about Em (this two year anniversary of termination is whooping my ass) and felt devastated. I wanted Anita but it’s only midweek so I felt in the limbo zone so far as emotional support goes: the time between sessions seems to stretch out endlessly at the minute.
Having dropped my kids to school I should have got set for work, but I just had nothing. The young parts were so activated that I didn’t know what to do with myself. Most of the time I can muster some kind of ‘get up and go’ and reach down into my bag of masks and fix the teacher one on with rubber bands and chewing gum – but today it just didn’t feel possible. Woeful Wednesday is a heavy day, anyway, with 6 hours of 1:1 lessons and I knew that I wouldn’t get through to 8:30pm in one piece.
Sadly, here I was again, staring at that all too familiar emotional landscape: the deep ache of emptiness and loneliness, coupled with a deeply uncomfortable sick feeling – like a heavy dread. It was so somatic that I genuinely wasn’t sure if I was going to sick. I felt young and lost and actually I think, quite dissociated.
What could I do?
Self-care is something I have been notoriously bad at. I think I have always been a people pleaser and so my needs have often been shelved in favour of looking after the needs of others. To be honest, for a long time I didn’t even know what my needs were and didn’t know what I was doing, running on empty, was burning me out.
Over the years I have pushed myself so hard, taken on more than I can handle, and given every last ounce of myself to do a good job. I have never let people down even if it’s come at a heavy price to me. Humans aren’t machines, though, and I have found that people extend the same kindness to me when I can’t do something as I do to them when they are ill so really it’s been me pushing myself too hard, not actually the expectations of others keeping me at the grindstone. I know this patterning comes from a fear of being deemed ‘inadequate’ and ‘not good enough’ but that’s not the reality now. I am really good at what I do and so that narrative is outdated and needs reviewing…when I get a minute!
When you look online you could be forgiven for thinking that self-care is all about bubble baths, and reading good books in bed, journaling, and going out walking in nature, decluttering your space, or drinking two litres of water a day, cooking healthy meals, and treating your body as a temple. And yes, it can be that stuff, without doubt – and so much more. But sometimes self-care is as simple as just saying “No” and doing nothing (which actually can be quite hard for me).
Listening to your inner wisdom and honouring what’s being said inside is self-care. And today, that voice told me, “I just can’t.” In the past I would have made myself power on through, but it would have come at a cost. I’m so low on spoons at the start of the day right now, that I would have been without cutlery for the school run, dinner, and bedtime – and this is not fair on myself or my children. They get a grumpy mum and then I feel guilty afterwards for not being what they need. I also suffer because it takes a vast amount of energy just to hold myself together on a daily basis and if I am left with just my hands – it’s no good. I need those spoons!
So, knowing where I was at, today, I gave myself permission to opt out and cancelled my first teaching session of the day which meant I now had until 1pm to rest and regroup. I took a shower and got back into bed and called my best friend. We chatted, caught up, and she gave me a much-needed pep talk (I’ve been getting my head in a mess about therapy and tying myself in ever tighter knots) and it was such a good thing to have done.
I limped through my double lesson at 1pm and realised that I was not going to make it through the afternoon lessons as things stood. When I got off my Zoom call at 3pm, I looked at my phone to see that my 4:30 was cancelling as they had tested positive for COVID. That gave me a bit of breathing space. I went on the school run and felt utterly exhausted. The child parts we really vocal and desperate for Friday to come and to be in the safety of the therapy room with Anita and I burst into tears in the car as I was driving to my kids’ school for pick up.
Adult me was trying to calm those poor distressed parts but it was like the old days where those young parts had no concept of Adult Me at all, and so there was no way of communicating, or soothing. I think this is a product of me (Adult) being so tired and thinly spread that my capacity to contain my various parts isn’t going quite a well as usual… and this has spilled into therapy, too.
I’ve felt disconnected from Anita lately and like things are spiralling (for the parts). At least Adult Me has a reasonably good handle on the fact that Anita and I are solid and fortunately Anita noticed what was going on on Monday, when I was in False Adult, and wrapped me in a cuddle after about ten minutes. That’s how it stayed for the remainder of the session. I talked about no end of shite but to be physically close felt so much more stabilising and containing than those sessions recently where I’ve been on my own private island of misery.
I collected the kids and felt done in. Driving home I decided that I was going to cancel the remaining sessions of the day and give myself the night off from being teacher. My wife is away for work this week, so it’s just been me doing everything and I needed a break. Financially it’s not great to have done this – being self-employed there’s no sick pay and so mental health self-care days cost me. But I figure the cost of not listening to myself today would have been far greater in the long run. I don’t like feeling strung out and anxious which is what happens when I go too hard.
To be honest, I still feel like I am on my edge and the next couple of days will be a real struggle, but at least I have done what I can to try and get to the weekend in one piece.
So, that’s my act of self-care. I’m financially worse off. There was no bubble bath involved. My house is still a mess. I’ve eaten complete shit all day and not drunk enough water. I have done no exercise. My body is certainly not a temple – or if it is- it’s one of those ancient ones that needs propping up with scaffold and a $10million renovation fund! But I looked after me today in the only way I could and that was to take some time out and give myself space to be how it is without expectation. In the ideal world I guess I’d have done that and done all these nurturing things above and be absolutely glowing now. But today, going back to bed and talking with a friend beat sitting with cucumber on my eyes shaving my legs (and it always will!).
Musing on counselling-related issues in the UK. I am a counsellor/psychotherapist and a client too. As the blog title suggests, my counselling journey began in the client's seat. For information about my counselling and psychotherapy practice see my website: www.erinstevens.co.uk
holding it together as I journey through therapy - a personal account of what it's like to be in long-term psychotherapy navigating the healing of C-PTSD, childhood trauma and neglect, an eating disorder, self-harming behaviours, as well as giving grief and cancer an occasional nod.