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.
I am finding this therapy break really, really hard. We’re only 9 days in, still 8 days to go…and it’s like my brain has chosen this holiday to have a complete processing malfunction and fall to pieces. I’ve been having several nightmares each night: graphic stuff around my dad dying, my grandad dying, my estranged relationship with my grandmother, childhood trauma memories coming up, health anxiety stuff, and of course rejections/abandonments by Anita…it goes on and on. I am thoroughly exhausted now, and that’s just the stuff when I am asleep!
Shoot me now!
Waking up with either a jolt and my heart racing or crying in desperate sobs multiple times through the night is just fucking hideous. I mean it really is just bloody awful. My whole system is in chaos and disarray. This weekend I have been getting up when I wake up at dawn and the light is just creeping over the horizon because I can’t bear to be asleep any longer and don’t want to chance another nightmare. To be honest, I would rather have the very scary haunted house nightmares I was complaining about in my last post, than these ‘real life relationship’ horror interactions.
The more exhausted I get and the further into the break it is, the more my system is freaking out. It’s really bad. I feel so unbelievably disconnected from A that I genuinely feel like I won’t go back next week. Or at least that’s how it’s feeling for the teen part that feels like the system has been abandoned and so she just feels like setting everything on fire, running away and then having an enormous rage at Anita via text (so mature…so teen!).
For the youngest parts, it feels Anita has completely disappeared, and it’s really rattled and sent shockwaves through my system. I don’t understand what’s going on – or if there is something wrong. When Anita told me about her holiday weeks ago, she said she had been looking for the right time to tell me about knowing how difficult things were at the time and how hard I find breaks (but acknowledged there’s never really a good time). She told me it would be ok and that we could still have contact and text whilst she was gone. The idea of her going away wasn’t great but the reassurance that it wouldn’t be zero contact and radio silence helped ease things a bit.
Last year when A was on holiday, she texted me several times and sent some photographs of where she had been staying. This really helped to maintain the sense of connection and the photos especially helped me see that whilst she wasn’t ‘here’, she was still ‘somewhere’ and not dead which is what part of me panics about having had my dad die whilst away on holiday (anniversary of that is a few weeks away).
I wasn’t so upset or unsettled by the break last year – we’d literally just returned to the room and had two face-to-face sessions after the loooooooong first lockdown, so I was used to her ‘not being here’ and I was nowhere near as attached to her as I am now. The contact over the break, then, was a real bonus and just steadied everything and so I got on with what I was doing…painting my house! And whilst I missed seeing her, I just looked forward to being back in the room after the holiday. It wasn’t a distressing experience for the parts like this one has been.
Sometimes in the week between sessions or on weekends Anita will send me pictures of where she’s been on her walks, or something in the garden, and even though they aren’t pictures of her (it’s usually the dog or some beautiful scenery or something she’s been making) if feels like she’s letting me into part of her world and it feels like she actually gets how hard it is for the young parts who struggle so much with objects constancy and gives them just enough to hold onto.
On Tuesday evening I sent Anita a GIF which had two clocks on it. One that was standing still and one that was moving at speed. Basically, it said the one that stands still is what happens when we are apart and the one that accelerates is when we are together. Underneath I said, ‘I miss you’. And that was that. I could have written an essay about how shit it’s all felt (but that’s what this blog is for!) but I also really aware that A is on holiday and so there’s no point in burdening her – she needs space and time to rest and recharge.
The next evening A replied with a GIF that had a bear on it gesturing a hug that said ‘sending you a big hug because you are beary special to me!’. I replied with ‘thank you, I really needed that.’
And that’s great, isn’t it?
Well, yes and no…
Like I know loads of you will read this who suffer with the same attachment problems as me and will work with therapists like Em who don’t allow outside contact or whose messages are very clinical/sterile and would love to receive a message like that…but over the course of 9 days separation, that just is not enough for the parts that are struggling so much especially an entire day later.
It’s so hard!! FFS. I can hear how bratty and ungrateful I sound – but it is how the young parts and teen are experiencing things right now and that’s what I am chronicling here today.
I’ve spoken about this stuff (breaks/outside contact) over the years with various friends who have therapy and I think what therapists often don’t get is that for those of us with complex trauma, children who have grown up not knowing whether they are coming or going and never feeling safe, is how important consistency is and how hard change is for us. I’m sure many people (people who don’t experience the issues we do) would think that a two-week holiday is no big deal – but like I said, it’s not actually two weeks.
The therapist might be taking two weeks leave, but the time between sessions our is longer. In my case this time, it’s 17 days between my sessions. When I worked with Em and we were seeing each other once a week it would actually end up being three weeks if she had a two week break. And that is a long time for people like us…or people like me, at least!
The problem is not just about the length of time of breaks, though. It’s about the change in routine. Sure, 17 days isn’t all that long in the big scheme of things (I really get that!), but it equates to four missed therapy sessions and a lot of outside contact that won’t happen. So, if you view breaks through that lens rather than days, it’s a significant amount of lost contact time and that invariably shocks the system.
Let’s be clear, there is a reason I have two sessions a week and have a therapist that allows between session contact…I don’t have this intensity of therapy because I have nothing else to do and love losing two whole mornings a week travelling to and from the sessions. I do it because without that level of intervention I really struggle…so of course breaks are hard for me.
Don’t get me wrong. Anita more than deserves and needs her holiday. BUT I can’t lie. It is very hard when therapy stops and contact becomes minimal because my system is always so alert anyway, looking for signs of change or readying itself for abandonment and rejection. Breaks do feel like an abandonment and lack of contact feels rejecting – even though they are neither abandoning or rejecting it is how my system experiences it.
I get that this is my issue to work through – THIS IS THE WORK!!! It’s all about attachment – GROAN! I understand I have to do the best I can to hold and contain the young parts over breaks. BUT my system is how it is and that’s not easy. I have ‘insight’ into why I am the way I am and why I react the way I do but that’s not always a whole lot of help when my teen is running rampage and is ready to quit because these last few days is evidence that as she sees it,
Anita only really cares when she’s in the room. She’s spent ages trying to get me and the young ones to trust her, coaxing them out, saying she won’t leave or abandon us. And when, finally, we let the most vulnerable self/selves out and attach to her the reality is the relationship is only ‘real’ (not real!) in that room at a specific time each week.
When it comes down to it, we are just clients. We are disposable. RB doesn’t matter and neither do the rest of us. Anita can just disappear – switch her ‘work brain’ off and leave us behind until she’s ready to become her therapist self again. Meanwhile we’re all left hanging – because this relationship doesn’t have an ON/OFF switch for us.
It’s all great when life is going as it should and the ‘therapy play’ can run as it’s mean to, but throw in an unanticipated lockdown and promises about staying because we ‘need to be face-to-face’ become meaningless. If something happens her end, a session can be cancelled outright despite the fact the she is still working online that day (still not over that one!)…basically – the reality is we don’t matter ‘that much’ and we are just her ‘job’. To think that there’s anything more is completely delusional.
It’s so hard because we are just one of her many ‘clients’ and yet to us her presence in our life is essential. Actually, no – fuck that – the little ones need the therapy and the holding. Adult thinks she needs the therapy. I don’t need anyone and am sick of the others putting me through hell! Why don’t they understand that people are unreliable, and their word means shit?
It’s better being alone. If you don’t let anyone in no one can hurt you. It’s easier that way.
Soooo….the teen part is in a really good place right now – ha. It’s not funny, though. It’s painful.
I’m going to leave that here because bleurgh… I don’t want to bring the rest of you down with me and I’m sick of my own whining and sadness.
Raise your hand if you’re dreading the holiday season and the mass exodus of your therapist/s over the summer months?!
So, the summer therapy break has gone live, now…it’s two weeks…and, ugh, I think I’m going to be in for quite a rough ride!
Earlier this week I went to see K as my nervous system was already in tatters just anticipating Anita’s holiday. Before I got on the table for craniosacral, K asked me what I was feeling in my body. My False Adult had done quite a good job of sitting on the sofa chattering away for the preceding half an hour generally just catching up with her about ‘light’ stuff, but I was avoiding the thing that was really on my mind for fear of breaking down either then, or later on. When I tuned into my body, I could feel the somatic experience of what I was running from: the break with Anita.
There’s no point in pretending to be ok with K. I can paste a brave face on all I like but she knows, and the moment her hands touch my body she can absolutely feel things are amiss and where in my body I’m holding stuff. Sometimes she’ll say things like, “I can feel a real tightness on the back left side of your head” (when her hands are on my feet!) and it blows me away. So, I told her what was going on.
“Anita is going away for two weeks from Monday” I sighed and broke eye contact whilst sinking down into the couch and then drawing my knees up into my chest. I felt so exposed and vulnerable. I tried to describe the body sensations and told K that it felt like I had a huge watery sink hole inside my chest (like a big hole plunging down into the ocean floor) and that it was sucking all my parts into it.
I explained that the feeling of trying to stop myself getting pulled into that dark endless pit of doom was exhausting and the young parts of me were terrified. I said it felt like there was an inevitability about ending up in that horrible dark scary place and that I was doing everything I could do avoid it…which up until that point was literally avoiding talking about it or acknowledging it!
K really empathised and put her hand to her chest and let out a sort of pained exhale and said she could feel how painful and frightening it was for the little ones inside. She and I speak the same kind of emotional language, so I never feel weird going into huge winding metaphors about my inner experience or body sensations or simply telling her the baby or other young part is in distress.
I’m sure most people must say that a particular place aches or is buzzing when she asks how they feel in their body…but not me! K says it’s one of the things she loves about working with me, my authenticity and ability to tune into my feelings and body – which is so funny as years ago I felt so numb.
K says my images make total sense to her. I know, now, from the years of working with her and the friendship that has developed over the last 12 years that she has experienced a similar wounding – she knows the mother wound intimately. She’s done her work, though, (she’s now in her sixties) and I love working with her because she ‘knows’ what I mean because she’s been there and felt it. It is so great to be in the presence of one of those amazing, grounded matriarchal women and it gives me hope that one day I too might be in the place that she is. I mean that’s the goal, right?!
Like Anita she is really good at ‘unconditional positive regard’ – she never looks at me like I am a crazed lunatic when I tell her stuff. She mirrors me so well and it’s been working with her over the years that has really made me see how bad things have been. To see her moved and saddened by my story and express care for my young parts made me see that it was as bad, if not worse, than I thought. This was especially the case in 2019 when I started seeing her again properly after a break of several years. Going each week in a terrible state, my nervous system in survival and telling her what was going on with Em made me realise that it really wasn’t ok.
Having someone genuinely express care and acceptance was everything I needed at that time (and now! – thank god for A and K!). I learnt with K that it is ok to have feelings and express them. It is human to care about people and feel love. K is always so expressive towards me and has modelled how to say what you feel. It’s so funny, she always shouts down the street as I leave, “I love you RB!” I can’t help but smile when she does this, given Em never even said goodbye when I would leave hers, often distressed or dissociated.
Anyway, where am I going with this? Body sensations and the pain of the mother wound…
Not long ago I was on the table and all sorts of intense stuff was making its way up and out. I think my body had stored a lot over the lockdown and it’d been such a long time since I had seen K to do actual body work and not just pop over for a cup of tea. It was around the time that Anita had cancelled my session when she thought her daughter might have had covid and I was in a right state about it. K completely got it which made me feel less embarrassed and ashamed about my HUGE reaction and EPIC meltdown.
She told me how she could feel how painful it was for my inner child to be left and have her need overlooked, and how abandoning it must feel when the young parts are trying so hard to trust A. She could see how it taps so readily back into my experience with my mum as a child.
However, it wasn’t just a pile on. K also said that she can see such a massive change in me since I have been working with Anita. She says I am so much more resourced and embodied DESPITE the huge amounts of shit that I have had to field in my life in the past year. She told me that A would not have wanted to hurt me and that hopefully I could see that, too, because she can see what an amazing connection we have from what I have told her. She often tells me how glad she is that I finally have a therapist who can do the work with me having seen first-hand how damaging it was with Em. That always feels nice to hear. Sometimes I wonder if it’s all just in my head (the closeness between A and I) but I suppose having seen me recount my experiences with Em it would be hard not to see the difference!
Anyway, this particular day I could feel that ‘hole in my chest’ so painfully – it was excruciating. It’s where the mother wound and the grief of my dad dying and my family cutting me off so many other losses are. The blackness was powerful that day that I felt like I was going to fall headfirst into it. Only on this day I could also feel its edges – sore and molten hot.
It’s horrible feeling like there’s an enormous void where your heart is. The endless black is awful, but the edges of this hole feel like a combination of a huge mouth ulcer – the stinging, searing pain is unbelievable. And then there are some areas that are sort of crusted over – like when a volcano has been spewing lava and the top layer starts to cool and goes black, but the cracks show that it’s still molten red hot a few centimetres down…
I don’t know what’s worse really, being sucked into the abyss or the searing pain of the edge.
So anyway, that’s what it’s been like these last couple of weeks on a physical level…it’s really nuts how somatised the trauma is and when the attachment stuff is triggered how agonising it feels.
I seem to have rattled on loads about that when actually I wanted to talk about how therapy with Anita has been. It’s been largely fine. I’ve disappeared or come close to disappearing a few times but that’s not surprising given we were so close the therapy break.
We were talking about the black hole/inner void the other day and Anita asked if she might hold my hand to stop me falling in. I was quite shut down at that point and refused. It’s that horrible situation where I’m so desperately in need of a hand or a hug and Anita will offer it, but it feels impossible for me to accept it in the moment. I feel so far away and disconnected that I can’t reach out. It’s almost like Anita isn’t there…or I am not there.
Parts of me are screaming and yet I am frozen. The protective part has total control over the rest of the parts- when it’s bad like this it feels like a prison guard, really.
And the prison is fucking horrible, too. Cold, metal, damp…soooooo lonely.
It’s terrible for those parts locked inside, too:
The baby: is screaming on the floor on a blanket, hungry, cold, and in desperate need of holding and soothing. The distress is palpable.
The toddler: is standing still, facing away from me. She doesn’t make a sound. She already knows there’s no point in crying because no one comes. She looks so neglected and so lacking in love. She’s another little one who really needs a cuddle from A.
The four-year-old: is sad and is trying to seek comfort from the older teen but she’s ignored and pushed away and doesn’t understand why no one wants to look after her. She wants A but has no idea where she is.
The seven-year-old and eleven-year-old: are sitting in the corner playing ‘rock paper scissors’. They don’t make a fuss and are used to making the best of a bad situation. Eleven is pretty self-sufficient and although she’d love the attention of a caring adult like A she knows when there are so many other younger, needy parts she goes unnoticed.
The younger teen: is fed up. She doesn’t know what to do to make things better for herself. She looks at eleven and sees what a good girl she is and wonders what chance she has of someone loving and noticing her if even the ‘perfect’ girl is neglected and abandoned.
The older teen: has her headphones in her ears listening to her soundtrack of angst and is staring blankly at the wall. She’s chronically depressed. Thoughts of self-harm and anorexia run on loop in her head, and she wants to die and escape the pain of never being good enough and no one caring.
So…yeah…that’s fucking fun!
Fortunately, Anita is solid and present and persists with me and eventually things feel safe enough to come closer. The other day she said, “I feel like I want to give you hug and ground you again. I can feel you are going further away. Would that be ok?” And the protector opened the gate and let all the needy parts out. Well some of them, anyway!
I don’t know why I can’t just get the memo that Anita is safe from the start. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I can sit down and ask for what I need almost immediately but then I guess the closer the break has got, the harder it has felt because those parts that fear abandonment were fast approaching an abandonment (even though that isn’t really what it is).
I think part of it is also that my mum used to disappear and was never the same when she returned. There was no solid base to land on or build on. Who knew what kind of mood she’d be in on a Friday? – and so this is the legacy playing out with A. I have to be careful and check that things are ok and safe…because they haven’t always been (growing up). It’s like starting from scratch over and over again.
A says that, “it doesn’t have to be scary anymore” but it’s so hard when the reality is it is scary for those parts when she goes away…because what happens if she doesn’t come back?…What happens if she goes away and realises how easy it is without me bothering her?…What happens if she comes back and has finally reached her limit?
There’s been a lot of reassurance going on in recent sessions and outside them. She tells me I am not too much and that she is not fed up with me. She’s assured me (repeatedly) that “nothing is going to change” whilst she’s gone. She says, “I will be back. And I won’t have changed. We won’t have changed. It’ll still be exactly the same” on a loop!
And it really does help. Although listening to me rattle on here I’m guessing it’s hard to see evidence of that!
On Friday, just gone, I had horrible headache. It was definitely tension and anxiety about the break causing it. I so badly wanted the final session to feel connected and holding. I had read a chunk of our WhatsApp thread of messages the night before the session, and I really wanted to go in and tell Anita how thankful I am to her for being so consistent and caring even when I have been throwing everything at her. Seeing message after message demonstrating her care even when I was being a pain in the arse really hit home. The testing that went on during the lockdown in November was really something else and the scale of the meltdowns were – yikes!
How she didn’t just turn round and say, “FFS RB what more do you want from me? In how many ways and how many times do I have to prove that I care about you to you? Are you stupid or something? – just look at the evidence!” But she never has. She never makes me feel like I am a burden or annoying for it taking my parts so long to get on board and trust. She doesn’t get frustrated treading the same ground over and over week in week out and it really has made a massive difference to how I feel.
I wanted to go in, sit down and tell her all of that but I just couldn’t look at her. She obviously knows that this break is proving hard (before it’s even begun), but I didn’t want her to look at me and see it in my eyes. I didn’t want to be so exposed. The sadness about her going away overshadowed my ability to tell her how grateful I am to her for being awesome.
Even though I couldn’t say what I had planned, I managed to ask if I could hold her hand and reached out across the sofa. It wasn’t long until I was cuddled into her, and she pretty much held me for the entire session as I cycled through all the feelings. It felt really healing at times just being quiet together and then it’d flip into being really painful. The young parts could feel time ticking away and it felt horrid knowing that she’d be gone really soon.
I felt like I was trying to absorb every second of the time with her. It was like I was trying to pour the feeling of being safe and held into a container inside me so I would have it when she wasn’t there anymore. I really wish it were possible to do that! So often it feels like this lovely connected, safe feeling just slips like sand, or water, through my fingers and is gone.
Knowing she would be gone on holiday also tapped into all the fear about her maybe going away and dying just like my dad did. It’s creeping towards the anniversary of that trauma, too, so I always find the summer breaks most difficult of all the therapy breaks.
K noted, last week, that there’ve been so many different disruptions over the last year (not just usual run of the mill therapy breaks which we all are used to). It’s been so on and off with lockdowns – moving back and forth from online to face-to-face back to online etc. And for some people I know that has been totally fine, they even report preferring remote therapy…but I am not one of those people! I hate it (*sidenote – I don’t hate it as much as no session/contact at all and sometimes a check in online is really helpful!). So, it’s not surprising that breaks might feel a bit harder this year because it’s an additional disruption after having had so many already.
Don’t get me wrong, Anita needs her break and she more than deserves it, but I am not going to beat myself up about feeling sad and lost over this because whilst she hasn’t had many ‘holiday breaks’ in the time we’ve worked together (not enough by any stretch of the imagination), there has been an unusual level of disruption and interruption to the therapy because of the pandemic. So, I think I can extend myself a bit of compassion and say it’s ok to feel off when my attachment figure is gone – even if it is only for two weeks.
Towards the end of Friday’s session, I asked if we could read stories together as I thought this might help the youngest parts before the holiday. It was so lovely listening to Anita read the books and looking at the pictures together and being close. The young parts really enjoyed it. No one ever read to me as a child, and I feel like I really missed out – I feel like bedtime story time is probably the most important time of the day with my kids (and not because there’ll be peace in half an hour once it’s over!).
Anyway, the session was soon over, and I felt that sadness land heavy back in my stomach which had been gurgling noisily all session! When it was time to leave Anita reminded me to take Elephant with me. It was sitting on the side waiting for me when I walked in the room, and I couldn’t help but smile inside when I saw it. At the end of Monday’s session, I had asked A if she might wash it for me before she went away and she said, “Of course” as if it was a completely normal and reasonable request.
It felt like quite a big thing to ask for – vulnerability overload – and I can only imagine the look of horror and disgust on Em’s face had I ever had taken a soft toy to a session or, God forbid, ask her to do that for me and then braced for the “No” and the “I don’t work in that way” speech. But as usual Anita wasn’t fazed by my request at all. I guess she knows why I wanted her to do it. I always say to her how I like how she smells and the steady beat of her heart … well, a little part of me does, anyway!
I’ve said, here, before how when she cuddles me that one of the things I find really soothing is how she smells – it’s fresh laundry and clean hair…it’s Anita…and now I associate that smell with being safe and feeling at ‘home’. I knew this break was going to be super hard for the smallest parts of me and so I thought that if she washed the elephant, it would smell familiar and safe – comforting – when things felt overwhelming.
It does really work, too. I’ve had a fucking nightmare of a weekend –I’ve been hugely unsettled during the day and had absolutely terrifying nightmares. I always have bad dreams/nightmares anyway, but they’ve not been as bad as this since I stopped therapy with Em (the first time) in 2013 on the NHS (too soon – but time limited therapy is like this!) and had six solid weeks of night terrors. I’m back in the realms of the decaying dead bodies of children, life-threatening illness, and being destroyed by people exerting power over me in spooky, haunted houses in the dark again now – but at least Anita hasn’t featured in them just yet.
I woke up at 2am this morning, my heart was racing, I was physically shaking, and I was utterly terrified. I felt so scared and upset when I woke up from the nightmare that I reached for my elephant and cuddled it tight. It instantly started to ground those parts who were so frightened because it makes it feel like A is actually real, still. I can almost imagine that I am safe cuddled into her – and really that’s what those young parts need.
I know that must all sound pretty bonkers but meh, fuck it, do you know what? I don’t even care anymore – I’ve been through the emotional wringer for years feeling so lost and abandoned during breaks so seeing as it works for me, I’m taking it as a win!
Don’t get me wrong. The elephant isn’t going to solve everything. I know I am in for a rough ride over the next couple of weeks and I guess I’ll just have to be curious and conscious of what’s going on. Not going to lie… kind of willing time forward to June 21st and trying, at the same time, to not panic and freak out about how I will see Anita over the school summer holidays when my kids are off.
I know the longer the break goes on the harder it is going to be. When Anita told me about her holiday weeks ago she said we could text when she was away, but then she didn’t say anything about it on Friday so I’m feeling like perhaps I shouldn’t…
It’s been an ‘interesting’ couple of weeks in therapy, but I can’t tell you much about any of it because there are huge voids where the memories should be, still. I don’t know what’s going on, really. Everything is just a bit of a blur and whilst I am aware that I have had quite difficult emotional periods over the last week I am not entirely sure what’s triggering it – other than the upcoming break.
I suppose it’s not just ‘other than the upcoming break’ because the reality is that breaks are a BIG DEAL to the young parts, especially as those little ones haven’t experienced a two-week therapy break since last summer. At that point they weren’t as ‘in the relationship’ with A as they are now because the therapy was still quite new. I wasn’t so attached back then, and we were working online in that first (endless) lockdown, so the absence wasn’t quite as striking as it is when there is a disruption to my face-to-face therapy now.
We all know that I’ve been crap and grumpy when Anita and I have had to revert back to online therapy for some bits of the more recent lockdowns. I can’t help it, I miss the physical contact and the energy in the room…I miss Anita…and the cuddles! The lockdowns weren’t great (understatement) but I didn’t even cope especially well recently even with that one missed/cancelled session when A’s daughter might have had covid…so imagine how it’s going to be with four missed sessions!
Although, to be fair, if you dig beneath all these disruptions to my therapy and the resulting meltdowns there’s more to them than meets the eye. It’s not just because I can’t see A. I freaked out in lockdown two because Anita had promised she’d see me and then ended up going away to bubble with her partner – it felt like she’d lied to me and it felt so abandoning. The mess up with the recent covid cancellation hurt because Anita was actually still working but just didn’t think I’d want to work online…and that stung because it felt like she didn’t see my need.
Shoot me now!
Anyway, it’s bank-holiday this weekend and even though Anita and I have scheduled a session for Tuesday that wasn’t without its stresses/miscommunication either.
Weeks ago, A and I arranged via a text that we would do 10am on Tuesday instead of our regular Monday time. That felt fine…until Friday, last week, when Anita text me after our session and said, ‘I hope your day is improving. I have just realised we haven’t talked about another day for BH Monday. Can you do Tuesday 1st at 11:15?’
This text immediately set the cat amongst the pigeons internally. She’d obviously forgotten we’d made the plan and whilst the 11:15 was no big deal – the time was fine – to parts inside it felt massive. She’d obviously now booked the 10 o clock session with someone else…and that felt…like… I had been replaced I guess….but also forgotten about and not kept in mind. I dunno. I know it’s not actually a big deal really and so I replied and said that yes, that was fine and that we had had the conversation but 11:15 was fine too. Anita apologised and that was that.
She has no idea how much this tiny thing actually affected or how much it’s been niggling away at me since but really, I can’t even be bothered to go into it with her. She’s so great so much of the time that surely, I can cope with the physical reminder that there are (of course) other people that Anita sees. LOL.
I can’t lie, though. I was disappointed. I guess it’s because I already worry about being forgotten about anyway, and this message seems to confirm that Anita had forgotten me (or at least believed she had).
Also, I quite like the fact that I am the first client of the day. I guess I feel like Anita is fresh/ready for the day ahead and not already on the treadmill of work counting down the hours/clients (not that she probably does this anyway, but…). I also don’t get any sense of anyone else having been there in the room – no perfume, warm chairs or anything like that (which would send me off my rocker – remember the box the other week?!). I guess, also, if I am honest, I know that she hasn’t touched or cuddled anyone else yet that day. The idea of cuddling into her after someone else might have been crying on her just feels…ugh…I dunno…
I am basically just a spoilt brat with massive sibling jealousy. Can you tell I am an only child?! Lol.
So, anyway, because of this timetabling mix up I have been pretty discombobulated this week. On Monday I think (having had a conversation about it on Friday with Anita because I couldn’t remember anything that happened – it was just a black hole) it was False Adult that was fronting for a long time in my session, and it wasn’t until about fifteen minutes before the end that I felt like I connected to A and let my vulnerable self come out. I obviously didn’t tell her about the upset about the session for Tuesday … and now I wonder if that’s what was stopping me connecting. Probably. Ugh, maybe I should bring it up…but…oh the SHAME!!!
The way the session went left me feeling quite out of sorts for the whole of Monday. I am so conscious of the fact that everything is getting unsettled, and the break is coming and I really want to feel safe and connected before Anita goes away and not disconnected and far away.
For most of Monday after the session I could feel that angry part who wants to cut and run fronting. Maybe it was the teen? Even though the young parts were in meltdown this protective part was determined not to reach out to Anita or give her any indication that things felt off between us…or at least with me. ‘What’s the point? She’s leaving soon, right?’ –
Ugh. That voice!
When will she give up?!
Anyway, by about 9 o clock I was in bed. I was so so tired. I had my salt lamp on (birthday present from A) and I was cuddling into my big dog. The critic and teen or whoever it was had powered down and all I was left with were those little ones who felt desperately sad that they had not been able to get enough of what they needed in the session that morning. Without even thinking I text Anita. I didn’t expect her to respond but I felt better for having let those young parts let something out.
This is the exchange:
It felt so settling and I went to sleep with no bother at all… and no bad dreams for the first time in ages! Win! I know that this is a million miles away from most therapies. I mean I did years with Em stone cold in that room with no contact outside contact at all and I can imagine that this probably feels to some people like there are no boundaries in this relationship. But there are and I am really clear on what they are. Boundaries don’t have to be barriers and the key thing for me doing this work is authenticity. For those of us with complex trauma I think it’s really helpful when we get to see a bit of a real person with feelings and emotions.
You’d think that exchange would have been enough for the week to run smoothly.
Because we are right in the thick of my wounding now and the messy attachment stuff. It’s basically developmental trauma #101!!
As the week went on, I felt increasingly disconnected from Anita again. The woeful Wednesday separation anxiety kicked my arse and the young parts were freaking out. Honestly, the anxiety about this summer break is so bad for them but I am not surprised as we have been looking a lot at my early years and how it was with my mum lately so that stuff feels really live. On Thursday night I actually felt like cancelling my Friday session. Things felt that bad.
I text Anita a GIF of a character having a meltdown with their face under a pillow…basically me. And a photo of something I had just let the young parts express:
I had tuned into what was going on and wrote it out. I can’t believe I sent it but hey, there we are – these things happen now and it’s ok. There’s no boundary talk, instead there’s engagement about what it is I am trying to say.
Anita saw the message and told me she was sending me a ‘big hug filled with love’ and a really reassuring message that said we could start earlier on Friday if I wanted as she thought it would be a good idea. There was still so much conflict going on inside that I didn’t actually respond to the message until Friday morning but when I woke up, I was feeling so much better and so relieved that A had suggested we could do a longer session.
Anita says it’s important that we pay attention to all the parts of me and listen to what they are trying to say. She’s sure that at the moment my protectors are doing their best to sabotage the relationship because they think it’s better to leave than get left…and that’s really how it is…EVEN THOUGH IT’S JUST A HOLIDAY AND NOT A FUCKING ENDING!
Sometimes I feel like my protective parts are just arseholes but, I do know they are trying to do their job. It’s just a bit mortifying when this stuff is playing out in your late thirties and not your mid-teens. Although those parts don’t know I am here and are locked back in 1998!
Anyway, I am meandering slowly toward the point here… there’ve been a couple of sessions lately where I have been really unsettled and no matter what we do I just feel like I am cycling through heaps of uncomfortable states. It’s like I’m trying to land myself in my ‘letterbox’ of tolerance but it’s windy and stormy and so the plane keeps missing the spot and instead lands in hypo or hyper arousal. I feel like I am not in the room. Like Anita is not there. My body hurts. I feel sick. I feel dizzy. I go numb. It’s dark. I feel shaky. The parts inside are screaming. You name it and I’ve probably been there in those sessions.
So. Friday was ugh. Not because Anita was distant, or I was a million miles from her – that wasn’t how it was. I hugged her the moment she opened the front door and snuggled into her within a minute of getting in the room. There was nothing at all wrong in that regard and yet still I couldn’t properly settle. We spoke about it. Tried to pinpoint what was going on. Dipped in and out of a lot of different conversations. We laughed. I cried. But despite all this I felt really really agitated and disconnected – or at least a key part did. It was as if I couldn’t relax into this calm, nurturing space properly……………… WHY?? ….. well, probably because that calm nurturing space isn’t there on Monday and then won’t be there for two weeks soon.
Anita wondered if I felt frustrated that I couldn’t connect in the way I wanted and I said that was the case. She asked me if I wanted to do some drawing because we had spoken about how maybe doing something creative might help when it feels like this. I said I didn’t want to. Basically the idea of being even slightly separated from her in the room felt awful…again right now it’s the really young stuff being triggered.
A couple of weeks ago when I was in a similar state Anita read me a story I had brought in called, ‘Barbara Throws A Wobbler’ by Nadia Shireen and it really settled those child parts.
Listening to a story read by A, written in language that was accessible to them and with pictures to look at grounded those parts and I felt way more connected and present in the room.
I sometimes feel like my young parts are just outside the door or are suspended just out of reach looking in and it’s horrible until they can get inside and close to A.
I had seen the book not long after having a massive wobbler in a session earlier that week and it really captures just how awful it feels when that angry tantruming part takes over and freaks out over really small things. In the end, the main character realises that this big scary Wobbler is actually a part of her, and she has the power to shrink it rather than be taken over by it. She knows it will come back but she isn’t frightened of it anymore.
At the end of the book there are pictures of a bunch of other characters (that don’t have their own story) and I asked if maybe we could draw our own versions of these character soon. I had said my Wobbler wasn’t a red angry jelly and was more like a black smoky Dementor out of Harry Potter but I thought there was probably some good work to be done here.
So, on Friday when I was struggling to connect despite the closeness A wondered if maybe it’d help if she read me another story rather than drawing? I bought her ‘The Rabbit Listened’ on the first therapy anniversary and we haven’t looked at it together yet, and at Christmas I gave her ‘The Hug’. I joked that one day I would stop giving her kids’ books. Although probably not just yet!
Whilst I really did want a story the idea of Anita getting up and moving even to the other side of the room felt unbearable. I said to A, “I don’t want to let go.” A wondered whether I thought that if I let go I might disappear and I nodded into her chest and murmured – “or you might.” A held me close for a while and I settle more and eventually I said that I would like a story. She asked which I’d prefer. The Hug was already in the room on the shelf and the other books were in another room. I opted for The Hug – less far to go.
Anita sat back down on the sofa and I cuddled back into her and she read the story to me. Her voice was so soothing, and she did the voices of the characters and everything. No joke, all that agitated shit I’d been battling just disappeared and I landed in the room and into the moment with a gentle thud. It was so nice to feel the tension leave my body and feel fully present (all the parts).
Up until that point I felt like even though I had been cuddling A, listening to her heartbeat, talking, laughing etc there had been a part of me holding myself so tightly inside. It’s almost like being in a full body shackle – it protects that most vulnerable bit of me but it’s hideous. But the story did something and all that just fell away. I really enjoyed looking at the pictures and felt so held and contained.
I haven’t read the story before but have seen snippets of it online and knew enough about it to want to send it to Anita at Christmas. It’s really lovely and simple. It’s about a hedgehog and a tortoise who are both desperate for a hug but all the animals they meet won’t give them one. They’re too busy for a hug, but also, as it turns out people are put off by the hedgehog’s spikes and the tortoise’s hard shell. The book runs half-way on the hedgehog’s story then you flip it over and read the tortoise’s story from the back to the middle. In the centre pages of the book the two characters meet and get to hug each other because they are perfect for each other. The book says ‘there is someone for everyone’.
Anita finished the book and said, “hugs are really really important, aren’t they?” I didn’t say anything but seeing as I was cuddled into her body and had been for the entire session I wasn’t about to disagree!
After the story the young parts told Anita about my tortoise that I had been looking after for someone, but they have given him to me. It was small talk, but it felt really connecting. I guess because I felt so much more present and connected.
I left feeling so much better than I had done when I arrived and throughout the week. I feel settled even though it’s a BH weekend. I’ve been productive in my garden – turning the meadow back into a lawn! Can I get a shout out for the sunshine? After a month of solid rain and cloud here I hardly know myself now there is blue sky and wall to wall sunshine.
I hope you guys are all making the most of it too (UK readers obvs as no idea what it’s like elsewhere on the planet!)x
This post should really be called ‘I don’t know if…’ because everything is in flux and I seem to have no concrete understanding of what’s going on with me. I couldn’t even think of a title for this post – it’s like my brain has turned into gloopy porridge.
My memory is really, really bad at the moment, too. I don’t know why it’s happening, but it’s making everything quite challenging. Imagine teaching and not being able to bring technical language or specific details in texts to mind (in exam season!). I have been coming back to this blog on and off all week (don’t seem to have the attention span to sit down and bang a post out) and I have to keep rereading it each time I sit down at the laptop because I have no clue what I have already written!
I was laughing (crazed, nervous laugh) about this stuff with K last week. When she asked how I was doing, I said that I felt like was having a relatively calm time, internally. I said I felt pretty chilled, but didn’t know whether I was genuinely ok or just dissociating a lot of the time (especially as I can’t remember anything!). Sometimes it’s hard to know. Trauma really is the gift that keeps on giving, isn’t it?! In the moment I thought I was calm, felt quite still and grounded, but then about half an hour later I burst into tears and was physically shaking (it felt like it came out of left field – there was no obvious trigger) and K ended up holding me until it passed.
This episode made me realise that there’s still a lot buried under the surface that is needing to come up and out. The little girl/s inside are still very distressed and the pain hasn’t really gone away. Those child parts can still arrive out of nowhere and hijack my adult…which is a bit scary!…but then I suppose it’s not necessarily hijacking if it happens in a therapeutic space???
Like I say, I don’t know if I am just massively dissociated or whether my feelings are just more fluid than they used to be and so I experience periods of genuine calm and being more embodied but then the internal tide can change and the other painful stuff comes up and I’m back in the danger zone and stuck in survival mode. I definitely don’t feel locked in a perpetual state of distress and panic and abandonment where my stomach and solar plexus ache ALL THE TIME now. Yay! There’s definite movement in and out of that horrible place. I think, too, that my system is learning that there are safe people to experience these difficult feelings with. So when I feel contained and cared for and supported with, and by, those safe people, I can get in touch with the feelings more fully and have them witnessed and attended to.
I have no idea, really! I am just making this shit up as I go along! Lol!
Don’t get me wrong, the distressed child parts still make enough appearances when there’s no one around to soothe them. Sadly, I’m still frequently left feeling small and lost and on my own in the week between sessions. Wednesdays are still fucking hideous and I don’t know what to do about that…
So things aren’t perfect but they are much much better than they were a couple of years ago.
Anyway, as I said a minute ago, whole chunks of time are just gone from my mind at the moment. I don’t know whether it’s because after months and months of intense stress that my life now appears to be settling down (please let that be the case!) and so because it’s ‘quieter’ I feel like I’m missing stuff. But perhaps, I am not forgetting stuff because maybe there’s just fuck-all going on! Or nothing that is going to threaten my actual existence, anyway…
I have no idea…
Anita asked me on Monday about my weekend and it took quite a long time to dredge up the memory of the preceding 72 hours. In the initial moment there was just a void where memory should be and this is also how it feels when I try and bring the last few therapy sessions to mind, too. Again, I don’t know whether it’s because things are actually really ‘ok’ and therefore not memorable or whether it’s just gone into the black zone.
I’ve always been someone who has an almost photographic memory for situations and conversations – who knows when you might need a soundbite to back up an argument?! – but lately this is happening less and less…it’s a bit unnerving to be honest.
I guess I’ve either got early onset Alzheimer’s, a bad bout of dissociation, or maybe, just maybe, my system is beginning to settle down here and there when I am with Anita (or K) and so feels safe enough not to be on mega alert ALL THE TIME and therefore doesn’t have to remember everything that happens between us in finite detail. I am leaning towards the last one because when I think about it and do a body scan at the same time, there is nothing freaking out inside (well not today anyway!).
Right now, (I think) I feel settled inside…but hey, it could be dissociation, couldn’t it?! I think the parts are quite calm today (Monday) because I have just had a really grounding connected time with Anita and so it’s as close as it gets to feeling safe inside as it can. It doesn’t last all that long (yet) because invariably those little parts start missing her and begin to panic when they can’t see her and then freak out believing that they’ve been abandoned or that she’s dead – but for now, today – it feels nice. So, I’m trying to make the most of it.
I know I was really unsettled last weekend when I blogged here. Partly because of the episode with the ‘box’ the week before and all the cumulative shit that had gone on since Easter break, the ‘vet’ thing, the ‘being busy’ thing, the ‘COVID daughter’ thing, the ‘session cancellation’ thing the ‘break in June’ thing…bleurgh…
In and of themselves these are all small things but as I text Anita on Friday it’s what it all taps into that makes all this stuff feel enormous and scary:
And that kind of sums it up. I know why this stuff triggers me but it really doesn’t make it any easier when it’s happening. I’ve felt like a rag doll in a washing machine for a lot of the last month but thankfully I seem to be more or less over it! The majority of the ‘small’ stuff that was bothering me had sorted out by the end of the week which left the main ‘big’ thing that was upsetting and unsettling me ready to be looked at on Friday.
What’s the big thing?
Well, it’s my friend terminating with her therapist of many years under horrible circumstances. I’m sure she’ll write about it soon, here, so I won’t go into details because it’s not my story to tell – but I feel so sad for her as none of what’s happened is her fault. What’s happened to her has brought all the stuff with Em back to the surface again and then, of course, has led me to feel really scared about the relationship with Anita because my friend’s therapist used to be so much like Anita.
In fact, it was my friend’s relationship with her therapist that made me realise that I could expect more from therapy and saw that it is possible to bring all the parts to therapy and have some of your needs met by someone else. You don’t have to be left squirming and alone in the room and can be in a caring relationship. So, of course, now that it’s all blown up parts of me are terrified that if I really and truly let my guard down, fully show all of myself and the extent of the wounding, then it’s inevitable that Anita will get overwhelmed and disappear, too…because even the good therapists can’t go the distance.
It’s so hard to feel safe when it feels like everywhere you look there’s some poor client being harmed in therapy and it’s all just too close to home right now. The Em stuff is still so recent and unprocessed for lots of my younger parts that what’s happened has lit the touch paper on my fear and sent everyone inside into meltdown.
When I went to see Anita on Friday, I felt like everything was wrong inside. It feels like everything is being shaken up and it makes me feel sick. Adult me knows she’s safe and trustworthy and the youngest parts feel like she is, too, but the teens and other protectors inside were freaking out,
“We cannot withstand another rejection or abandonment like what happened Em…or H…it’s not safe…we’re still not over what happened last year…please be careful with us all.”
And then young parts started wailing,
“Don’t keep us locked away in the dark. We don’t like being alone. It’s scary. Anita feels safe and when she can’t see us it feels horrible…and she’s going away soon and then we will really be alone.”
I am so aware that when I go into a panic about being rejected or abandoned it can really go one of…errr… three ways. First is, I disappear altogether into the black abyss frozen and silent; second is the False Adult takes charge and does some kind of smoke and mirrors exercise to keep Anita off the scent; and third – if the wind is blowing in the right direction- I can tell her what’s going on, or what the parts are trying to do and thinking.
On Friday, I let her know what was happening and how bad it felt and we talked it through. And as usual she was so calm and understanding and REASSURING that it allowed those really shaky, scared parts to calm down and regulate. Where I would have felt massive amounts of shame and embarrassment with Em (because she was so uncomfortable discussing our relationship) and so I’d keep this stuff to myself, I can feel it with Anita and let it out in the room with her. She gets it and helps process it.
I don’t feel like a massive weirdo telling her that the breakdown of a therapeutic relationship is painful and talking with her takes the edge off the panic. She’s been so understanding about what happened with Em and again just really tuned into why what’s happened to my friend has sent things into freefall.
As the session was ending and I said,
“It’s going to get easier, isn’t it?”
We had already discussed how for the young parts it feels really scary when the same stuff seems to happen over and over as if it’s evidence that it will happen again to me. Anita couldn’t have been more emphatic or straightforward in her reassurance. She held me closer to her and replied, “Yeah. I’m a great believer in that. I’m not going to go anywhere. You’re not too hard work. And I have no intentions of ending.”
She went on, “That’s what I mean [referring to what had happened with my friend]. It fucks it up for everybody. Excuse my language! But it really does. It takes all that trust from everybody. That’s what makes me so angry [harmful experiences with therapists]. It’s so fragile. It takes a long time to build trust…”
This last week Anita told me that we are on this journey together and she’s signed up for the whole ride not just the easy bits. I joked/groaned that she thought she was getting the bus to the beach and instead we’ve ended up in a swamp with a flat tyre. Anita said that she knew from my very first e-mail that the journey wasn’t going to be straightforward, that there was a lot of trauma, and that sometimes the best memories come from hard journeys that don’t go exactly as you’d planned.
She said in real life she likes walking off the beaten track and through brambles because you often find surprising things and beautiful things and it’s the same with the therapy. She said she gets a lot from the journey, too, it’s not just me that is changed by the relationship and that we are learning together. She said that she won’t always get it right but that she will always be alongside me. And I really believe her when she says it. It’s not meaningless platitudes and empty reassurances. I genuinely feel like she means what she says. Anita feels really authentic and human and that’s great after so long working in a vacuum with a blank screen. And sure, sometimes she gets it wrong BUT she always does her best to put it right when she does and her apologies feel genuine.
I haven’t described any of that very well but basically recently Anita’s been on a loop of ‘don’t panic, you’re not too much, and I’m with you for whatever comes our way’ lately. Personally, I’d quite like to go to the beach but am resigned, now, to the fact that sometimes we go off-roading through the shit and are slowly making it through the swamp! – can’t go over it, can’t go under it, oh no, we’ve got to go through it!
I know I say it a lot, but the reason so much of this work can be done is because Anita lets me so close to her. The fact that I go in and she sits beside me rather than on the other side of the room in her chair goes such a long way to settling and regulating my system. Those parts that have felt so alone and abandoned and full of shame, see that this person is not put off by them and is happy to come close despite the narrative that has been playing for a lifetime about being too much, and unlovable, and untouchable… and more recently ‘adhesive’ and ‘like a tick’.
We sometimes laugh together about me being like a rescue dog but it’s true – although I think I bark a little less than her actual rescue dog! Anita keeps holding out her hand to me and using the soothing voice and little by little the scared parts are moving towards her. She said in our very first session that she knew it would take time for me to trust being in therapy (and with her) after what happened with Em. She said I was brave for even trying therapy again.
She said she would wait for me to feel ready to come to her because if she forced it, it would be like her telling me to put my hand back in a fire having just sustained third degree burns. I’d have to be mad to do it! And so, she waited and honestly, I cannot believe how things are with her now. She’s not a fire though, she’s a fire blanket – the complete antithesis to Em. She puts out the fire and makes it safe to be there with her. There is nothing at all threatening about Anita. Pretty much everything I get panicked about is served up by my own trauma brain running to worst case scenario, not actually any genuine vibe that Anita has given off.
These last few weeks, I have been stressed about her getting fed up with me and wanting to get rid of me – especially because finances have been a real problem. Despite working things out with that, and her promising she’s here for the long haul, I feel even less worthy of her care. Like, surely, if someone who is less complex (and that’s basically any other person who wants counselling!) and demanding comes along and can pay her full fee then she’d be stupid not to take the money and ditch the stress, wouldn’t she?
It’s shit feeling this way.
Anita assures me that I am worthy of her time and care, that I am lovable and all the nice things but ugh…it’s tough, because there are so many parts in play, and there are so many that already have such a low opinion of themselves that it’s going to take a lot of repetition for it to wear a deep groove inside.
Having this conversation, the other day, Anita turned things round and said, “You might get fed up with me.” I felt every part of my system shake their heads. Like, “Not gonna happen, lady!” Anita said that perhaps sometimes when I text her and she doesn’t always reply I might feel fed up. She said that she does try to reply because she’s aware of how unsettled I get with this kind of thing but also acknowledged that sometimes she’ll see a message and be in the middle of something and mentally register to reply when she’s free and then will forget.
She said that she has a terrible memory (looks like that’s both of us then!) and that if she doesn’t reply to a message, it’s not because she doesn’t want to, or doesn’t care, but sometimes she just forgets. It was a really human interaction and it went a really long way down into those parts who so often feel like maybe something has changed or gone wrong if there is no reply when actually it’s just life. We all do it.
I don’t tend to text long deep stuff very often, it’s more about checking in (‘are you still there?’), I am the queen of GIFS (have you noticed?) and so largely communicate through pictures – but to hear that Anita isn’t staying away or being distant because I’m too much or ‘bombarding’ her is huge.
These conversations would have felt (were!) impossible with Em and yet they just happen with A. She really thinks about how this stuff and what she says and does (or doesn’t do) impacts me. It’s not about how my texts are a hassle to her or are a boundary crossed. Being able to call that conversation to mind these last few days (we’re at Thursday now!) has been really helpful as the really painful feelings of being lost, alone, and abandoned landed with a thud yesterday morning and were chased up by a horrible dream about Anita so I’ve felt really vulnerable and needy.
Nearly all the time now, (unless something really is really triggered) I can ask Anita for a cuddle and she never says no or pushes me away. If I am triggered, shut down, or far away she always finds a way to get to me. So, whatever happens the young parts get what they need. Anita holds me for as long as I need and even comments on how much I need the holding which makes me feel less like a tick clinging on than I might otherwise have felt. She says how she can feel the change in my body/system as the session goes on and how grounding it is for me to have that closeness and proximity.
It takes quite a long time to ‘land’ in the room and I think this the case for quite a few of us with C-PTSD. It’s often not until the 45-50 minute mark that my system settles fully.
This is why 50 minute sessions just didn’t work for me (alongside having had a therapist that didn’t care!). Even an hour feels a bit too short and I seem to finally arrive and then suddenly it’s the end. I find when we do 1hr 15 minute sessions I feel way more settled and grounded because it really gives those young parts time to rest and feel safe in that holding before having to go back out into the outside world and go it alone.
When everything feels like it’s swirling about inside being physically close really helps bring things back to a manageable level. The young parts, especially the ones that have no words, get such a lot from the cuddles. I’ve said before how listening to Anita’s steady heartbeat feels really settling. I have noticed, too, how often, when I am upset, I barely breathe and yet over time mine and Anita’s breathing becomes synchronised – I mean I start to breathe, not that she holds hers! It’s coregulation in action.
The other thing that brings my system into the window of tolerance aside from the touch is smell. Oh god this is cringey, but it’s true.
Anita smells really nice. It’s the smell of fresh washing and I associate it now with feeling safe and connected. I was thinking about this the other day – and whilst it might sound really weird going on about how she smells (!) and why I like it, I think on a biological level there’s something in this.
When babies are born, they can’t really see very well, but they know who mum is, they know her smell and they’re like little breast/milk seeking missiles. I know when I had to give up breastfeeding (so I could start chemo) I couldn’t be anywhere near my son whilst my wife was transitioning him onto a bottle and formula. She’d be feeding him, he’d be snuggled into her, but even if I quietly entered the room he’d rear up and try and move towards me and get unsettled because he wanted me (or at least to be breastfed not bottlefed) – I’m guessing we must give off some kind of mummy milk smell that trumps the bottle.
Anyway, I think in some kind of way this is what happens with smell now. I associate Anita’s smell with feeling safe and secure. Obviously, it’s not the same as a baby seeking a breast but I think on a biological and unconscious level there are at least some similarities. I think this is why so many people find either spraying something with their therapist’s perfume or taking a scarf/item of clothing or some other item that smells like their therapist helpful on breaks. One of my friend’s therapist gives her a blanket that she washes specially just before a break and it really helps her. When the young parts are wobbling and dysregulated closing your eyes and being able to breathe in that smell that is associated with feeling safe and held must go a long way.
I’ll just leave that there as feel like I have probably descended into the ‘eyebrow raising’ area for some readers! – although I know that many others will be nodding in agreement and completely get it and so this is for you guys!
Ummm. Even though I am on my arse today and struggling with the separation and young parts are not having a good time at all, it’s not because I think Anita has changed or is about to abandon me (which is what used to happen). Now it’s more about missing her and just wanting to be contained in that safe bubble.
I think for the longest time I have carried everything on my own. It’s been hard and uncomfortable but it’s known. Now, I am starting to trust someone else and let them hold some of the pain with me and it feels really good when I am safe and secure in the room but it’s just really hard being outside that space. Rather than being stuck in perpetual pain and powering through, it’s like swinging on a pendulum. So now when the hard stuff rears up and I am on my own, it feels even more difficult because I know now what it is to feel safe with someone but I can’t access that when I need it.
I know this is all part of the process right now, and it’s just the stage I am at but ugh… help!!
When things feel hard it’s not surprising that I want to retreat into the sanctuary of the therapy room and be with Anita because she feels safe on so many levels. We talk about all kinds of shit. Like, literally, we can swing between serious trauma stuff, to dogs rolling in diarrhoea in the blink of an eye. I love how it feels so easy and connected. I like how we laugh together (or perhaps she’s just laughing at me!) and the serious stuff sits alongside the lighter stuff. It always felt so painful with Em. So sterile and formal. So isolated. With Anita I feel like the experience of just being together in the room is so much of the work regardless of what we’re talking about. All the time I am with her my system is learning what it is to be with someone safe -someone who accepts me in whatever state I am in.
Healing takes place in relationship and Anita is giving me one amazing relational experience.
So, following on from my last post here things got much worse and I found myself deep down the rabbit hole of doom! I felt so terrible by the time Sunday rolled around that I just didn’t know what to do with myself. Anita acknowledged my crying bear message in the afternoon on Sunday with what felt like a really formal ‘un-Anita-y’message. She asked if I was ok (uh no, not really) and then sent quite a long message that talked about discussing working out payment stuff and how she had meant to discuss it on Friday but how ‘obviously that didn’t happen’ (yeah, that’s because my session was cancelled…and I am still having a meltdown about it!).
The message landed badly. It felt really off because there I was feeling really upset and abandoned and disconnected and all the bad feelings over the session cancellation on Friday – wondering whether she had chosen to just cancel me rather than work online and here was a message about ‘boundaries’ and ‘therapy dynamics’ and admin, basically. Because I was so triggered already, the message felt cold and just really missed where I was at. I felt like I was invisible to her.
Even though boundaries are very important it can be such a triggering word to those of us with C-PTSD. I think it’s because so often when therapists start banging on about boundaries it can often seem to be something about distancing themselves from us. Like the boundary talk happens because we’re seen to be pushing boundaries, we’re trying to be too close. So, when there’s talk of boundaries from the therapist it often feels like barriers being put up etc…’here’s the boundary, don’t step over it’. Basically ‘back off’ – ‘I’m just your therapist’.
Looking back, I don’t think that’s what was intended and I really don’t ever feel like Anita is a ‘boundaries for boundaries’ sake’ therapist. I think A was just trying to put my mind at rest that we would find a way forward but phrases like ’I’m not going to just drop you’ still sent panic through my system especially as the messages over the weekend had so clearly missed what was going on after Friday and even the word ‘drop’ made me feel vulnerable because of course she could ‘drop’ me at any time.
I didn’t know what to do so I just sent Anita the link to the blog I’d just posted about all the shit that was swirling and asked her to read it. Thankfully, she read it and it clearly made sense to her because the response she sent afterward felt much more like the Anita I am used to. The problem was by the time she sent it, I was so tangled up in knots and had been putting all the jigsaw pieces from the last few days together and creating some kind of impressionist image – you know where the nose is where the ear should be and the mouth is up on the forehead. All the elements are there, just all in totally the wrong place.
My teen felt so wounded that I sent this:
and said ‘I think I need to stay away for a while’.
Anita was lovely and somehow coaxed me back out of that dark internal dungeon to a place where it felt possible to go to see her because I believed that she actually wanted to see me, too. Before that point I had convinced myself she was fed up and wanted away from me. I told her I needed a hug and she said she would give me one in person, I just had to come to my session. I was physically and emotionally exhausted by the time the weekend was over. Man this is hard going!
When I arrived at Anita’s on Monday morning, I hugged her as soon as she opened the door. I felt shaky and sad but also relieved to be there. Anita acknowledged that it must have been hard for me to come to the session and I agreed. It was. There were so many different activated parts that it’s so hard to know what to do for the best sometimes. I guess just keep turning up and giving myself the opportunity to talk?
Anita told me that she had had no idea where I was with everything until she’d read my blog. And this is the problem. I can drift so far away so quickly because on the surface I seem fine when, really, I am not. Things blow up inside and a lot of the time it is masked by my False Adult who glosses over everything ‘Ok’ and smiles to cover what’s underneath. Of course, if I am not even in the room and something happens then it’s even less visible.
I’m my own worst enemy sometimes.
Then the truth came out about Friday.
Anita was honest but…ouch.
She told me that she hadn’t offered me an online session on Friday because she felt like I would find it insulting (given how hard they have been over lockdown) and how far they are from what I really need. She apologised and said that she’d got that wrong and was really sorry not to have given me the option. I felt really sad about it, I’d really missed her on Friday and had really needed some reassurance that things were ok with us because the cancellation had let all sorts rip through my system. I was glad she wasn’t trying to paste over it but it was still painful.
I think she probably now understands that whilst online isn’t ideal, in that situation some kind of contact is much better than a complete severing of contact and whilst I might respond with ‘OK’ when I resort to short replies and don’t reach out, I am anything but ‘Ok’. It’s like the shutters go down and I go into self-protection mode. It was so painful on Friday and I couldn’t stop myself from spiralling down.
She acknowledged that she had been in a bit of panic about her daughter which is what I suspected. It felt ok having this conversation – or rather her telling me her side of things. She’s human, after all and we don’t always get things right but it’s not because we are deliberately trying to hurt the other person. I asked her if I could have a hug and basically just started trembling and crying. The impact the weekend, or last couple of weeks had had on my system was really something else. This feeling of abandonment stuff is really tapping into the deep mother wound and it’s fucking exhausting navigating it.
Again, I don’t remember much of that session. When the young parts are so activated and I am teetering on the edge of dissociation my memory seems to just go blank. I remember Anita saying something about how sometimes separation is good because we can learn that separation doesn’t have to mean abandonment but that what had happened in the last two weeks was too much, too sudden, and like I had been thrown in the deep end. I mean the reality is her dog had to go to the vet and her daughter might have had COVID but everything that got wrapped around those two events was massive. Anita said I had joined all the dots wrongly in my head (written in the blog) but that’s it’s not surprising because that’s what trauma does.
My system definitely started to settle and calm down throughout the session. I cried a lot and just snuggled into her. That’s really all the young parts need or are capable of when things have been so badly triggered. Calm care and reassurance are everything and settling my nervous system is essential before I can ‘think’ about what’s gone on. I saw something the other day from Margaret Atwood.
It’s true. And I think this is where talk therapy so often falls down. When we hit the deck and start sliding with the pre-verbal young stuff, words just don’t cut it and I am so grateful to Anita that she is ok with physical touch because it has definitely enabled the most wounded parts of me to feel safe to come out.
The time between sessions this week seemed to go by really slowly and whilst I felt like we’d repaired some of the hurt feelings and settled the young parts that had got so worked up over the weekend, in the Monday session, I’d still felt really vulnerable and exposed during the week and not very sure-footed. I went to see K for a cup of tea on Thursday and had broken down crying when speaking to her about what the last few weeks had been like and the stuff about the cancelled session on Friday with Anita. She saw immediately how impacted my inner child had been by the messages and cancellation, and was both validating and understanding and it took some of the shame and embarrassment out of my meltdown. By the time it got to Friday I was so ready to see Anita as things felt really wobbly.
My best friend had a horrific week this week as her work with her long-term therapist came to an abrupt end. I am absolutely devastated for her. It’s set some things jangling internally for me, too. Her therapist was so much like Anita in the early days of their work together -so attuned and holding – and over time things have just got more and more distanced, less and less caring, and I can’t help but panic. What happens if this happens with Anita? I’ve been terminated by Em for being a ‘tick’ (and I never showed her ANYTHING like as much as I do A) and now my friend has lost her therapist…it just seems like people like us end up hurt and abandoned time and again. It’s so painful…and terrifying to those parts that are so scared of being hurt.
What’s happened with my friend is absolutely not her fault, nor was what happened with Em mine, but it’s not the therapist that is left bereft and retraumatised when, yet again, the narrative of being too much and toxic gets replayed. They can just move onto the next poor, unsuspecting client, and here we are left trying to pick up the pieces again.
I spoke to Anita about that situation and said how frequently my friend had been misled and gaslit and how really you can’t bullshit clients like us, it’s better to be honest because we see through lies. Anita agreed. I could feel myself getting upset. I asked for a hug (check me out asking for what I need!). Things settled inside a bit and then Anita told me that she needed to tell me about the holiday she has coming up. Oh god. She said she was waiting for the right time to tell me but realised there’s no good time to let me know but wanted to give me plenty of notice. The reaction to the news wasn’t desperately bad inside but it wasn’t great either. Anita said we can text whilst she’s away and last year that was nice, and I didn’t drop dead during the break (much). I am thinking of asking her whether she’ll take the little blue elephant with her so he can see some of the places too.
Just as I’d got over my mini internal meltdown over the upcoming holiday I opened my eyes and looked up and wondered about a box on the shelf. It’s beautiful and ornate. For some reason I decided to ask what was inside the box – and this, my friends, is a lesson on not asking questions when you haven’t really considered what the answer may be! In the past I had asked about what was in another, bigger, carved, wooden box in the room. Anita had said there were colouring pens for when people do art or drawing/writing in their session. However, this box is high up, safely placed in the middle of the shelf and clearly would not be housing pens.
I don’t know why, but I was not ready for what was coming and yet clearly the answer was going to be something like this. Anita told me that one of her long-term clients (a trauma client like me) had given her the box for Christmas because it was important to her (the client), and inside it is a stone with the word ‘trust’ on it and I could have a look at it if I liked.
I’m guessing for most of you reading this that I needn’t say any more about how this felt.
I realise in this situation Anita really couldn’t win, earlier in the session we’d only just spoken about how you can’t bullshit clients like me/us because we see through it, but at the same time this revelation was just too much information and NO I did not want to look at the box.
I am so sensitive at the moment. After the session on Friday I text Anita and used the analogy that I feel like I am tiptoeing so carefully at the minute, trying to avoid danger, but no matter how I try almost every step I take I seem to set off a landmine beneath me…
…and this wasn’t just a landmine, this was a nuclear bomb going off inside.
Everything fell apart in that moment. I dissociated immediately. I was so far gone. It was awful. I felt like I was tumbling over and over through black space. It was dizzying and made me feel physically sick. The feelings of not being good enough, being insignificant, and unimportant flooded my system. It was the same stuff that was triggered the other week by Anita telling she was ‘mega busy’ when I suggested rescheduling because her dog was going to the vet, and also when my session got cancelled last Friday because her daughter might have had COVID.
The voice says that the relationship isn’t real – is meaningless – and I am deluded for thinking otherwise got really loud really quickly. And to be honest it has a point, because, when it comes down to it, I’m just one of many clients and not only that, I’m someone who can be left and let go because there are always going to be people who are more worthy and have more of a claim to Anita’s care and time than I do. Even when we think things are ‘safe enough’ it can turn sour in a matter of weeks and we’re let go, terminated, and left stranded. My experience with Em showed me that but also what’s happened to my friend this last week.
My body was frozen. I felt like I stopped breathing. I think it must’ve been a freeze response. I felt so sad and had no idea I was crying silent tears until I felt my hand was wet.
I think Anita felt the change in me. I was cuddled into her so she couldn’t see my face but I could hear her talking to me but I just didn’t have any words to respond to her and I think this is because what this episode triggered was down into that really young, preverbal stuff. She tried to check in with me about how I was feeling soon after she’d told me about the box but I couldn’t respond. She told me explicitly that just because she’s been seeing this other client a long time it didn’t make our relationship less than. She said something about her having a big heart. And I get it…or Adult Me does, sort of.
It’s like with my kids. When my son arrived, my daughter didn’t suddenly get half the love she had received before he was born because my finite supply of love now had to be split two ways. It doesn’t work that way. Our capacity to love is not finite at all. It’s something that keeps growing. I don’t love my son more than my daughter. I love them both ‘the same’ for who they are and because they are different. I don’t prefer one over the other or compare one to the other. And I guess this must kind of be how it is in therapy…maybe…but then I’m not her child I’m just a client and I come back to that horrible stuff about everyone else being better than me, less difficult, more lovable etc etc. I’m sure other clients have fewer tantrums, are less demanding, less needy…
A small voice said, ‘I want to go home’. It felt so broken at that point. It’s horrible how fragile everything feels. When it feels like that the only sensible option seems to be to run away and protect myself like I always have done before.
It would be so easy to say that this episode on Friday with the box is just a case of ‘jealousy’ and that client ‘sibling rivalry’ stuff that we feel sometimes – but when you dig beneath it it’s not as crazy as it all sounds… or at least I hope not! We all know we aren’t the only client a therapist sees and as much as we’d like to think we’re their favourite (thinking about LS here! 😉) it’s pretty unlikely. But it’s hard because our therapists are so important to us – I think it’s natural that we would want to feel important to them, too, especially when we have a lifetime of not mattering.
When I think about my own teaching work. I like all my students BUT there are some I look forward to working with more than others…and what if I’m one of those ‘less favoured and sometimes dreaded’ hours in Anita’s week? The thought of that really upsets me. And that’s why I am doomed because even Adult Me can’t convince all those hurting parts that everything is ok and that it’s not ‘pretend’ with Anita, because Adult Me has preferences about who I work with, too… and so I can’t help but feel like I am walking my way blindfolded into getting hurt again. Even if there is SO SO SO much evidence to the contrary (which there really is!).
To be honest, when I am like this, Anita must be banging her head up against a brick wall because she shows me ALL THE TIME in SO MANY WAYS that she cares and that I am important. She doesn’t just demonstrate it through her actions, she tells me she ‘loves me’ and ‘thinks the world of me’…so why can’t these scared young parts let that evidence override the doubting parts? Why do I have to let a fucking gift from another client derail my time with Anita?
I think it’s just going to take time and patience on both our parts – I just hope she doesn’t get fed up with me first. This work is like recoiling a spring the other way. It’s a repetitive process and sometimes the spring just pings back to how it was before…and it’s not surprising really. I learnt pretty early on that I wasn’t central and my needs didn’t matter. It continued on and on being left at childminders and never feeling like I was wanted or important enough to be made a priority. I just had to fit in and get on with it. I was seen as easy-going child and no trouble – amenable – but that’s because I had to be. There’s no point in acting up when nothing will change.
And this is really the legacy I’ve been left with. In some ways being adaptable is good, but so often it means I put my own needs at the bottom of the pile and try and make things right for everyone else. When I get hurt, I take that pain inwards and spare the other person the hassle of dealing with me. The other day Anita said she thought there were a lot of tears bottled up inside. And she’s right -there’s a lifetime of them. I never cried as a child…because what was the point? There was never anyone there to wipe them away. I learnt not to express my feelings and that runs both ways. I struggle even to show or feel joy. I have the best poker face.
Anyway, I don’t remember much about that session because I was so far gone and so upset. I felt like I had drifted away. What I do know is that Anita was holding me more tightly than usual and whilst I felt a million miles away there was a part of me that could feel how hard she was trying to help bring me back to her. She didn’t let me go until I was more together and settled – she is amazing like that.
I feel like such a bloody idiot after all this but I am trying to show myself some compassion. It’s been a hard few weeks/months…and I guess what’s happening is the young stuff is far closer to the surface than it’s ever been before and so it gets triggered more easily. In some ways it’s mortifying but I guess in other ways it’s progress. Noone wants to be a mute sobbing wreck in therapy but this is clearly a big indicator that this attachment and relational stuff is where the work is (as if we didn’t already know!) and it’s far better that it comes up with Anita where it can be worked on then pretending it’s all ok when something hurts and then going home and going through all the feelings alone and catastrophising even more.
*I started writing this last week and so I suspect the tone changes midway through where I picked it up again this morning as things feel so flat today.
It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster of emotions this last few weeks (again!). In part, it’s been down to the change in therapy routine over the school holidays but by my last post I was just about finding my equilibrium again – still a bit wobbly but not in a complete meltdown about it all like I had been… and then that fragile sense of safety was smashed by a combination of two things hitting almost simultaneously…and then another body blow on Friday just gone.
The first issue is the reality that financially our life isn’t what it was before my wife lost her job in January, and despite her having found another position we are now a further £500/month down from where we were at the start of the year (and £1100 from where we were this time last year!). That’s huge. I mean it’s really massive. We regrouped and changed things quite dramatically after the redundancy last year. It was tight but manageable but now this…Fuck.
I wrote a while back about how difficult things were financially – basically we had two months of my wife on zero money and so in order to get through that patch I maxed out all the credit cards and hoped for the best. Like many people in their 30-40’s we have no savings but we are lucky enough to have a house (unlike a lot of our friends) but the mortgage is eye-watering- and bills are insane. The council tax alone is over £200/month over 12 months. Whoa.
Compared with a lot of people we are very very lucky but the sudden and dramatic shift in finances has been really hard and it’s stressful. I think financial insecurity is stressful for a lot of people. I was only talking to a friend yesterday and she was saying how she wishes that the constant burden of juggling money (or lack of it) would go away as it’s like carrying an enormous weight all the time. I agreed. That is how it feels.
Anyway, two weeks from payday I looked at the bank account and we were already headed head first into our overdraft. Shit. This is not good at all. Still two weeks left to get through and no money. Straight away my system crashed. I’ve literally crawled my way through the last few months, and the Easter break, hanging on, and now, just as life should hopefully get back on an even keel the reality is there is not enough money to do the things I need to do to keep afloat. That’s gutting. I mean it’s not totally desperate in that I can’t do therapy at all and have to stop altogether but realistically we can only afford for me to go once a week and not twice and I’ll have to give the craniosacral a miss once K is back from lockdown but that’s ok…ish.
I was feeling really emotionally triggered by the situation that day, though – young parts in a panic – but resolved to make the best of my therapy session on Friday (17th) because if that was to be the last session until payday I couldn’t afford to leave it feeling upset or unsettled. I hoped I’d get through a couple of weeks on no therapy if I could at least go in and have a connecting session to say goodbye. The previous session had been so holding that I was hopeful we’d temporarily be able to hold things together with rubber bands and chewing gum.
You know what I am like!
As it crept towards the session the internal noise from the young parts was nuts. It’s the object constancy stuff again. There’s a reason that two sessions a week space Monday and Friday work for me and why breaks send everything off!! I just don’t do well with separation. Anita knows how hard it is for me but we’re both hoping that over time my system will learn that separations aren’t the catastrophe they used to be for me when I was a child. However, it’s going to take a lot to rewrite the book on that given that from the beginning my life was all about separation and the reuniting was rarely positive.
Then on Thursday night before my Friday session I got a text from A saying she had to take her dog to the vet in the morning and to prewarn me that she might be a couple of minutes late to my session.
No big deal, right?
I didn’t want A to have to rush and I also know that whilst adult me understands why she mightn’t be there on time the child parts would go straight to that abandoned state if she was very late. So, I suggested that maybe we should change the time so she didn’t have to concentrate on anything other than her dog. Anita replied and said that she had got ‘mega busy’ and had no other times. And something massive switched inside.
I mean massive panic and meltdown.
Instead of just sticking with my time because I felt so triggered, I said to A that I would see her at our next session the following Wednesday instead and it was fine to cancel. Given what I have just said about object constancy you can probably see what an insane thing that was to say. But what was going on in my head right at the moment was really messy. It didn’t help, then, that Anita didn’t see the message I had sent until late at night and so I didn’t pick up her reply until the next morning – I had barely slept and felt really out of sorts.
Basically, my system freaked out. And through the night I had been really upset. I knew I was about to have to pause my sessions until the end of the month and then after that probably reduce session frequency – this in itself was unsettling (understatement) but then to be told that Anita is now ‘mega busy’ everything and everyone inside melted down. It was a horrible internal conversation and even typing this now I feel like I could cry:
“She doesn’t care that I am not going to see her tomorrow. She’s probably glad of the break.”
“Why can’t anything ever just be settled for me?”
“What happens if she gets so full and busy that she suddenly finds working with me too much of a drain and terminates?”
“If she’s more tired from seeing more clients then she’ll be less available then she has been. It’ll feel more distanced. She’ll be less attuned… and that feels like abandonment. I’ll be back in that horrible place I was in with Em where it feels like survival mode and dissociation is the norm…and ruptures happen.”
“I am not stupid. Clients like me are not easy and if she can fill up her week with less demanding clients then why wouldn’t she? Why would she bother with me anymore?”
“It’s over anyway. The wheels keep falling off my life and what I need, I simply can’t have anymore.”
“Why do I always shoot myself in the foot rather than ask for what I need?”
And then of course there was the wailing of the young parts who just felt like everything was broken and felt desperate.
Basically, I was sliding on black ice and into rupture territory and none of it was Anita’s fault. It’s not her fault my situation has changed and I’m sure she’s more than capable of managing her caseload, but the young parts had this sick feeling inside that there is an inevitability that things are going to go wrong and change and simply being told that she is busy made me feel like sooner or later I’d get overlooked, forgotten about, basically not kept in mind…and I suppose this is exactly what happened as a child. I was always at the bottom of the pile. My parents’ work took priority. I never got the time or care that I needed…etc etc.
Anyway, that tiny episode raised my hypervigilance up and few notches and I’m basically now wedged in flight mode which has totally screwed this weekend…but I’ll get to that in a minute.
So, it spiralled very very quickly down into that horrid place of feeling unworthy and I was basically pickled in shame and really fed up. When I turned my phone on in the morning there was a message from A telling me she was sorry that she hadn’t replied until late and that she thought she’d be back in time for our session or, if I wanted to, I could see her on Saturday morning. I wanted to see her on Friday but I was so exhausted from not sleeping and catastrophising through the night that I knew I wouldn’t be safe to drive to her that day so instead I asked to see her on Saturday.
It was so kind of her to see me on the weekend – she doesn’t usually work then (I don’t think) and so at least some of the parts of me that were certain I was on course for being relegated to the side lines realised that someone that doesn’t care doesn’t do this kind of thing. It’s just really really hard to hold onto that when everything feels like it’s going to be ripped away from me.
I don’t really remember anything about that session…
Oh… hang on…
It’s coming back…
I arrived and two dogs were barking. A told me her daughter was there with hers and was going to take them both out in a minute. I felt bad about that. On a sunny day I am guessing Anita would rather have been out walking with her daughter than sitting with me. It felt hard to settle and, in part, this was down to knowing I had to tell Anita that I wasn’t going to be able to see her for a while.
When I walked in, I noticed that the two books I have given Anita in the time we have been working together were out on the table (I had asked her if we could look at them in a text earlier in the week). I was glad she’d remembered but also knew that today was not going to be the time to look at them and that was sad for the young parts that needed that kind of connecting experience.
I told Anita I felt off. She asked if it was something about maybe thinking she didn’t want to see me after the messages with the vet stuff. That wasn’t really it at all, but I didn’t elaborate on all the stuff about her being busy and what that felt like. And I wasn’t ready to talk about having to stop the work.
I was edging closer to a dissociative state.
My head felt floaty and like I wasn’t in the room. I kept trying to focus on items in the therapy room but it was like being in a fog. Eventually, I told Anita that I wasn’t going to be able to see her. I think it came over as adult, but it was the ‘False Adult’ who can talk and seems ok. I was not ok, though. Inside it was absolute carnage and I felt really far away and like Anitwas a million miles away. too. I felt so disconnected and it just kept getting worse. But this is what happens. It’s that pre-empting separation and backing away and shutting down. I know it’s me. It’s my stuff. But when it’s like that it feels like A isn’t there, isn’t connected, doesn’t see me…and that’s not good.
When I explained what was going on. Anita said we could work something out – we have before and we can again. She said that she thought it was important that I keep coming and we’ll find a way forward. She said she was glad we had seen each other that day and not had to wait until Wednesday (my kids were still off school on Monday so couldn’t make my session).
That was a relief and I could feel my system settle a bit. We still haven’t worked out the details of the money stuff and so that needs looking at because I’m already working myself up about not paying ‘enough’ and then that’ll be another reason for things to go wrong between us. I ended up cuddled into A after that ‘big talk’ and just wanted to fall asleep after all the emotional effort the last few days had been.
Wednesday’s session was fine. I gave Anita a present that I had bought for her a while ago for her birthday and she seemed to like it so that was nice. It wasn’t a ‘big’ session but it was nice to be there. I knew there was stuff circling but Wednesday is a massive day for me workwise – I’m flat out until 9pm and so I didn’t want to open up Pandora’s box and then be left with everything spewing out all over the day. Besides, my next session was only two days away. It could wait.
On Friday I had just dropped my kids to school and was about to head up the road to Anita’s when I saw a text from her:
‘My daughter has had a bad headache for the past three days and woken up this morning with no taste. I have been seeing her so thinking maybe we should cancel today. She is booked in for a test this morning. Fingers crossed she is ok. X’
I didn’t really know what to say in that moment, I felt sad and kind of numb but also realised the it’s just unfortunate, so simply responded:
‘Ok. Hope she feels better x’
What else could I say?
As I drove home in the car it all started churning around and the information filtered down through my system. Obviously, I couldn’t see Anita if her daughter might have Covid. I completely understand that and I really hoped that her daughter was ok because having seen how bad it can be when my wife had it and losing my grandad to Covid pneumonia I know worrying it is. I know in that moment, as a mum, Anita would have been worried and panicked probably. I guess that morning she would be sending out texts to anyone she sees face-to-face and just sorting the admin side of things…
By the time I got home, though, the Critic had taken root – to shut the noise down inside from the young parts who felt devastated.
Was Anita taking the day off work to look after her grown up daughter or was she just cancelling her face-to-face sessions to be safe? And if she was still working then why didn’t she ask if I wanted to do online instead? I have no idea what the situation actually was with A, I don’t know what she was doing. I don’t know whether she was working or had just completely cleared her diary to give herself some headspace…but that’s the thing, because I don’t know my brain did that horrible speculating.
“She just doesn’t want to see you online. After the pain in the arse you’ve been with online sessions she’ll never offer those again…right now she can’t deal with you and has enough on her plate without you having a tantrum over this.”
And yes, I am not a fan of online sessions but I would rather have had some kind of contact than none. The last-minute cancellation was far more disruptive to my system than having to do a video call would have been. To be honest, even a ten-minute check in would have helped. But of course, I couldn’t respond and ask for that because if she wasn’t working then that it would have felt like I was being demanding and intrusive and I just didn’t want that. Surely, I can just cope until…well…when…a few weeks away if Anita had to isolate.
And so it spiralled further.
When I got home there was another message:
‘Thank you. I am sorry but better safe than sorry. I will keep you updated. If she is positive, I will get a home test for myself x’
I suppose at least that took the doubt of whether I should ask to talk on the phone out of the situation.
I didn’t reply to that message.
It’s unusual for me not to have contact with Anita but I was so conscious of not being a handful that I just drifted away from her. The sense of connection was decimated.
I know how extreme that is. Adult me is fine. I get all of it. But the traumatised child parts are in freefall and so the teen has bundled them up and taken them away.
The next day Anita text me twice – one an update about the Covid situation (negative) and another saying she hoped I was enjoying the sunshine and a big smiling/laughing face emoji.
It took me the day to reply despite having seen it when it came in. I simply wrote a simple sentence saying I hoped her daughter was ok. Because… no… I was not enjoying the sunshine. I was brooding and feeling like everything was unsafe…or at least enough parts of me were to significantly impact my ability to enjoy the day. I was grumpy too. I mean properly snappy with everyone. Part of it is PMS but part of it is that when it’s all crumbling inside I just can’t be the calm, patient mother. I just want to scream and run away.
Then Anita sent me another message saying she hoped I was having a good weekend and more big smiley face emojis.
There was no laughing going on internally for me.
I felt so sad.
I really needed a heart or a hug gif – something that feels connecting and holding and instead it’s like everything is fun and happy and that’s a world away from where I am right now. I wonder if she just has no idea that I might be responding like this?
I absolutely don’t want to be an arsehole over this. It’s embarrassing enough being like this, feeling this stuff, and I would like to think that Anita will understand. BUT there’s that doubting bit which thinks because she’ll be worried and stressed about her daughter the last thing she needs is me having a meltdown over a cancelled session.
In the normal run of things she’d be able to hear it, but what if she’s worn out and stressed out? I am not doing a great job with my kids right now because I am stressed out so it stands to reason that my child parts might just be too much right now too.
It’s a minefield.
Last night I felt so sad that I simply sent this GIF.
The moment I sent it I realised I had just set myself up for another period of feeling abandoned or disconnected. Who knows when Anita might see the message, or even if she would respond…and when…she needs a break and it’s the weekend.
So, that’s basically it. I feel flat and fed up…and just so over having to manage the legacy of the childhood trauma. I wish the message about cancelling on Friday had no impact…or those since. But it’s just not how it works.
I don’t even know what’s going to happen tomorrow.
There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to go. I had awful dreams therapy last night – what a surprise…
It’s been a few weeks since it was Mother’s Day, here, in the UK. I had wanted to write this back around then, but have got so far behind with the blog that it just hasn’t been possible. I’m still hanging on by a (very frayed) thread and to add insult to injury it’s the Easter therapy break (well – a whole 8 days without a session!) and so there’s all sorts of overtired, young parts’ feelings swirling about that that need to come out somewhere – and here seems like a good place rather than bothering Anita (arrrghhhh it’s a struggle!)! However, to at least keep some kind of sense of chronology going, I will get this written and posted up first. I should have a bit more time to write over the next couple of weeks as it’s school holidays and I am not tutoring many students through the break … thank god!
Anyway – that’s a bit of a preamble. Let’s get down to business.
I don’t know about you but I really struggle with Mother’s Day. It always falls on or around my birthday (I was actually born on a Mother’s Day – oh the irony!) and so it kind of creeps into that -and I almost don’t enjoy my birthday because it’s overshadowed by Mother’s Day. I don’t necessarily mean by having to see my mum – it’s more like if we (my wife and I) plan to go out somewhere, or do something, on or around my birthday, everywhere is just filled with mums and daughters and I can’t escape it.
No matter how much I try and ignore them, I can’t get away from how many people there are out there that ‘seem’ have close relationships with their mums. Spas and restaurants are rammed with relaxed-looking, smiling mums and daughters who are clearly enjoying each other’s company. There’s a kind of intimacy and connection that I simply do not have with my mum, and I can’t help but feel a bit…I dunno…sad…jealous…disappointed…hurt… There’s all sorts of emotions around it and try as I might to not let it get to me, it does.
Since becoming a mum, myself, I think Mother’s Day has become a bit less hard because I see it as a time to celebrate being a mum to my own babies. I can’t lie, though, the moment the pink cards with sickly sweet, sentimental pictures and messages hit the shops there is a definitely a part of me that baulks at it. I think it’s probably the teen. For her, especially, the mother wound is still gaping open and so Mother’s Day, or March in general, is just like being prodded with a stick deep down into that painful place, with a mocking ‘look what you didn’t get and what you’ll never have’.
I find it hard picking out a card for my mum. I have to find one that is maybe artier and fewer on words because, frankly, a card with two figures hugging that says something like ‘you’re the world’s best mum’ or ‘Thank you for being an amazing mum’ just feels… Wrong. And don’t let’s get started with the ones that have lengthy verses inside!
My mum doesn’t touch me – we’ve had two hugs in the last 13 years – one when my dad died, and more recently when her dad died and she was in tears at the hospital so I held her. Touch and holding has never been a part of our relationship – well, certainly not since when, at 14 years old, I reached out to hold her hand and she said. “Don’t do that people will think we are lesbians”…
So, yeah, that was a big kicker wasn’t it?
Especially as I was gay (not that she knew it then).
Don’t get me wrong. We have a relationship that works for both of us now. She is good with my kids and we ‘get on’…it’s just not…enough…or it is enough… because the really sad thing about it is that if, tomorrow, my mum came along and was suddenly full of love, hugs, and attunement, I simply don’t want any of it from her now. That ship sailed a really long time ago. My young parts have taken themselves away and don’t come near. It wasn’t safe as a kid and I sure as hell won’t put them out there again. It’s interesting though, because it’s not even like attachment is really a choice. You can’t make yourself feel something about someone if it’s not there but equally you cannot ‘unfeel’ feelings that ARE there!
And this is why therapy has for so long been so hard (pre-Anita). The child in me had transferred all that need and longing to be held and seen and loved onto someone else (Em) and like my mum, Em was cold, withholding, and would not come anywhere near me. It left me feeling inadequate, unlovable, and untouchable. Basically, I was both deficient and too much. It was incredibly painful but also incredibly familiar to be experiencing this stuff in the therapy. I think that’s why it took me so long to get out of that situation. It was a complete re-enactment of my relationship with my mum and I thought that was all I could expect, all I was worthy of.
It’s such a shame because I think, in fact, I know, that working with maternal transference and handling it sensitively and with care can be a real game-changer. Doing the work on the mother wound can be so profoundly healing. I get that it can feel intense and overwhelming for both therapist and client at times. There are a lot of big feelings and a lot of needs that haven’t seen the light of day in a very long time. Not only that, needs and feeling that are already mixed up with shame because that’s what we learnt as kids. Having several clingy needy kids and angry, depressed teens coming out and expressing ALL THE FEELINGS is a lot to deal with. I can understand why therapists can find it difficult to see beyond the adult body that is sitting in front of them BUT making repairs in this area of wounding and creating a safe attachment with all those younger parts is ‘the work’ for so many of us.
I think what many therapists fail to realise, or really acknowledge, is that it is such a huge thing for us to even dare to attach to a therapist and to show them our most vulnerable and wounded selves. It often takes a lot of time to build up enough trust to show ourselves, and if that happens it’s not something to run screaming from it’s something to be celebrated! If we let a therapist see all those wounded and damaged parts then I think, actually, they should be a bit honoured because we’ve spent our whole lives with these parts in exile, hidden away and shrouded in shame.
Therapists: when we (and our parts) attach to you, we need you to lean in, not freak out. It’s normal for humans to want to be in relationship. There’s nothing weird about having loving feelings towards someone with whom you do such intimate work. And yet, there is so much pathologizing of people like me (and the community here). My last therapist called me ‘adhesive’ and ‘like a tick’ and it’s done more damage than I can ever put into words…although, clearly, I keep trying as it comes up frequently here in this blog!!
My last therapy was completely retraumatising which is why I feel so lucky to have met Anita who is the complete antithesis to Em – not only is she healing the mother wound with me she healing the harm done in the therapy with Em…of which there was lots. Anybody that’s been following this blog over the last year will see how transformational working with Anita has been for me. It’s like being bathed in shame remover and then being put out in the sun to dry.
Anyway, just before Mother’s Day I was online looking for cards for my mum and I scrolled past this:
Instantly, there was a part of me that wanted to give it to Anita. I took a screenshot of it and sent it to my friend and explained how I wanted to give it to A but realised how risky it could be. My friend and I have both experienced what it is like to have this kind of gesture thrown back in our faces – gifts refused etc (although not at Mother’s Day as never done anything here before!) and my poor friend was told that her therapist ‘already has her daughters’ (OUCH) and so this stuff can be excruciatingly painful. My friend has been to hell and back with me over what’s happened with Em over the years and so she was really trying to protect me from getting hurt. I am so glad I have her. And I get it, for some therapists any kind of step into mother comparisons might signal red flags etc and suddenly we’ve tiptoed into the crossing a boundary territory and it all goes to shit. I mean look at what happened with Em.
However, for both me and my friend (and I am guessing lots of you too) it’s not about wanting the therapist to actually be our mothers. We don’t want adoption papers signed! We don’t want to move in or spend Christmas with them – we have our own lives, partners, kids etc. In fact, we don’t even want the relationship to exist outside that room. Sure, we might want more time with the therapist (an hour or two a week isn’t really enough with C-PTSD) but we are pretty clear that what happens, happens in that safe container.
We know we get the best version of our therapists in sessions. Outside the room they’re probably just like the rest of us: grouchy, tired, needy, and a bit ‘over it’ – and we don’t need that! But what happens in the room can be magical and transformative and it’s the closest experience we have ever got of healthy mothering. Why wouldn’t we want to acknowledge that and express thanks for that…especially at time that is usually so fucking painful?
So, despite clearly knowing it was a risk even acknowledging Mother’s Day I decided to buy the card for A. I didn’t write it or give it to her the session before the weekend because I thought that it might a bit uncomfortable, but decided that I would give it to her the Monday after Mother’s Day. As it turned out, it was on that Friday session when I had been really shut down and struggling to connect (there’s been a lot of that recently but largely due to the stress I am under outside therapy not because A has done anything wrong!) where Anita gave me a birthday present and I kind of knew at that point that what we have and what we are doing wasn’t going to be ruined by a card.
So, I wrote this:
My friend told me not to give you this card, she said it would probably lead to a conversation I didn’t want to have and that would trigger all the young parts and cause a rupture between us. I mean, I get it, I’ve thought about that too, but still, there’s a part of me that wants to send you this because the statement is true.
In this last year you have been more available, present, and caring than my mum. I know you are my therapist and not my mum but what I have learnt over the years is that mothering comes in lots of different forms, from lots of different people and I wanted to acknowledge that and to thank you for being amazing. I really don’t know where I would be right now had you not been in my life.
You asked on Friday whether I felt like you were letting me down. I know I barely responded, I felt so far away and disconnected, but internally it sent all kinds of shock waves through my system. I couldn’t really get my head round why you would say or think that. No. You haven’t let me down at all. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
I don’t even really have the words to describe how far from ‘letting me down’ you are (what is the opposite of that?!). Even when things have felt impossible and desperate and I have been distant, disconnected, or dissociated you always find a way to bring me back and connect with me and that’s huge. I never leave you feeling like there is something wrong between us.
I cannot believe how patient and kind you are even when I am pushing you away. I don’t mean to. It’s not what I want to do AT ALL but there’s definitely a massive fear about being too much right now and so I back away in order to stop that.
I wish my brain could hold onto the feeling of safety and care between sessions but it just doesn’t, or can’t yet. It feels frustrating to repeatedly feel like everything is brand new every time I see you… well, kind of. I guess I am on high alert looking if something has changed.
Anyway, I guess this is the work. Thank you for everything you do for me and for the best hugs. I love you. Big hug xxx
So, I got to the session on Monday and spoke about the crap that was going on with my wife’s medical stuff, job, blah blah more shit and more unexpected trapdoors. I was so deflated by it all and we talked about a lot about it all. And then I reached a point half an hour in and said, “I don’t even know what to say!” I was done with talking about the day-to-day stuff and whilst we were connected it’s different when it’s all adult. You know when you have the young stuff needing to be seen and worked on too just bubbling away inside? Well, it was that and I knew the card was sitting in my bag waiting. I felt safe enough to get it out and said, “Can I give you this? You might need your glasses!”
Anita went and got her glasses opened the card and immediately smiled and said, “That is gorgeous!”
As she sat and read it, despite her positive reaction to the front, I could feel the tendrils of panic creeping up and over my body. Shame. Embarrassment. Fear. All the stuff. This is definitely the hangover from so many times with Em where I would write something, take it to session, be so incredibly vulnerable, and then she’d finish and it would feel like the door was being slammed in my face. She’d never take a step towards me and instead say something like, “I’m just your therapist” or “Your young parts might want to be held but that won’t happen here”. Blah blah. You all know the drill!
When she finished reading, Anita looked up, smiled at me and said with so much warmth in her voice, “That is lovely. Thank you. And I am glad you gave it to me. It really is lovely.”
I was silent almost in a freeze, I think. I could hardly breathe.
Anita continued, “I’m glad you feel like that. Because for me that is what that is what this work is about. Helping your system start to trust.”
More silence and freeze from me. Then in a tiny voice, “It doesn’t feel very good.”
“Your system at the moment?” Anita asked gently.
A barely perceptible nod from me.
And then with so much gentleness in her voice, A said, “I should imagine it was quite scary to give me that card wasn’t it?”
I moved my eyes from the spot on the floor and turned to Anita and said, ‘Yeah’.
She looked and me leant towards me a little and said, “But I have read it, how you said it. And I really have. I feel honoured. Really honoured. Thank you.”
“It just feels really scary” whispered the little voice.
“It’s ok…but nothing feels ok at the moment does it? I wish I could keep you safe from all of it.” Anita just really gets it. It’s not just what she says but how she says it. As I have said so many times it’s like being doused in soapy shame remover being with her.
And then all the parts of me knew it was safe. That she is safe. That I am safe with her and that we are ok.
I know it’s like doing the hokey cokey in therapy – the parts going in and out with trust and testing. But over and over again Anita is there and when we get to the chorus, we join hands and run into the middle together!
The little one asked, “Can I have a hug?”
And as usual, and with so much care and warmth in her voice Anita replied, “Of course”.
And then, after what felt like quite a big session, I just snuggled into her for the remainder of the of the time and listened to her heart beat. I find this holding so soothing. I can feel my nervous system relax and regulate. I can’t do that on my own, or for myself, and I am so glad that Anita realises how important co-regulation is for the young parts of my system. That half an hour was so so healing…and this is why my therapist is ‘better than my real mother’!
It’s been over a month since I last posted here which is the longest I have ever gone without blogging. It’s not that there hasn’t been a lot going on – far from it – I could write thousands of words on how it’s been but I simply haven’t had the time or energy to do anything other than survive, lately. It’s been that bad. My anxiety has been off the chart and I feel perpetually on edge (although it’s justified!). I am stuck in flight mode and my nervous system is freaking out big time. I can’t sleep. Eating has been a real battle, at times. It’s just been the biggest uphill struggle for so long now. I can say wholeheartedly that I didn’t think being a grown up would be this hard. Adulting sucks!
I appreciate how doom and gloom that all sounds and it’s hard to go into too much detail about what’s been going on as it’s so specific that it would be easy to identify me from the information if you happened to know me in real life. A broad-brush picture is: the job stuff with my wife took another very nasty turn (really bad!), and since her COVID we’ve discovered that she has an undiagnosed autoimmune disease (the GP missed the markers in the blood tests she had six months ago when she went in pain and with vision problems and since then she’s gone rapidly downhill). We have learnt that lack of intervention has already caused some irreparable damage. This damage could be life-changing and if not got under control soon, career-limiting. This latest revelation has meant that a surgery she had recently has been unsuccessful and another surgery that was planned has had to be postponed to try and get her system under control to make it safe enough to operate. FFS!
And then my grandfather died of COVID (contracted in hospital) earlier in the month. That was really horrible and hard to see. Honestly, to be with someone, unconscious, fighting for every breath despite being pumped with oxygen is something I’ll never forget and it makes me really wonder why there are still people out there who are refusing to wear masks or get the vaccine and think COVID is some kind of hoax to control us all. I wouldn’t wish that kind of death on anyone and it’ll take a long while for the memory of this to fade. I am hospital phobic anyway, so it’s not been great.
There’s been other stuff, too, but essentially (as you can probably see) things haven’t got any better and in terms of health and finances we’re in a really bad spot, still. I could do with the lottery fairies smiling on me!
So, suffice to say life has been very very hard and it’s a long long way from resolving. I keep saying to Anita that it can’t possibly get any worse, this has to be bottom, and then I discover another trapdoor and plunge down through it into another level of hell.
I have to laugh about it or I’d cry. And I do cry, but nowhere near enough because there isn’t time. Having said that I bawled my eyes out watching a webcast of my grandad’s funeral yesterday. So much grief came up and out – and I am sure if wasn’t only about the loss of a lovely man, it tapped into so many other losses: my dad, my wonderful friend, and… Em.
The one good, solid, and reliable thing (silver linings!) through all of this has been Anita’s consistent care and support. I honestly don’t know where I would be without her and I literally thank the universe every single day that I crossed paths with her. Even though it hurt like hell, I am glad that what happened with Em happened last year because I know how bad things would be if I was still working with her. She’s only working online now and has put her fee up by another £15 a session…there’s no way I could have afforded to see her but not only that, I could not have coped with the perpetual stress and anxiety of being in therapy with her. Working with Anita has given me at least some sense of a solid base, or a safe space in my week – and it has been so needed.
Because things have been so much in survival mode, I can’t even really remember what’s been going on in the therapy to recount much here. I can’t really recall very much detail and the chronology feels a bit skewed – my brain has been so overloaded. I have been all over the place. There’s been times when all I have been able to do is cry and cuddle Anita, grabbing onto her like she’s a life raft in a stormy sea.
Fortunately, she is always there to hold me if that’s what I want. I have asked her on a few occasions if she thinks I am weird or too needy or too clingy for needing to be so close to her (young parts freaking out) – she doesn’t even stop to think or take a breath before emphatically answering ‘No! Not at all! You are exactly as anyone would be given all you’ve gone through’. What’s even nicer is that she often follows up with something like ‘you are really so easy to love – what’s happened to you is not your fault and I really want you to hear that and know that’ all the while holding me a little bit more tightly. I can literally feel the love and it is so healing.
After a particularly bad week earlier this month I’d sent a few texts. Not really wordy ones just touching base but kind of needy ‘are you there’ GIF type ones. And then the shame and panic hit a bit and I sent a GIF of a bear repeatedly poking another bear with a carrot and asked the question:
It’s the non-shaming simple responses that I get from Anita that go such a long way to settle my system and build trust for all the parts of me in the relationship with her. Having those young parts allowed to communicate with an emoji or GIF (or longer message/email which rarely happens) has been transformational. It’s not ‘therapy outside the room’ but it is holding and containing enough for me to be able to do the work in the room.
It’s so helpful to be able to give Anita the heads up on the morning of a session and say ‘we need to talk about…’ so that I don’t arrive and chicken out. Again it is rarely necessary but having that freedom to reach out makes such a difference. I can’t believe I struggled for so many years with Em. Feeling bad for sending any kind of message (which only happened very occasionally) and getting the boundary talk and a ‘I didn’t read your text’ was so damaging for the parts that were struggling so much with coming to the room.
I seem just to be waffling on here and saying not much but honestly, March has been absolutely brutal. When my grandad was dying, the visit meant a 700-mile round trip over two days with my mum (!) to say goodbye to him. I was absolutely battered when I got home, the drive was long, the emotional stress of visiting my grandad was huge, trying to support my mum and make conversation when we have an ‘interesting’ dynamic was ok but exhausting, and to add insult to injury, the person in the room next to me at the hotel decided that it was a good idea to have a 5-hour long row on the phone to their partner. I was so angry and so so tired that I ended up banging on the wall at 3am (this is not like me!). I had also had to reschedule students and condense 5 days of work into 4 (need the money right now!)
It was all a bit too much, and add to that I had also had to cancel my Monday therapy at short notice (I got the call that my grandad was end of life on the Sunday morning and left the house within half an hour in the hope we’d get to see him before he died). You can probably imagine how that set the young parts jangling! The night that I was alone in the hotel I felt so worn out and emotional that the young parts were really on edge even though Anita had been accommodating and understanding and had offered to see me at our usual/occasional Tuesday evening time (if I was not too tired for it). Sometimes an extra day waiting just feels too long when life already feels too much, but at least I didn’t have to hang on until Friday.
I do know how lucky I am to have a therapist who is so flexible with me. It is another benefit of having a therapist that works full time in their own private practice and not 3 days a week in the NHS and 2 days private (like Em). Because Anita works more days there’s always flexibility and opportunity to get a session when I need it or juggle things around if stuff comes up. If there was ever a crisis or something cropped up when working with Em there was never any space (although maybe there was an she just didn’t want to see me?!) and I just had to sit with it. This was especially difficult given that she also didn’t do check-ins or any kind of outside communication.
Sitting here now it’s clear just how bad a fit it was. That aloof, distant style just didn’t work for me AT ALL!
Anyway, despite being knackered on Tuesday I was determined to see Anita that evening. My grandad had died on the Monday evening and I really just needed some time and space to decompress with my safe person. I arrived at Anita’s and after about 10 minutes talking just completely ran out of steam. I think I started to relax and the adrenaline that had been keeping me going disappeared and I was left with the reality.
I felt totally done in.
I asked if we could turn the ‘big’ light off in the room (I was so tired and it felt too bright) and instead put on the salt lamp she has. Then I asked for a hug, cuddled into her, closed my eyes and came very close to falling asleep as I listened to her heart beat. Our breathing synchronised under the orangey pink glow of the lamp and it just felt so containing for all the parts that were struggling. I don’t remember much about what was said but I do remember how calm and safe it felt. I can imagine some people reading this thinking that ‘this is not therapy’ but it works for me. It is healing to me. And after years and years gaining ‘insight’ I just really need to do the relational healing – and that is what’s happening.
The next week I don’t know what happened but there was a session where I just found it impossible to connect with Anita. Bloody emotional rollercoaster. It was definitely a teen part that had been triggered. I think I (young part) had sent her a text (nothing important – like literally a GIF or something) and she hadn’t responded when she usually would have done. I don’t know if it was shame creeping in round the edges or what – but I couldn’t even look at her when I got to the session. I think when I am operating in overwhelm my hypervigilance goes mad and I panic that something is wrong. Looking back over the messages, I can’t even see why I had got worked up!
Sometimes when we’ve had really connecting, emotionally intimate sessions like that evening one, I almost get a vulnerability hangover and go into myself, I think. Like I saw Anita not replying to my text as a sign that she must now feel like how it had been in the recent amazing holding sessions was really too much for her and now she regretted letting me so close. I was too much. She had finally seen what Em had, and she wanted to get away from the parasitic tick (me).
When this stuff starts circling in my brain it’s agony. The shame is so huge. I know this is my inner critic doing its best to keep me safe and it’s utter bollocks given how it really is with Anita but for some reason I can’t get out of that state when I am in it. I hate it. I mean honestly, it was such an epic panic and meltdown inside. I know it was a product of being overwhelmed and overtired but it feels so hard for all the other parts of me that long to remain connected and to be safely held when I shut down and keep Anita at arm’s length.
Anyway, on this day Anita was being so warm and lovely and PATIENT. Telling me she was there with me. She held out her hand and asked me if I wanted to take it. She even offered me a hug. But I just couldn’t reach out and refused all her offers of connection. I really wanted to hold her hand and hug her, but it was like my hands were tied behind my back. Anita kept gently reassuring me but nothing was working. She’d told me she had had a migraine and had to cancel clients in the week and had been too ill to look at her phone and realises she’d been less available and responsive. I realised then, that the lack of reply was because she’d been ill in bed. I felt like an epic dickhead.
Anita then said, ‘I know it’s your birthday tomorrow, and I have got you a present but I haven’t had chance to wrap it up or get you a card because I have been stuck in bed with my head’. I was struck dumb by what was being said. Here I was, again, pushing this woman away because I was scared that I was too much for her and thinking that she doesn’t care and wants to be away from me (over an unacknowledged GIF — I do see how mad this is!), and instead here she is telling me that she’s remembered my birthday and not only that, has wanted to give me something as a gift.
I looked at her for the first time, embarrassed, and said, ‘you really didn’t have to do that. That’s so lovely. But you really didn’t have to.’ She replied with, ‘I wanted to. It felt right. It might not happen every year but it feels right now’. She bent down and opened the cupboard in the room and took out a box and gave it to me. It was a Himalayan salt lamp just like the one in the therapy room. I had told her how I really felt relaxed when we were in that evening session and how calming the light felt and she’d not only kept that in mind but bought me one. She told me they were meant to help with sleep and that she knows how much I have been struggling to sleep lately and she hoped it might help me.
I was so blown away by her kindness, again. Like the day she gave me my beating heart necklace when we came back out of the last lockdown and I’d tanked with online sessions and had meltdown after meltdown. I mean it’s incredible. I put the lamp down and gave her the most enormous hug and thanked her and spent the rest of the session snuggled in and talking about all sorts. Little parts had a lot to say – as you can probably imagine!
The lamp is amazing and I love lying in bed listening to podcasts or whatever with the light on. It has a dimmer switch so you can make it really low light to sleep by – like a night light. It’s really helped…but then I also think psychologically it’s like being tucked up in bed by that parent figure. Every time I go to bed I have the reminder of Anita’s care for me. I know it’s intense right now, but I don’t care! For the child parts it’s huge and settling and I feel like holes are being filled in bit by bit inside me and I am moving towards a more healed place – even despite the fact that my life is going down the toilet!
I can see this is getting long so I will end here – even if it’s a bit abrupt. I have more to write about Mother’s Day (eek!). I know it’s a sore area for a lot of us mother wounded souls but I think it’d be better as another stand alone post…oh and then there’s Easter break coming too!!
I hope you are all hanging in there. Thank you for all the emails from those of you who have checked in. I am sorry I haven’t replied. I have literally been on empty x
This time last year I wrote a blog post titled ‘You’re Not My Mummy’ where I spoke about how the young parts of me hadn’t yet accepted Anita into the role of ‘replacement mum’ having only recently just terminated with my therapist, Em, after 8 years working together. I was still in a state of complete meltdown about the ending and the idea of having anything like the level of attachment to Anita that I had with Em seemed really unlikely. The attachment of those child parts is really fixed on one person at a time for me. It really is like an infant relating to its mother.
Look, before anyone starts rolling their eyes and tutting, I absolutely know our therapists are not our mothers! I understand transference. I read a lot! I don’t actually believe my therapist is my mum. I don’t want her to adopt me (much!). My adult doesn’t see Anita as a mum, at all, but there’s absolutely no point in denying that the little ones definitely do…now! (Oh the irony!)
For ease of expression and writing here, I think it’s fair to simplify things and say, that for me at least, a lot of the work I do to process my mother wound and childhood trauma is largely achieved by letting my young parts relate to my therapist as though she is like a mother to me. Of course, my adult is there in the room too (sometimes!). A and I unpick a lot of what goes on together from all angles and different parts’ experiences and it’s amazing how many parts can come floating in and out during a session. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the way I get to really process my childhood trauma is by having those child parts activated in the relationship with Anita.
When the feelings are live, they can get metabolised, understood, and healed in real time. I have spent years talking about my childhood and narrating it through my adult and there’s so much distance and disconnect there. It’s a filter that has served me well in life because I haven’t ever expressed feelings (that’s safer) but actually in the end, I almost couldn’t feel anything as stuff was so deeply internalised. Allowing EVERYTHING and EVERYONE to have their place in the room with Anita has been a gamechanger for me. I mean I really cannot believe how much I have been able to bring to her that has been locked away for a lifetime and shrouded in shame.
I remember saying, last year, how part of me hoped I would avoid getting stuck in the transference with Anita and maybe I’d be able to circumnavigate it altogether because it felt so nice not being caught up in all the negative attachment stuff that I had experienced with Em. It was such a relief to do therapy with someone that didn’t instantly trigger me and who felt safe and accepting. We were doing some great work and laying the foundations of what I thought could be a strong working alliance but part of me dreaded the possibility of finding myself back in the familiar territory of dissociation, disconnection, and high anxiety that was so big a part of therapy with Em.
Looking back now, I feel really sad that I thought that was what could be in store for me. Like if I attach to someone then, ultimately, it’s bound to be a shit show of pain and hurt no matter how much I want it to be healthy and healing because that’s my relational pattern. I am a tick, after all.
But that’s not how it is.
Attachment doesn’t have to be agonising ALL THE TIME!
It wasn’t until June when the young parts switched their allegiances and fell face first into the attachment zone with Anita. I remember I was ironing one afternoon and a little voice inside said, ‘I miss Anita’ –
‘Oh shit’, I thought, ‘here we go again’. The thing is, because Anita and I had been steadily building safety and trust in our relationship I was actually able to tell her how I felt. I didn’t get filled with shame or embarrassment for having the feelings (I mean to be fair she’d already seen a fair amount of the crazy in the aftermath of Em and I ending), they just were. And she was not in the least bit bothered and told me that she thought we were definitely getting closer and it was normal to feel this in an emotionally intimate relationship especially when young parts were involved. I love how she has always normalised my experiences rather than pathologising them – it’s so refreshing.
Anyone who’s followed me for a while will have seen how transformational this therapy has been for me in building me back up and helping me see that I am worthy and valuable and not some freak with too many complex issues who needs to be kept at arm’s length. I am astounded that I can safely feel ALL OF MY FEELINGS with Anita and she accepts ALL OF ME. It’s so strange to really experience ‘unconditional positive regard’ (or love as I prefer to call it!). I can’t believe I can cry…and not just cry…but sob my heart out with her having never shed a single tear with Em until the final session when it had all gone up in flames.
Don’t get me wrong. I have a long way to go, still! But therapy with A feels therapeutic not torturous. It’s not all sunshine and unicorns by any means. We have had ruptures but they get repaired so quickly and I can express how I feel when things A says or does upset me. She is never defensive or attacking and is open to hearing whatever it is I bring to her (especially when a teen part is having a meltdown). I do get that that is how it’s meant to be but it’s a change to what I have been used to.
I am deep in a pit of young attachment need right now after my life just collapsed and nothing feels safe in my adult world. Thankfully, it feels safe with A in the room and in that relationship especially for the young parts. I genuinely feel like Anita is holding the other end of the rope and is holding on. She said the other day that she is holding out her hand and will be there to stop me disappearing. I know therapists can’t rescue you, and I have to dig my way out my own hole but there is something really lovely hearing, ‘I can see how hard things are for you and I really wish I could take it all away for you. I know I can’t but I am right here with your for the whole of the journey and you can lean on me’. I honestly don’t know what I would do without her right now…and of course that ‘without her’ felt like it could be a very real possibility a few weeks back.
When my wife lost her job at the start of February, we were plunged instantly into financial insecurity and instability which has sent my system through a massive loop. I don’t do change very well and I certainly don’t like not feeling secure. The week following the job loss my wife also had to have an operation with a two-week recovery period and she is due another in a couple of weeks – all time she can’t work. I’d already spent weeks stressing myself out during isolation so really it’s been a hellish couple of months now.
In order to cover the immediate shortfall income, I have basically maxed out my credit cards but obviously that only delays the agony where debt is concerned…which again stresses me out. My wife will be able to work again soon but agency work is sporadic and far less well-paid than what she was doing previously. So even if things work out well with reasonably regular shifts we’ll still be about £800 a month down until something more suitable comes along. FFFFFUUUCCCCKKK.
In terms of stress, it’s been epic and I just haven’t coped. Last week was so bad I felt borderline suicidal which was really scary for me as it’s been a very long time since I have felt so awful – like when my dad died over a decade ago and I had a breakdown. I felt paralysed with fear and couldn’t see a way out of it so just spent hours feeling anxious and incapacitated. It was horrific. I even did the NHS anxiety and depression score thing (as if I needed confirmation of how shit is all was) and scored a fabulous 24/24 on the depression and 17/21 on the anxiety… I have always liked to do well on tests! Lol!
When my wife lost her job I text Anita and told her that we’d have to stop our sessions after the session we had booked in for the next day because we just can’t afford anything right now and then we’d pick up when things improved. It felt really awful and I was so so sad about it. Anita responded really warmly and told me we’d find a way forward together when we met in person and not to worry. She’s so different to Em, who, when we were in a similar situation a couple of years ago (honestly so much bad luck!) didn’t bat an eyelid when I was worrying about how we’d pay our bills and I was clearly really distressed. Therapy twice a week a £50 a session meant we accrued quite a lot of additional debt at that time and it was really hard feeling like I needed my sessions but also knowing I was putting us further into debt.
So, back to 2021, I arrived at my session that evening feeling crap but also really dissociated. I was so overwhelmed by all that had happened that I had to step away from it a bit and the only way I seem to know how to do that is to disappear. The weeks of stress and anxiety I had felt worrying about my wife when she had COVID and panicking that she’d lose her job had taken its toll and then to have my worries confirmed…well, it was too much and I was thoroughly exhausted.
I tried to be adult in that session but after a catch up on the latest elements of ‘new shit and stress’ I just couldn’t hold it and fell apart and into Anita’s arms where I trembled and sobbed and for ages and she held me until I settled listening to her steady heartbeat. She continued to hold me until it was time to leave. There have been so many sessions like that lately that I can’t really say what’s happened from session to session in any great detail but the level of holding and containment has been essential as I’ve let so many tears out even if the words have been relatively few.
In this session Anita said that she thought pausing our sessions was a bad idea and insisted that we could make it work. She said that pausing would be traumatising for my system when things are so bad already and I really need the therapy. She told me she could reduce her fee and I could pay when I could afford to, but that I needed to keep coming (if that’s what I wanted).
Honestly, the relief was massive. It felt like Anita really genuinely is invested in the work we are doing and that she really cares about me. I mean I knew this already; she demonstrates it week in week out in how she is with me. But I think dramatically reducing her fee so that I could keep coming really showed me that it’s not about the money to her. I felt so much shame about not being able to afford to pay her properly and yet it really wasn’t a dealbreaker for her. It’s taking some time to get my head round!
We agreed a fee for the next two months rather than per session and to do 75 minutes face-to-face and reduce the Friday online session to a 15 minute check in – which was fine by me (at the time) as I don’t get a lot from the online but touching base is good. This is largely how it had been anyway, over lockdown, where I have only been going once a week in an evening to fit around home-schooling and childcare. It’s not been ideal this year but I have kind of accepted that something is better than nothing and there are so many people who aren’t able to see their therapists face-to-face that I know I have it really good.
I have missed the twice-a-week sessions in the room since Christmas, but to be honest I’ve just been grateful to see A at all, especially after the having to isolate for two weeks and then thinking would have to stop altogether it’s felt like winning the lottery having any time!
This last couple of weeks has felt hard as I started sliding on the black ice of depression and anxiety on speed. The time between sessions has felt looooong and my young parts have been really struggling with that. The object constancy stuff is a real problem for me and I just can’t seem to hang onto the sense of safety and her care and warmth for seven days. I feel like such an idiot saying that when there is clearly so much evidence to the contrary. I’m still wearing the groove in my brain, though and it’s like recoiling a spring but in the opposite way to how it’s been set. It’ll take time.
There was one session where I was so desperate to connect with Anita but I just couldn’t. My protectors were fronting and I could feel my little parts screaming inside. It was agony. I couldn’t look at her and was frozen. Anita was patient and kind and so reassuring letting me know she was there, that she was waiting for me to let her in, and that she wasn’t going anywhere. She was already sitting beside me, within touching distance, but I said it didn’t feel like she was there and she said, ‘I know, and I think it’s been hard only seeing each other once a week hasn’t it?’ Sometimes she just sees exactly what the problem is and it cuts through all my defences. I just crumbled on the sofa into a flood of tears and she pulled me into her and held me again as I cried and cried.
These sessions probably sound like nothing much is happening but actually SO MUCH healing has gone on in them. I’ve been at my lowest, stripped bare (not literally, obvs!), and allowed myself to be really seen and that is massive. To be responded to with care, compassion, and love has been so huge. Anita is so responsive to my need. Last week I text her on Thursday evening. ‘I miss you’. That was it. She replied shortly after with, ‘Would you like to come here tomorrow morning?’ When I picked up the message I was stunned. I asked if that would be ok, and she said of course and she’d look forward to seeing me in the morning.
With my wife being off it means I have childcare and so I think Anita realised that and knows how helpful the second session is to me… especially after my performance earlier in the week. And that second session did make a huge difference. I came away feeling so much more settled despite more tears and trembling. I’m seeing her twice again this week, and although my child parts have been feeling really needy and unsettled (because of life) knowing that I only need to hold it until Friday is massive and feels more possible.
Anyway, that’s a huge ramble without a lot of detail, I’m afraid. There’s more to say but this is long so I’ll get myself back in the zone for the next post!
Thank you, guys, for all the support you’ve sent my way in recent weeks (and months). It’s meant a lot to me xxx
When I was seventeen, I went and saw a palmist in Bangkok and he did a detailed consultation for me. At the time I was sceptical – I certainly hadn’t got into my astrology and tarot at that point! My dad had been to see him years before, when he worked in Thailand (his Thai friends all swore by this guy), and his reading had been surprisingly accurate for the past as well as what had started to unfold in the intervening time since he’d come back to the UK.
I figured there was nothing to lose so went and sat in his consulting office, put my hands in some ink and transferred the image of my palms onto paper. With the print of my hands and my date of birth alone before him, he took compasses and all kinds of mathematical equipment and set to work. I sat and watched as he methodically worked his way through one hand at time. After about twenty minutes, finished, he looked up and spoke to me and told me what my palms said.
I remember feeling like there was a lot of accuracy in the reading at the time, but then at seventeen telling me I would be in an arts field and hate maths was really a 50/50 guess surely?! He said that I would have two children – which made me bristle and instantly made me think the guy was a crock of shit because at that point I knew I was gay (I wasn’t out yet) and couldn’t imagine how children would ever be part of my life (although I desperately wanted to be a mum). There were other things, too, but to be honest looking ahead twenty years when you’re that age seems like another lifetime…well, it is now I am here!
As I walked out the door, I remember him holding my hands in his and telling me that I have a very strong sixth sense and to trust in it. I thanked him for his time and put my inky print in my bag and went on to enjoy the rest of my holiday. When I got home I put the envelope containing the reading in a box with other souvenirs and photos and there it lay for the next few years as I went off to university, met my wife, travelled the world and grew up a bit.
When I was twenty-five I got the news that my dad had died suddenly of a heart attack in Thailand whilst on holiday. It was, without doubt, the worst, most distressing experience of my life. I’ve written about it before so won’t bother again now, but the trauma surrounding that event was the trigger that sent my life into freefall and opened Pandora’s Box spewing out a lifetime of trauma that I had dissociated away. This bereavement signalled the start of the massive mental breakdown I had.
Every single day I miss my dad and, at times, even now, twelve years later, the grief rises up in me and I howl with pain or wake up in floods of tears when he enters my dreams (which is a lot lately). My anchor is gone and I struggle to accept that. Especially when, right now, I REALLY need him. It sounds daft, being an adult myself, but when I feel like I do right now (like a child), I really could do with the steadying presence of my rock.
Anyway, after he died, I was going through his stuff, clearing his house, and found his palm reading from years before. I opened it up and glanced through it. It was so on the money that I could barely breathe. When I got home, I went into my loft, found the box that contained my reading and looked to see what it said, only now viewing it with more grown-up eyes and living further in the future. It was definitely interesting. There were some parts that I was hoping wouldn’t materialise not too far ahead but others that might be a possibility. I folded it up, put it away again and carried on with my life.
Time moved on. We moved house. The box in the loft moved into the next loft and the hand prints, souvenirs, and photos were safely stored there along, now, with my dad’s copy, his passport and letters he had written me over the years. My wife and I got married. We started a family (and yes, 2 children!). I got cancer. My wife lost her job. Things got bumpy. Things got better. Then bumpy again. And then really bumpy…which brings us to now.
If you look at the picture (above) you’ll see that it’s slap bang in the wobbly red ‘SHIIIIIIIITTTTT’ area between 37-38 years old where finances are fucked. I turn 38 in a few weeks and ugh…can’t we just fast-forward to 40 where I apparently get super successful and hit the peak of my life for the next 18 years?!
I’ve been AWOL here on the blog a bit this month. Since Christmas I have written, on and off, about how hard things have been feeling (really fucking hard). The Christmas therapy break felt tough this year, but then that wasn’t surprising as I headed into the anniversary of ‘tick gate’ and the end of my therapeutic relationship with Em. Then lockdown three thousand was announced, home-schooling started AGAIN, and I had to reduce face-to-face contact with Anita to once a week and no visits to K ☹. Then my wife got COVID and was isolated from us for weeks upstairs. Obviously, the kids and I were also stuck inside – so then no face-to-face at all with A…GROAN.
Incrementally, week on week, things were getting emotionally harder to cope with. I could feel myself sliding. I just felt so stretched and anxious, and on the edge, and yet the support I needed felt further and further away. Of course, Anita hadn’t gone anywhere but it didn’t feel that way when I had to revert to complete online therapy during isolation. There’s fuck all privacy here so online sessions are often interrupted by one of my kids who suddenly need me. I can never fully relax into a session, and the parts that need help rarely show up, or if they do, they get so upset that it actually feels worse.
I am really shit with online therapy (no shit!). But it felt especially hard this time because Anita was here, she hadn’t gone away, and she had been willing to see me face-to-face this lockdown after my complete lack of coping in the November/December lockdown! No need to write more on that!! You’ve all been along for the ride. So, it just felt so fucking unfair that I couldn’t see her and I couldn’t believe unlucky we’d been for my wife to get Covid.
Things started to escalate inside over the isolation period. I felt a sense of foreboding and panic rising up in my body. It’s a familiar feeling of dread that is so visceral it cannot be ignored. It wasn’t about being unable to get to see Anita or COVID (although those stresses and attachment stuff were definitely there too). Instead, I don’t know why, but I started to feel like my wife was going to lose her job. It was such a strong burning feeling in me that I really couldn’t ignore it. On paper there would be no reason this should happen. She’s very good at what she does and has transformed the place she has been working in with recognition from the inspectorate.
Perhaps I was just being silly. Maybe I just had too much alone time. Perhaps I was just being pessimistic and was crumbling under the stress and pressure of the last couple of months…but it didn’t feel that way. I couldn’t get away from the feeling and no amount of rationalising would make it go away.
I got out my deck of moon tarot cards (definitely got a lot more alternative since that day getting my palms read!). It’s freaky what happens with them. Frequently I’ll ask a question and get a card that resonates. Then I’ll ask the same question again…and get the same card. A few months ago, I pulled the same card six times in succession on the same afternoon! I close my eyes and spend ages shuffling them about – I have no reason to try and ‘cheat’ but it always makes me feel a bit ‘eek’ when the same card keeps coming. Anyway, I asked the question three times and got the same card. It felt confirming but also not what I wanted to hear.
Two days before my wife was due to go back to work, and we had all received negative Covid tests I decided to tell her what I was feeling. It was making me ill. The fear of losing everything (which is where my mind takes me when stability is questioned but that’s the trauma brain) was making it so that I couldn’t eat and the nightmares I was having every night were taking their toll.
Usually, my wife would tell me I was overreacting and to not run away with panic. But this time she didn’t. She looked at me seriously and said, ‘You know what RB? Your Spidey sense has never been wrong in all these years we’ve been together on anything. I hope you are wrong but if you’re right we’ll be ok, we’ll find a way through together’. That helped a lot. I mean I was still stressed out beyond words but at least she was accepting that my gut was screaming and that maybe it might have a point even if there was no tangible evidence yet.
Then it happened. As suspected. On the Monday she went to work for a morning meeting and was on her way home within half an hour. Absolute farce. I told her to record the meeting just in case even though there was no reason to suspect that anything was wrong. It’s a good job she did. Our friend is a HR manager for a big organisation and listened to the recording and was absolutely horrified by what took place. The laugh is, in the UK if you have less than a year with an organisation you can have your contract terminated for no reason at all so long as they pay you any holiday owing and stick to the terms of their contract – i.e a week’s notice.
I felt so sad but also so vindicated when my feeling was confirmed to be correct. But of course, here we are again. No job and huge stress with bills etc. I text Anita the day it happened to let her know. I had already spoken to her about my worries in the weeks before it happened (she probably thought I was losing my mind and overreacting!) and told her that I wanted to see her for our planned session the next evening but from that point on we’d have to put the therapy on hold as I didn’t know how we were going to cover bills let alone therapy. You can probably imagine what that felt like.
This last year, but certainly the last few months, has been an emotional rollercoaster and to lose the one thing/person that actually helps me function felt unbearable. I felt utterly beside myself. Anita as usual was, and has been, incredible throughout but this is long so I’ll write more on this later.
So what was the point in this post? Well, what I am learning, despite the shit storms is that I can and should trust my gut. The other day I was so shut down and was isolating myself from A. It was so painful. I wanted to be close but was terrified of being too much. The fear of abandonment stuff was massive and I think this especially the case right now with all the instability at home. Anita said she thinks I know deep down, and can feel, that she is safe, but sometimes the fear that I have about what’s happened in the past comes in and impacts how I can relate to her.
I always knew in my gut that Em was not safe. I tried to convince myself otherwise- that it was my hypervigilance gone mad and that there was something wrong with me. I so desperately wanted her to be safe that I repeatedly ignored what my body was telling me. Whereas, I have felt safe with Anita from day one. What comes in when I am silent and disconnected is not that I am unsafe with her, it’s the fear that I’ll lose her by being too much – especially now, when she’s seeing me for next to nothing.
It’s a completely different thing to how it was with Em because underneath that I DO KNOW that if I let Anita in, she is there ready. She is willing to connect. She isn’t scared of me. I know she loves me. I can feel it even without my sixth sense! Sometimes my brain just doesn’t get the memo in the moment that things have changed and it takes a while to unstick the brakes.
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.