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.
For once – brace yourselves for this- I’m going to write primarily about my mum and the mother wound, rather than wax lyrical about my therapist! Of course, the work I do in therapy relates so much to my relationship (or lack of one) with my mother, but usually I’m here talking about what’s been triggered when I see Anita and how that works out rather than stuff in the here and now with my mum.
However, my most recent rupture with Anita was so powerful and so painful and it coincided so neatly with something that happened with my mum that it was so obvious to see that what I was bringing into the room, to Anita, was decades old hurts from another relationship altogether. Afterall, my therapist not being able to offer slightly longer sessions really should not have triggered the colossal meltdown/s that it did. I mean it’s literally been a solid two months (and still going strong!) of internal chaos and anxiety and frankly, that’s disproportionate to what the trigger actually was.
When you dig beneath the surface, though, and get curious about what the feelings in mine and Anita’s rupture were about: feeling unimportant, easy to put down, and being unworthy of Anita’s time and care, it’s not hard to see why this triggered such a big meltdown. Those feelings are so huge and so raw and yet SOOOOOOOOOOO fucking longstanding and familiar. The sense of being unlovable and inadequate has covered me like a second skin. It’s like being doused in a thick tar of shame. It’s bloody awful.
The need to feel… loved… is (still) so massive. For years and years, I felt like there was something wrong with me for needing connection and that I must be fundamentally lacking in whatever it is that makes people want to be close. No. Not people. People do love and care about, and for, me – I have great friends and a wonderful partner… what I really mean is a mum. A mum that loves me. Is proud of me. Wants to spend time with me. Is interested in me as a person. Feels protective of me. Is there. Available. Attuned. Someone whom I can be myself around. Someone who can give physical affection. Someone who is safe.
That’s a big wish list isn’t it? Perhaps as an adult, yes, but as a child, they are the basic fundamentals, surely.
But then is it really too much to expect – no, not really. I am a mother and these things come naturally. Sure, my kids wind me up and drive me fucking mad – but they are also bloody amazing, and I love them more than anything. There is absolutely nothing I would not do to ensure their happiness and felt sense of safety and being loved. My kids roll their eyes when each day I say, “Guess What?” and then reply “We know Mummy, you love us!” But I love that. I love that there is no doubt in my kids’ minds that they are loved. I love that they come to me when they are hurt or scared or just plain bored. I love the fact that they witter on for hours about boring shit but know that I’ll listen and not just send them off so I can have some time to myself. I love that they know that I will be there every single day to pick them up from school, to read a story, to put them to bed…
They probably have no concept of what this time means because it forms part of the fabric of their existence, but having not had that growing up I can say it has left a massive hole. The sense of being ‘left’ as a child has been hard. I know and understand the reasons my mum went away and her achievements have been significant, but the impact it had on the little girl who was left behind was significant too. And that’s been a big part of my therapeutic work. The coping mechanisms I put in place over the years to deal with that gaping hole inside have been huge and massively detrimental to my health. As I wrote recently, I am through the eating disorder stuff now – but it has taken the best part of 25 years. 25 fucking years. I mean hell, wtf?
As I have said before, my relationship with my mum isn’t perfect but it has been something that evolved and has worked for us both over the last decade or so since having my children. We don’t see much of her, but it’s felt like there has been a reasonable level of contact. There’s not been any drama or fallings out since I announced my first pregnancy and I have come to accept that my mum will never be a hands-on grandparent like my friend’s have. She’s not someone who will take the kids for days out, or have them for holidays or whatever but it’s been ‘good enough’…well…no…it’s been what it is. I feel sad for my children, having had a set of grandparents who were so much fun and child-orientated myself, but I give them these experiences as their parent so it’s not desperate.
Only recently, I don’t know what has happened. It feels like something has shifted and changed and I have no idea why. Like I just can’t put my finger on it. Before Christmas I mentioned that my mum seemed to have dropped off the face of the earth – and at that time I started trying to figure out what was going on. Had I said or done something to account for the radio silence? I couldn’t put my finger on anything and started dredging up things like, ‘could she somehow have found my blog and taken offence about what was in it?’ but then out of nowhere she rang me and it was as if nothing had happened. It was a total head fuck to be honest with you.
So, fast forward to now. And we’re in similar territory. I think I mentioned in one of my recent posts how she’d taken a few weeks to reply to a text but had prefaced her reply with the fact she’d had covid. I mean, she hadn’t had covid the entire time and let’s be honest, a quick message on WhatsApp doesn’t take a second but – whatever. And then it was my birthday and the thing about having not been able to get out to get a card- fine. Whatever. Whilst I was away on holiday in February, I had sent a message asking if she could have the kids for a day in July and she replied that she couldn’t as she might be doing something…nothing in the calendar yet, but you know, something might come up as a priority. This message coincided with all the stuff with Anita and the stopping longer sessions and it just really triggered the stuff about being completely unimportant and inadequate.
Anyway, I sent flowers and a card for Mother’s Day – and she sent me a message then….but that’s it since. I have sent several messages (5 if we’re keeping tabs) over the last month – and the ticks have gone blue but there’s been no response at all. It’s been the kids’ Easter holidays and in the past we’ve done Easter egg hunts in the garden and she’d bring them an egg. Not this year. No acknowledgment at all. And whilst I may or may not have done something to offend my mum (literally no clue – other than having this blog) I can’t understand why she would not want to make and effort or spend time with her grandchildren. They haven’t done anything wrong…but then neither have I.
I find myself tying myself in knots trying to second guess what’s going on. It feels so reminiscent of my teenage years, trying to make sense of a situation and work out my part in it. Like it makes no sense to stonewall someone unless they’ve done something wrong – so what is the thing I’ve done to deserve this?
Of course, there’s another part of me that feels like I need to stop trying so hard. If she doesn’t want a relationship with me or her grandchildren then that’s fine. Let her get on with it. I need to stop putting myself out there to be rejected or ignored. Every time I message her and there is no reply I am engaging in this weird dynamic. I keep knocking at a door that is locked and bolted. It’s like Em and the empty cupboard. Get the message RB – if she wanted to engage with you she would reply to you. So I need to stop, don’t I?
Some people have asked why I don’t just ring her up and call her out on this, but it doesn’t feel as easy as that. For someone who is usually really assertive and articulate, I just can’t do it when it comes to talking to my mum. I mean I’ll go head to head with her Tory Brexiteer bullshit but when it comes to, “Mum, I feel really sad that we don’t have a good relationship and I’ve really struggled over the years to understand what it is about me that makes you be so distant”… you know, why put yourself out there to be shot down in flames? Especially, if the narrative that still runs loud inside is, “You think you’re so perfect. Who do you think you are? I wish you’d never been born!”
I may not be great at ignoring the triggers or coping with the anxiety that some unreturned messages evoke but I sure as shit will not put myself out there to be hurt further. And I can see the whole thing being turned on its head, that I am somehow the aggressor, and she is the victim, “You have no idea how hard it was for me, what I sacrificed for you…” and it’ll become a character assassination. I am not here (on the blog), trying to blame her for anything – but how things were as a child has left an imprint on me (and that’s what I write about). It’s been really fucking hard, and the mother wound is painful. I’m nearly fucking forty and yet, here I am after more than a decade of therapy writing about how painful it is to be ignored by my mum, and by extension – my therapist (even though A doesn’t ignore me).
Perhaps I am deficient and too needy and am ‘mental’ and pathetic. Perhaps that’s what she sees?
But I’ve done enough work now to challenge that narrative. The Inner Critic that was forged from my mother’s voice can get back in the box. I don’t need it anymore. I have a level of self-compassion that can counteract it. I developed the critic to protect me. By being my own biggest critic and attacking myself meant that nothing anyone else could say or do to me could be worse. I had my own trump card. But now I have seen the role of the critic, and realised I don’t need it anymore. What I need to do is look at WHY it developed in the first place and look at what I was trying to get away from – the mother wound – of course.
So, what do I do now? I guess, I keep taking this stuff to therapy and working through in the safety of the room with Anita. And I stop putting myself out there with my mum. If she chooses to get in touch then great, but I am not going to keep flogging a dead horse – for want of a better expression. What would you do? It’s one of those situations where I wish I could just take the bull by the horns and ask what’s happened – because ultimately if there’s a bad reaction what am I actually losing? I can’t be any more anxious or confused than I am now. I guess, though, right now I can feel some sense of it not being ‘my fault’ and if I confront her the likelihood is the situation will be made ‘my fault’ and then I’ll start doubting myself… in some way, backing off and ‘letting it go’ is the best I can do right now.
Anyway, I’ll leave that here. I’m just off the back of a therapy break and so I’ve been grappling with that alongside this mum stuff. Unfortunately, there’s quite a few bank holidays coming up in the UK over the next few weeks and so there’s more disruption to the therapy but I’ll get through it. I always do.
Last night I was driving to therapy and Destiny’s Child’s ‘Survivor’ came on my random playlist. That album was the soundtrack to my second year of A Levels – and, man, did I turn up the volume last night and belt it out – I was 18 and it was 2001 again!…
I mean, the title of this post says it all really? Pre-warning this post ends up nearly 7000 words so you might be just as well making your own inference from the title!
It’s been a long while since I have written anything about the day-to-day of my therapy and that’s partly because I’ve been so busy with just ‘getting through’ my days that I haven’t really had time to type, and also because Anita and I are navigating the rupture from hell and I wanted to be out the other side of it before I wrote anything. The thing is, it’s been almost six weeks now, and it’s still dire and so I think I need to put something down for my own sanity as much as anything as it’s all kind of blurring into one long disaster and the chronology is skewing in my head.
It feels like there’s just been an awful chain of cumulative events that have totally derailed the therapy and I am really all over the shop right now– I couldn’t even get out the car yesterday for half an hour to go to my session because I was frozen and kept dissociating…that’s how bad it’s felt. Part of me (thank goodness) feels like things will work out in the end because the feelings haven’t changed between Anita and I, but right now I’m having a hard time navigating everything that has happened and the changes in the way we do therapy because it’s sending shockwaves through my system and the child parts are terrified.
I guess I should go back where I left off when I was on holiday. My kids had COVID just before we went away which meant some online sessions which are always tough but I had managed a face to face before I flew off on my trip. My holiday was amazing, and much needed. Anita and I had a couple of exchanges – basically I sent her some photos of the sun – and everything was pretty ok until I got home to the UK on the Friday. That’s when the longing of the young parts kicked in full force. I was sooooo ready to see A after what had felt like weeks of not being able to get what I really needed and I really just wanted to go and reconnect and have a massive cuddle. It was going to be a lumpy period of time going forward, too, because I had just one session before Anita was due to be away for a week herself and so it felt really important to have that one session and to reconnect before yet another disconnection.
I sent Anita a message on the Sunday outlining where I was at. I had this sort of sick feeling as the day went on but hoped it was just anxiety and that everything would be ok when we got to see each other in person. Unfortunately, as the universe would have it, that session didn’t go ahead. Anita was away with her partner and got a flat tyre where he lives which meant she couldn’t come back home. It was going to be challenge enough sorting the tyre and still getting across country for the ferry. I was so disappointed when I received Anita’s message but could see how annoyed she was too, and it clearly wasn’t deliberate, just one of those things, but my goodness, the disappointment I felt was massive. It was clear, too, that she had literally been coming back for me that day when she could have stayed put so part of me felt heartened by the fact she did want to come, just couldn’t.
Anyway, no surprises that the online session was a car crash. I tried really hard to stay present and adult but it just fell to pieces. I was sad and disappointed. I had given her my elephant to wash when I went on holiday so it could be ready for when I saw her and before she went away. Obviously, that didn’t happen and so my go to transitional object was not where I needed it to be and that set the child parts off even more. After that session I text Anita to apologise for giving her a hard time and said I understood what had happened, but it was just difficult and that I missed her. I rounded off the message by asking for stories and cuddles when we got back.
The week whilst she was gone led to an escalation of panic inside. The child parts felt so untethered, ungrounded and try as I might to soothe them it just didn’t really work. I was due to see A on the Tuesday as wasn’t due back on the Monday until after our session. Of course, I was more than ready to see her. She’d text me to tell me that she was looking forward to seeing me and I felt huge relief about being able to go in and just unpack how hard the last month had been. Disruption is so hard for my young parts, separation is painful…
On the Monday evening I was really aware of how bloody sore that mother wound had got. It felt like I was bleeding out tbh. I text Anita and asked if over the next couple of weeks we could do some slightly longer sessions because things felt so wobbly and I needed space and time to settle and reconnect.
Probably once or twice a month Anita I have 75 minute sessions and I have written before about how helpful these can be, especially when stuff feels shaky as it gives time to settle into the space, ground, and then let stuff out and then give it time to be repacked safely.
Anita didn’t reply.
WARNING bells started ringing but I tried to put them to one side.
I was nervous as I walked up the driveway for the session but figured if I could just get in the room and the protectors would stay offline then the child parts could get what they so badly needed and things would start to recalibrate inside.
I walked into the room and our story books and elephant were not in the room.
Instantly I froze and the protectors went live. I basically shut down. I couldn’t even look at Anita.
It felt like Anita hadn’t kept the child parts in mind and it triggered the fuck out of me. I mean it was REALLY BAD. Having had so much separation and disruption, already, it just seemed to confirm that fear that the young parts have of being forgotten about, or not kept in mind, or generally just not being very important.
The session was uncomfortable because I couldn’t really speak – I just felt so little and lost – and Anita seemed to be unable to join the dots. She reassured me that we were ok, and that nothing had changed but to be honest it felt like we were on different planets. It felt like she was phoning it in and not really ‘there’. Of course, it’s difficult to tell when I’m in that state because everything feels bad and listening back it was nowhere near a terrible as it felt. She asked me what I felt was different because from her side nothing was and that she still loves and cares about me – but when you feel little and abandoned it’s hard to say, “Where is elephant and why aren’t the books here and I missed you and I need a cuddle and and and…?” It’s so fucking cringe.
I know she offered me hugs early on, but I refused them. I so badly wanted to be able to bridge the gap, but the protectors just weren’t allowing it. About half-way through the miserable silence and Anita asked again what was up, I was able to reply, “It doesn’t feel safe.” And she asked, “What can I do to make it feel safer? What do you need?…I really am here for you no matter what…” but that was met with more silence. I just needed her to physically reach out to me which I know is impossible for her to do if I have told her I don’t want a hug. (I do want a hug!)
Later she wondered it I felt like maybe I thought she didn’t care, and asked me what gave me the impression that she didn’t care. I was so far gone and wedged into that dark pit of doom that I just couldn’t get out, I couldn’t tell her why I was so upset and the longer it went on the worse it got.
Anita said something about how she knows my system is programmed to think “it’s dangerous to have time and distance” because of what’s happened to me in the past, but that separation doesn’t have to me that everything has gone wrong. She told me, “I am here, and I really want to be closer but you’re not letting me.” After a little while a tiny voice whispered, “It feels like you’ve forgotten about me.” Anita emphatically told me she hadn’t but of course all I could see was the evidence – elephant wasn’t there, and neither were the books and so in the eyes of the child parts they were out of mind and that is AGONY.
I felt so overwhelmed that I got off the sofa and sat curled up in a ball on the floor. I couldn’t bear to be seen and just sat there trembling with my face on my knees. It was fucking awful. Anita shuffled herself across the sofa and put her hands on my back in a kind of hug and kept rubbing my back. Physical reconnection is so important after a big break to let the young parts know they are still welcome, and I really needed that touch. I just wish that we had hugged on the doorstep when I arrived because that would have gone some way to reminding the parts that she is still her and I am still me and so forgetting things doesn’t mean the love and care has gone…but then of course child parts don’t see grey. It’s black and white. And any hint of retreat on the part of the other signals imminent abandonment and rejection and so we are doomed!
I left the session feeling desperately sad and activated. In the past I would have written, got it down in words and filtered whatever was coming up through the adult but it felt really important to honour what was coming up for the young parts and so I did something different. I got out some crayons and let the young parts draw and express themselves. I used my non-dominant hand…which was weird, but actually really freeing. I am not good at art, anyway, so it really did look like a four-year-old had been let loose with the Crayola but that was the whole point, it wasn’t meant to be polished it was the actual feelings in the moment. And once I got going it all came.
I was in two minds what to do with them. Part of me wanted Anita to see them and part of me felt ashamed and embarrassed. However, I felt it was important that this ‘voice’ wasn’t hidden away because it was the true vulnerable stuff. So I sent them and WHOA NELLY the shit then hit the fucking fan – deep breaths for a RB meltdown!:
Crikey that felt so massive at the time. It felt like I triggered Anita into defensive parent, an almost “look what I do for you and it’s never enough” when actually I think what she was trying to do was reassure me and prove to me that she shows her commitment in so many ways. It was just terrible timing, though. I shared the most vulnerable stuff with her and suddenly money and time boundaries we coming into play. I felt like I had showed her how hurt I was and she was now taking stuff away. Jeez. It really set the cat amongst the pigeons.
After a lot of back-and-forth things settled but I felt like I’d been on the emotional waltzers – I bet you guys do too having seen it in all its glory!
Somehow, I regained my equilibrium after that (I have to say having K on my team has really helped buffer this stuff and give me space to process it a bit outside the immediate triggering situation) and the next session was largely adult – I talked about all sorts of things, I was settled enough, felt safe enough, and then with twenty minutes to go I leapt in and talked about what had happened that last session and how it had impacted me. Anita was really understanding and apologised for not having my stuff in the room and wanted me to know it’s not because she doesn’t care it’s just sometimes she forgets and it’s not intentional.
So what’s going on then? Why has everything just flipped on its axis? It turns out Anita is stretched to her limit and has basically had to rein everything in so that she doesn’t burn out.
Oh great. Here we go.
Timing is everything and coming off the back of a holiday and disruption the last thing I needed was a shift in the frame and boundaries.
Part of protecting herself from burnout is changing how she works…which is bad news for me. Adult me gets that people’s lives don’t stay the same and things change – I mean look at my life over the last two years – but it’s felt so fucking hard having my therapy impacted through no fault of my own. Stuff in Anita’s life has got harder and in order to manage that, it’s my therapy and time with her that suffers (well not just that, but you know what I mean). She’s told me that she’s tried really hard to not let what’s happening impact me and tried to keep things the same as I am so impacted by change but she has to make changes or she’ll be no good to anyone.
The child part keeps looping round to “What have I done wrong?” and has asked her several times because the extra time being taken off the table and the outside contact seemingly being reduced too…well it feels punishing. And no surprises it has a huge impact on how safe I feel in the relationship. Things have escalated into a total shitshow when they previously wouldn’t have because I have stopped reaching out for fear of being ‘too much’ or not getting a reply when I need it. It’s basically a recipe for disaster.
Case in point was recently I had a fucking awful dream about Anita- and usually I would have reached out at the time, and she would have responded with something caring or holding and it would have put it to rest until the next session when we could look at it together. This time, instead of letting her know about it, I held onto it, and it just festered and snowballed as the week went on. Then that same week Anita text me midweek to tell me she was having to cancel a session the following week but might be able to rearrange and would let me know the next day…but she didn’t let me know and so I felt panicked and stressed and forgotten about and abandoned….and that was another straw on the camel’s back…nearly at breaking point.
The dream was hideous, and it doesn’t take all that imagination to see what it was about:
I was due to go to my session and when I arrived Anita was already sitting in the room. She was sitting on the sofa, but it had been cut in half, and the part that I sit on had been removed from the room and instead replaced with a desk/workstation. I looked at Anita and her face had no expression (like still face experiment). It was like her body was there, but she was absent. I felt instantly sick. I said, “you’ve changed it” and she swore blind that she hadn’t and “nothing was different”. I pointed at the desk and said “you’ve made it so we can’t sit together, and I can’t be close to you anymore”. And she denied it again. I walked out crying knowing that I wouldn’t see her again.
I woke up trembling and shaking on the Monday morning and it niggled away at me for the rest of the week. By the time I arrived at the session I was done in. It never used to be like this and it’s really taking its toll.
And so we go on and on and on in this messy spiral.
I will get my head round it eventually but right now it’s like I have had the rug pulled from under my feet. I feel like I have been cast adrift. I feel like I am questioning the relationship because if I really ‘mattered’ she’d find the time for me, wouldn’t she? And then of course it all comes back round to the fact that I am work, a client, and she can switch off from me whenever she chooses, and I don’t have any power in the relationship other than to leave. It’s that kicker of a reality check that really gives the critic and protectors power. They will burn the house down.
Part of what’s really hard is that the changes in Anita and I work have not been discussed or mutually agreed, they’ve been imposed by her/done to me. And this triggers back into what it was like as a child. I either went along with what was happening or I lost out altogether. I feel desperately sad that the therapy that felt so containing and holding now feels threatening to my system. Suddenly I want more than Anita can give, but my needs haven’t changed, I am not asking for more – it’s her capacity that’s changed…and that’s really hard…I am trying to get adult on board but it’s tough when all the child parts have been triggered and trust feels wobbly.
And yet, deep down, I really do know Anita cares about me and loves me. None of what she has done is meant to hurt me. There isn’t anything fundamentally wrong between us. She isn’t pulling back because of me or because I am too much, but it’s so hard to accept that because that’s how I am experiencing it. It may not be me that’s causing her to retreat, but it is still a retreat, and I am still feeling the impact of it. And no amount of her explaining she has to rejig to be able to work safely is cutting it, because little me feels like mummy has decided that little girl is able to cope alone and that her needs don’t warrant attention anymore…ouch.
And basically, we’re right back in the thick of the mother wound where I had to be an adult too soon. And yes, I get I AM AN ADULT but this inner child work is such delicate work and I feel like it’s hit the skids in a big way. It’s no surprise that I am dreaming of careering down hills and my brakes not working. Argh.
Of course, I still have my two sessions a week. I can still text Anita and she does reply most of the time (just not in the way she used to). We still get to cuddle. She still reads stories. She is still Anita. In so many ways nothing has changed and yet internally EVERYTHING has been blown up. There feels like there is no space for me now. Like what if I need her, or an extra session? That’s not available and so that makes it feel unsafe and uncontained…even though I don’t need an extra session right now!
I am trying to tell myself and remind myself all the ways that things are still ok. How committed A is. BUT those teens and the inner critic can be so vocal can’t they? And it’s hard. Sometimes all I can do is take a step back and go…’but look how much you still get, look how much you NEVER got with Em, and do you really think there’s anyone who would go even halfway towards what Anita gives you?’ and when I do this I realise that actually I am so fucking lucky. I’m lucky that Anita is dug in deep too and can hear me losing my shit and accept it and apologise for her part in some things and keep showing up for me, like we are in the trenches but we’re not admitting defeat.
After the episode (meltdown) with the young parts’ drawings and elephant not being in the room Anita has had the books out in every session. She was so sorry that the little parts had felt disregarded and assured me that it was NEVER her intention and that there was no message or change to be read in her forgetting. So, I try and let that filter in. I do feel her authenticity and humanness – she is not perfect – and I guess this is another lesson to the littles that idealise her. Actually, she’s just like the rest of us – flawed – and she regularly says this herself. But she’s better than anything I have experienced previously, she is a better therapist than Em and she is more nurturing and available than my mum!
It was my birthday recently and she remembered, and not only remembered but bought me a present – a soft toy…a soft toy that I had sent her a picture of last year and said how much I wanted one because they are soooo soft and she wrote me a lovely card, too…unlike my mum who didn’t even send me a card.
Like this woman cares A LOT. She listens and she takes me, all of me, in. I feel it, I see it, and yet because the relationship is so deep and intimate now it touches on every sore bit I have when things shift and change. In fact, I text her after another disaster session yesterday and said, “I love you, but it would be so much easier if I didn’t.” I get that this is part of the work. It’s where I am at right now. We’re dealing with all the triggers and all the landmines, and I need to learn that change doesn’t signal disaster but my god it’s sending me through the crazy mill!
I absolutely love my squishmallow. I love Anita. And yet, hardly any time after my birthday just before Mother’s Day… I got up and walked out of a session … as you do. Talk about yo-yoing! It was another intolerable situation I found myself in. I had got myself worked up about that dream about the sofa, how I didn’t feel like Anita was ‘there for me’ anymore and then the thing about not letting me know if I could see her when she said she would had left me in a state because it felt like she just doesn’t get how impacted I am by disruption. It turned out she could reschedule but ahhhhhhh by the time I found that out it was too late – I was full blown shut down!…
AND YES I DO SEE HOW NIT-PICKY IT’S BECOME but this is what happens.
Trigger after trigger after trigger sees us going mental with the hypervigilance and every small thing becomes fucking massive. I know it, and yet, it’s so hard to step out of it when we’re so far out the window of tolerance – which in my case is painfully thin like a letterbox even at the best of times! I feel like I need some space to just settle and breathe and yet we keep hitting landmines. Yesterday Anita said, “it feels like one disaster after another with us at the moment, doesn’t it?” before enveloping me in a tight hug that was so very needed. The fact it had taken me half an hour to be able to get out the car because I felt so upset about a lack of acknowledgment about a card I had given her…well…fuckkkkkkkk.
Anyway, that ‘walk out’ session before Mother’s Day was another disaster. Another massive sense of disconnection. Another time when I couldn’t allow myself to let Anita close and in pushing her away fuelled the fire of feeling abandoned. She repeatedly asked me if I wanted a hug and I repeatedly said “NOOOOO”. I was keeping her at arm’s length, protecting myself but also, deliberately punishing her a bit, I think.
Parts of me are so hurt and so angry about what’s happened with the change to the therapy and my sense of her taking herself away, that I think there’s a bit of me that wants her to feel it and understand it. That’s new. Usually, my protective parts are all about keeping me safe and nothing about trying to have an impact on the other. But is it her, that I want to punish? No. Not really. It’s my mum. It’s my mum’s deficits and lack of care not Anita’s that are the problem. Anita isn’t my mum and yet she’s been more of a mum to me in the last two years than mine ever has been…and yet, my therapist, poor woman is bearing the brunt of someone else’s legacy. She didn’t create the injury but she’s feeling the full force of it.
In a recent session A told me that my silence and pushing her away can feel punishing sometimes and then she had started to cry. I was blown away. So often she’s said how she respects my protectors and the job they are trying to do so it was a revelation to hear that, actually, my self-protection can feel hard for her too, and that how I am impacts her. I mean I guess it must, but sometimes I think we forget our therapists are not robots (well, Em was!). I had said at the time my silence and shut down is self-protection not rejection, and she said that her having to look after herself was self-protection but I am experiencing it as rejection, too. Neither one of us is aiming to reject the other but that’s what it’s feeling like. FUCK!!! Being in relationship is hard isn’t it?!
Unfortunately, the day I walked out of session – or should I say what prompted me to do a runner was that my silence and difficulty saying whatever it was that I was feeling led the conversation round to the idea of control and Anita saying I have control and power in the relationship and that I can look after me. It felt like she was saying she was no longer prepared to look after me and set the fireworks off again. SHITTTTTT. Reader, that is not what she was saying at all, but it was enough for me to get up and leave. I couldn’t tolerate the pain of the disconnection anymore and ran out. FUCK. Man!!
I sat in my car crying for a bit and then text Anita and told her that I knew we were done and that I needed time to process it. I felt so desperate and lost and alone.
She replied an hour later with:
“If that’s your choice, I truly respect your decision. You need to do what feels best for you.”
Ouch. Ouch. OUCH!!!
That felt so much like the ending with Em. “Ok, thanks for letting me know.”
I knew Anita had a huge few days ahead, which is why we’d had to reschedule in the first place, and realised it was not the time to get into a huge back and forth. I might be triggered but I am not a complete asshole. I sensed she was not on her A game and whatever came next really could be make or break and it would be unfair to expect her to interact with me in the way I wanted when she had stuff on. I was triggered and she was elsewhere, so I decided to try and hold it for the weekend. That was not easy, I can tell you!
Weeks ago, my best friend had an idea that maybe I should catch myself in the moment when things are raw in voice notes rather than trying to write stuff down – partly because Anita is dyslexic and partly because I filter so much when I write (not here obvs!) and so a voice note means A can hear how I’m saying something and takes out that stuff where what’s written and what is seen don’t quite align.
So, I recorded a message to Anita on the Friday and sent it to her on the Sunday. She messaged me on Sunday night when I was down at the seaside. I’d been away for the weekend and trying to ‘not get bogged down in panic’ but I knew from the message she sent and that she hadn’t yet had chance to listen to it but was trying to open the door for me to come back (although it also felt defensive to me), so the next morning, when I woke up, I text and asked her to listen to it when she could and then text me when she had done it and then I’d come in – so I expected her to text at 10:20 as the message was 19 mins long!
I knew it was going to be hard to get to the session because I was drowning in shame and anxiety about how things had gone on the Thursday and how things have been since coming back from holiday. The message she had sent on Thursday felt like she’d checked out (but understandably so given what she had coming up) and I was struggling with that but also trying to tune into the Anita I know. Around 8:30am I got a message from A saying she’d listened to the message, and she ‘really hoped to see me’ and it felt like she was back and warm and basically ok! Phew!
I found the voice note was a really good way of saying what I needed to say in the moment. I was able to really hook into the issue but also let my mind go where it needed. I was able to be honest about how much losing the extra time felt, how hard I find it to ask for things in the first place, all kinds of stuff really- and it clearly landed as I hoped with A.
That session was a tough one, but massively connected/connecting. We talked through so much. Particularly about what happens in those awful states of shut down and what I need in those moments (Not to be told I can leave and have a choice!) but also when I run out or back myself into a corner I need her to give me a way back in, i.e the message she sent but with a caveat at the end “I’ll be here on Monday, I still care, and we can work through this if you want to”. There’s so much processing going on right now! Anita reiterated her commitment to the work and heard what I had to say and it felt ok…so you’d think that’d be the end of it wouldn’t you?
Hell no! We’re on the fifth round of the rollercoaster ride and everyone is nauseous! I want to get off!
Part of me is just watching this like a slow-motion car crash. I feel dizzy from how much stuff is going off. It’s like someone kicked over the dominoes! Another part is laughing and rolling their eyes. Like, I suppose it’s good that I feel safe enough to kick off and get upset and show my dissatisfaction and stamp my feet with A, where previously I’d sit with Em and be a ‘good girl’ and just dissociate instead…. and so that’s progress…but then the level of tantrum and upset is catastrophic and feels like I have been catapulted back into being a kid or a teen when I just want to be ‘normal’.
I’m trying hard not to judge myself too harshly or sink too deeply into the shame when it comes but it’s certainly not easy.
Right, so what else went wrong??!
Btw – sorry, this is so looooong – I should probably have broken it into separate posts but I would forget to schedule them and know I won’t get chance to come back to this for a while so we may as well do big rupture blog and then breathe! Not that anyone will read this anyway – but I need a record of the chaos!
So, of course a lot of this was happening around Mother’s Day…not a triggering time at all is it?! Weeks ago, before my holiday (which feels like a lifetime ago now), I saw a card in the shops for and I really wanted to give it to Anita – this was obviously way before the recent crap that’s gone off. I gave her a card last year and it was received well and so I bought it for her – it was more from the young parts than the adult so when it came closer to the time, this year, I felt scared and worried, and like she may not receive it well. I’d literally just ran out the session the previous week so I didn’t really feel I could go in a give her a card when we had been teetering on the edge of me walking away!
But, after the (latest) repair session I felt more connected and safer to express what I wanted. So I wrote out this message later in the week and took it to session on Friday just gone:
I saw this card ages ago and wanted to give it to you – and then everything went to shit recently and I didn’t because I thought you might see it as another example of me wanting more from you than you can give or me overstepping a boundary. But it’s not that. Sure, I wish I had a mum more like you and I feel sad that I don’t, but like last year I wanted to acknowledge, again, how grateful I am to you for all that you do for me and to thank you for the love and care that you show me week in, week out, year in, year out – especially at the times when I am really not deserving of it and am pushing you away.
You said on Monday that you were like a wall, that you were solid and not going anywhere and despite recent walk outs and tantrums more and more parts of me are beginning to see this – I must trust that solidity or there is no way I would feel safe enough tell you how things feel, have so many meltdowns, and generally lose my mind on loop! Things do still feel unsteady and it’s going to take time to adjust because when I wobble it’s like a full-on earthquake inside – but when I stop and take a step back and breathe, what’s left is a really huge sense of love and gratitude. I really just want to say thank you – for your patience, kindness, generosity, trying so hard to make me feel safe, all the cuddles, stories, presents, washing elephant…not giving up on me or shaming me…and giving me the best experience of mothering I have had. I love you x
And that felt really big- so vulnerable- after how it’s been the last few weeks. I gave it to Anita at the end of the session because it had taken that long to work through the catastrophe of the previous session, and she said she’d look at it over the weekend. Knowing how crap things have been lately I imagined she’d read that and go one of two ways: 1) everything is fine, she’d like the card and the sentiment or 2) it’d be too much, and she’d feel like she needs to pull away.
In the past when I have sent Anita things she would usually respond in some way whether it be a message, a gif, or sometimes a photograph of whatever it is I have given her.
Not this time.
It was radio silence all weekend. I knew she was going away because she’d told me and that had led to another complicating factor about something I had offered her that I don’t have time for now as we’re 6000 words in (SORRY!)! So because of this, I basically went into a massive panic over the weekend. Her silence seemingly confirming everything I was worrying about. Another retreat from me. I threw myself into housework and blitzed the place because I knew that if I stopped, I would fall apart. I’m absolutely knackered this week as a result but better than a complete emotional breakdown!
Because I had heard nothing from A, a big part of me was scared to go to the session on Monday. I felt like I was just going to be walking into the lion’s den of rejection. I felt so overwhelmed. I tried hard to talk myself down but my system was in bits. I could feel the internal tremor or my nervous system freaking out and it felt REALLY BAD. I arrived at Anita’s ten minutes before time and text her and told her I was struggling to get out the car.
This is the conversation that happened that day. I was so dissociated at points I don’t even know where the time went.
After half an hour I managed to get myself in a state where I could get out the car and into the house. I more or less collapsed into Anita’s arms on the doorstep and we had a massive hug. When I got into the room Anita was so kind and said she understood how hard it had been to come today. I told her I felt ill, and she moved over to me and wrapped me in a cuddle. I cried and cried and trembled and ugh it was painful. Anita thought I was upset about the other thing that’s too long winded to go into – and I was – but actually it was really the card that was the kicker. It was not knowing what she thought or felt about it.
It turned out Anita had rushed out on Friday and left her phone at home for the weekend which is why she hadn’t replied to a message I had sent on Friday and she was so sorry about it. We only had half an hour because of my inability to get into the room and with about five minutes to go I told Anita that I wasn’t all that upset about the thing she thought I was upset about. She stopped, and wondered what I was upset about.
A minute passed. And then I said, “did you read the card I gave you?” I felt Anita take in a deep breath and kind of freeze for a second. I knew instantly that it was a no. I felt such a rush of feelings: disappointment, sadness, shame. She told me she hadn’t. My system went off its tits again. I said, “Just put it in the bin, then”. Anita asked “Why?” and moodily I whispered, “Because it doesn’t matter”… when what I really felt and meant was “Because I don’t matter.” Right now everything feels like such a huge contrast to how it used to be and how it is now and I keep coming back round to the fact that I am no longer important enough to Anita to warrant her time.
I know that this isn’t the case…well part of me does…but there are so many parts struggling right now.
Anita then went onto tell me that she had opened the card and saw that there was a lot of writing in it and had put it away for later because she knew it would take her an hour to read it and make sense of it. That’s how dyslexic she is. I had no idea it was so bad. Hearing her be vulnerable and tell me how much she struggles and how much it takes out of her to write and read really hit home. If that card would be so big a challenge it made me realise how much time she must have spent trying to read stuff in the past for me. Instantly, I felt different. I then asked, “Was the voice note better?” and she said, “Yes, that was amazing because I could hear what you were saying and didn’t need to actually work out what the words are and what you mean.”
She went on to tell me that it wasn’t that she couldn’t be arsed to read my card it was because she physically hadn’t had the time over the weekend to give it the attention it needed. I felt a bit less disgruntled! She told me that none of this is about her not caring or not loving me or me having done anything wrong but that stuff in her life is making her have to really rejig and she knows people who have lost their marriages over the same thing.
Again, that isn’t easy to hear because I feel like I have lost so much lately. In therapy we can be selfish and ask for our needs to be met without considering the other too much – and yet here I am, and my therapist’s life is impacting my therapy – the boundaries have changed and the frame feels wobbly and my safe container feels like it can’t hold me how I need to be held. It’s tough, for sure.
I told Anita I could read her the card aloud if she liked, but we had run out of time by then. She told me she would find the time to read it before Friday but I am preparing myself to read it to her in the session because I know she is flat out. Before I got up to leave, I said, “It feels like you have taken yourself away from me.” Over recent weeks I have said this a lot and she’s kind of denied it or made out that nothing has changed, but finally she acknowledged it – but she reiterated that it wasn’t because of anything that I have done and her feelings haven’t changed.
So. There we are. That’s the last few weeks of chaos. And 7000 words. I think my undergraduate dissertation was only 8000! Lol.
I’ll get round to commenting on people’s blogs over the Easter break but right now I am drowning in work and this rupture! I am very aware that I haven’t actually done much thinking about this stuff here, and there’s a lot that can be said but mainly I think the thing I am trying to take away from this is that people change, lives change, but it doesn’t have to mean that everything is doomed even if it feels like it. At least, that’s what I am hoping. I think falling headlong into my trigger zone has been unfortunate, but it will and has opened up a lot of conversation about my early years and relationships with caregivers. If anything, this unfiltered shit show is giving Anita a deeper insight into the damage and hopefully we’ll find a way through.
This post is massively delayed so the first part feels pretty ancient now – so if this all feels disjointed it’s because there’s a month to catch up on rather than the week I had anticipated when I began. I started writing this the day before my kids were struck down with COVID and ironically was banging on about self-care and taking time out. Life got ridiculously hectic with both kids off school and still trying to work and honestly, that two weeks floored me. I mean, really, it was as though a whole other trapdoor of fatigue opened up beneath me…and of course, there was a massive wobble due to the unscheduled therapy break, well from f2f, too… so there’s lots that’s happened but I can’t necessarily remember the order of events- apologies if there’s a bit of jumping around.
As you all know, I was having a big wobble last week (last month, now!). My energy was so low, my capacity was non-existent, and the resources I usually draw on to get by, were flashing a red warning light. I had to stop. Or rather I could no longer keep going, and so had to take the day off. There really wasn’t a choice, I simply couldn’t keep going.
I’d like to say that taking time out was massively restorative and I bounced back and was good to go again, but it’s not always like that. As I was saying in my last post self-care is often framed as bubble baths, and walks in nature, and eating healthily – simple acts of filling your cup – and it is, but what I was trying to say the other day is that sometimes self-care is none of that, too. Sometimes you don’t have the energy for ANY of that and so self-care can be temporarily stopping the stuff that is depleting you, whittling things down to the absolute essentials in an effort to function. Wednesday was me sticking a band aid over the wound so as not to bleed out.
Taking the day simply meant that I didn’t crash and burn later in the week. I didn’t replenish anything that day. I didn’t top up my internal tank at all – it just meant that I didn’t drain myself dry which meant I could limp towards the weekend instead of stalling and then completely conking out midweek. And that’s good enough. Sometimes self-care is just that, knowing your physical and emotional limitations and listening to your body and inner wisdom and trusting that you know what’s best for you and giving yourself what need.
Honestly, if I wasn’t self-employed I would have taken the week off sick, it felt that bad. There are so many upsides to being my own boss but not being able to afford to get sick is certainly not one of them! In the ideal world I’d have a savings account where I put a percentage of what I earn away into some kind of ‘sick fund’ but the reality is there’s always something that demands money: my car has just cost me a fortune and still has something wrong with it, bills keep creeping up and up, and I have kids…that need clothing and feeding! My life seems to work on the juggling act of 0% balance transfer credit cards – there simply isn’t a pot of money for off days.
Alas. Still, it could be worse. I, at least, have my health (at the minute) and that has not always been a given.
So, back to therapy. And Anita. Oh. Thanks to the universe for sending me this therapist. Because honestly, she’s just exactly the stable loving force I need in my life. I was spiralling like a tornado last week. Everything felt disastrous (and yes, I was due my period so that wasn’t helping!). As I said in my last post, I don’t think I’d really recovered my footing after the breaks in December and the anniversary of all the shit hitting the fan with Em just compounded my sense of things not being ok, not being safe.
Things were so tense in one of my sessions, recently, that Anita asked if we should go and have a walk around her garden. I was in such a protected grumpy teen space that I snarled at her, “No, it’s too cold” and then went back to my silent treatment and feeling like I had been abandoned. On reflection I wish I had taken this opportunity – sure it was cold, but to be invited into another part of Anita’s space and share that would have been nice. Still, my teen wasn’t having it that day, so that’s that.
—– 18th February…
So fast forward several weeks and here I am writing this from 36,000 feet on my way to the sun. THANK FUCK. It’s the first block of free time I have had in weeks, and I cannot tell you how delighted I am to be headed away on a holiday. Having said that, the take off in storm Eunice was….a… bit… (a lot)…HAIRY! I booked and paid for this trip in December 2019 before my wife got made redundant at the start of the pandemic and then went on and lost her next job in the February…it was booked and paid for before everything got so financially stretched and strained.
The trip has been cancelled four times over the course of the last couple of years due to COVID. Every time it’s been cancelled, I have been offered a refund by the holiday company and each time I have been so tempted to take the money and pay off some debt. Each time I have gone to therapy and discussed the situation with Anita, she has encouraged me to keep the holiday (if I can) and I have. And then it gets cancelled again and we have the same chat. For the last couple of years Anita has repeatedly voiced how badly I am in need of a holiday and honestly, she is so right, and I am so glad that we are now able to get away after the couple of years we’ve had.
Because I get a discounted rate in therapy it sometimes feels like I shouldn’t have ‘nice things’ if I am not paying Anita’s full fee. I simply couldn’t afford £120+/week to see her now, so I am really grateful that we have found a rate that works for us both. I pay a flat monthly fee and it’s the same regardless of whether we have breaks or not, or whether we have extra time. So, this month I miss three sessions because I am away and then another session just after I get back because A is away (groan!) but the cost remains the same. I know where I am at with this system, and it means that sometimes it works out better financially for Anita too.
Anyway, nice things…or lack of them! I take care of the kids’ stuff – their trainers were literally falling apart this week, so I had to get them new ones and also had to buy them some summer wear (they’ve grown since last year) but my wife and I are sporting clothes we’ve had for over a decade and topped up with the odd bit of Primani. It’s been a bit of a challenge with clothing for me lately seeing as in the last year I have gained a stone and finally kicked my 25 year ED into touch (I will write about that soon!).
My arse simply doesn’t fit into my size 6/8 clothes and for the first time in my life I am wearing a size 10 – which being 5ft 7, being nearly 40 and having birthed two kids feels right for me. Anyway, what I’m trying to say, is that taking a holiday feels extravagant right now but I am so glad we managed to hang on to it and I intend to make the most of it because, quite frankly, it’s been a really tough two years has been tough…
So, therapy…well… what can I say? The short notice move to online sessions when my kids tested positive with COVID was really hard. Fortunately, the preceding Friday session that Anita I had, had been very connecting and I left feeling really settled…which is lucky because what came next was a complete shit show. The Monday session was ‘meh’ again. False adult fronted and talked shit for an hour. I disconnected the call and felt numb. Empty. Well, that was until all the big feelings from the young parts flooded in and derailed the week.
It was awful.
I felt so disconnected from Anita and it escalated at the week went on. As I’ve said before, lack of physical proximity and working on the phone just plunges me back into my mum being away for all those years when I was a child. It’s really painful.
I text Anita the night before the session to say that things felt bad…
The morning of the session I got up, got showered, got dressed, and got stuck…or rather, frozen. I was sitting on my bed ready for the session. Anita’s name flashed up on the screen. It rang and rang and rang and yet I couldn’t answer the call. My heart was racing but I just felt paralysed. Part of me wanted to talk to Anita and another part couldn’t face the idea of another session like Monday.
I sat staring at the screen and after a few minutes text Anita – here is the exchange:
d parts were absolutely besides themselves. It was agony.
In the end Anita called in and I left the phone on the bed pointing up at the ceiling. My cat had come in for a cuddle and was purring in my arms. Anita began to read ‘The Invisible String’. It took a long time for me to be able to tune into her voice and the story but eventually the child parts felt a little more settled.
The session was over and it felt awful again. There’s so much going on internally that needs sorting through and talking about but I have found lately that I have been so strung out just getting through the weeks that I simply haven’t had the capacity or energy to dig into what’s coming up. I am hoping after this holiday I’ll be able to – once Anita returns from her break.
Fortunately, for my system I was able to go to my Monday session and see Anita f2f as both kids had tested negative and I had avoided it all together. From what I remember we had a connected, holding session but I can’t tell you what happened as I have absolutely no idea!…oh hang on…yes…we’d been talking about how hard disruption is for the young parts and then Anita told me that she was going to be away after I get back from holiday for a week. I burst into tears as I snuggled into her chest.
Poor A! All I seemed to do that session was go through various states of upset and then calm down and then cry again. This extra revelation, I think, meant that the overwhelming feelings just burst their container in a big way. Nightmare. We spent the remainder of the session regulating and containing the young parts who are so scared that something terrible will happen or things will chance when we are apart.
The sessions leading into this holiday have really been a mixed bag. There’ve been really close sessions and ones where I have completely kept my distance and pushed Anita away in anticipation of the separation. I find those sessions really painful. No matter what Anita does it feels impossible to cut through. My protectors are so powerful. And my goodness it’s soooooo exhausting.
And so, to Monday – and our last session before the break. I felt mixed feelings heading to the session. Part of me didn’t want to go and another part felt like the stakes were really high because I so needed to leave feeling settled and connected because of this latest period of disruption heading all the way into mid-March.
”Is there a medic anywhere on the flight?!!! If there’s a medic on the flight PLEASE make yourself known!
… the joys of being a nurse eh? So that’s been my wife busy for the last hour with a passenger. At least the years in acute care and crash response have been put to good use again! This is the first time in all the years I’ve been travelling this has happened. I think my wife most definitely deserves her holiday now. Still an hour until landing and I’m sure once we land, she’ll be so glad that I pushed her from her seat!
So, back to the final session. Because we were headed into a break, I asked Anita if we might start earlier. As I have said before, 75 minute sessions feel a bit more containing because it feels like there’s enough time to drop the defences (if they’re there), land in the room, connect, do the work, and pack everything back up carefully.
So, it was lucky we had more time as it turned out to be one of those sessions where what was said and what was heard don’t quite marry up – and not in a good way – or at least not for the young parts who are so quick to feel abandoned and rejected – especially around breaks. I’d sat down and downloaded the stresses of the week (too much to do, not enough time, body shakes, nervous system overwrought…blah blah blah) for about fifteen minutes and there was a natural break in the conversation. I felt myself step out of that day-to-day headspace and became quiet as what was underneath came to the surface. I felt the panic that I’d carrying all week acutely, and the memories of the nightmares I’d had came up. Ugh.
Anita wondered aloud where the young parts were at and asked whether I wanted a cuddle. I nodded and shuffled across the sofa towards her and into her familiar warm arms. My heart was racing and I was physically trembling. Anita commented on this and said I felt cold to touch and gently rubbed my back. I tried to tune into A’s heartbeat but the sound of my own heart hammering in my ears meant I couldn’t. After about fifteen minutes my heart rate finally slowed and I could hear A’s slow, steady beat. I felt my whole system settle and felt soothed and calm which was a welcome relief after how hard things had felt these last few weeks.
23rd Feb…(loving the holiday btw!)
There was quiet for a while, and I asked Anita what she was thinking. She said she was thinking about what was going on between us and about Transactional Analysis. I was so deeply in that child state that I felt panic rise through my body as she continued to talk. She said something about how for growth we are aiming for my adult and parent to be able to hold the child parts and how one day she won’t be there.
From that point everything got messy inside and I felt like I was going to actually going to have a full-blown panic attack. As all this was rising up in me and then something flicked, and I froze. Dead still. Hardly breathing. And I remained that way for a long time. I was completely out of my window of tolerance.
This was not the fucking plan for the session.
Just for clarity, what Anita was actually saying is one day I will have done enough work in therapy that I won’t need therapy in the way I do now or need her in the same way I do. But this is not what I needed to hear before a break when the child parts were so present because all they could hear in that moment was ‘She’s gonna leave me – everyone always leaves me’.
Anita said something about her acting as like a nanny or grandma who can settle the young parts when everything seems bad, until one day there will a point where my adult can take over and do it for myself. That’s what we’re aiming for. Again, nothing wrong with that, because I’m guessing that when I have worked through the early stuff, I’m unlikely to want to spend hours of my week cuddled into her but it just felt so rejecting in that particular moment in the particular young state I was in. And let’s be clear here, my child parts don’t see her as a nanny or a grandma…they see her as mum. And so, even this very warm, caring statement felt rejecting.
Anita went on to say that we are slowly trying to repair what went wrong as a child and redoing some of the stuff that was missed along the way and there’s a part of me that is glad to hear that after so long being told that, “The time for those needs to be met has passed and you need to mourn for what you didn’t get.” I guess what Anitas is saying is that what we’re doing is a kind of ‘limited reparenting’ perhaps. And I can definitely see that. From the very beginning she has been clear that it’s ok to have needs, express them, and if possible (and within reason) she’ll try and meet them. And she has. She’s been really great in the two years (TWO YEARS) since we met.
As I was lying cuddled into her with my elephant (ready to be washed as there’s one session back before Anita goes away), yet frozen, A talked about how with deep wounds you can’t just put a plaster over them and hope for the best. It’s a long process and the wound has to heal from right deep down in the core. She said she’s in for the long haul and won’t abandon the young parts. She’s there for the journey, but of course the original sound bite that was drowning out everything was “I won’t be able to do this forever” and so lots of the different parts were freaking out, ‘What if she leaves before we have done the work?’…etc etc.
Adult me gets what she was trying to say because it was said with so much warmth and love, and I know the intention was meant to reassure the parts of me that worry about being too much about the strength of the relationship – but the child parts have hung onto this and have filled up with shame about it. I’m going to have to talk about all this on Monday because it’s hurt me and yet I know this is not Anita’s intention at all. She was so good in the session when I was quiet and crying. She asked me to tell her what I had heard and clarified what she meant over and over – and after the session I sent her a message and she reiterated her position again:
I think this episode just really goes to show how easily triggered young, vulnerable parts are. It takes such a long time to build trust in the therapeutic relationship, to let these parts be seen, and then any hint or sense that the safety of the therapy will be taken away is massively triggering. Anita has no plans to stop the therapy. My therapy will end when it feels right for me. But coming off the back of a premature ending of a long-term therapy due to the young parts being ‘adhesive’ and ‘like a tick’ to Em means that I panic if Anita hints at us ending, or her not being there, or me not needing her.
As I’ve said a million times, Adult me gets it. All of it. But man, these child parts are right in the thick of the work and such a long way off ‘not needing Anita anymore’ and as I said, on the eve of a break the last thing I needed to hear was about a future where she isn’t as she is now, when the young parts needed reassurance that nothing is going to change. (And yes she did say all that “I’ll still be here when you come home. I won’t change. We’ll still be ok. And you are not too much for me…” on loop.
I don’t know how much of this has made sense because it’s been so split.
The last session before the break wobbled me a lot – but it’s ok!
p.s Sorry I have been AWOL on your blogs. I’m hoping to get some time online over the weekend to catch you x
This week has totally kicked me in the tits…is that even a phrase?! I mean, wow. What can I say? I feel so utterly knackered and overwhelmed at the minute that I could cry. Actually, I have cried, which is really unlike me.
The alarm went off this morning. I ignored it. It went off again. I ignored it again. I left it until the last possible moment and then dragged my arse out of bed and tried to get the kids up and out the house without too much fuss. I was on autopilot going through the motions of the morning, all the while I felt like that attachment wound, the dark pit of doom and need, was wide open and sucking my life force down into it. I’d been dreaming about Em (this two year anniversary of termination is whooping my ass) and felt devastated. I wanted Anita but it’s only midweek so I felt in the limbo zone so far as emotional support goes: the time between sessions seems to stretch out endlessly at the minute.
Having dropped my kids to school I should have got set for work, but I just had nothing. The young parts were so activated that I didn’t know what to do with myself. Most of the time I can muster some kind of ‘get up and go’ and reach down into my bag of masks and fix the teacher one on with rubber bands and chewing gum – but today it just didn’t feel possible. Woeful Wednesday is a heavy day, anyway, with 6 hours of 1:1 lessons and I knew that I wouldn’t get through to 8:30pm in one piece.
Sadly, here I was again, staring at that all too familiar emotional landscape: the deep ache of emptiness and loneliness, coupled with a deeply uncomfortable sick feeling – like a heavy dread. It was so somatic that I genuinely wasn’t sure if I was going to sick. I felt young and lost and actually I think, quite dissociated.
What could I do?
Self-care is something I have been notoriously bad at. I think I have always been a people pleaser and so my needs have often been shelved in favour of looking after the needs of others. To be honest, for a long time I didn’t even know what my needs were and didn’t know what I was doing, running on empty, was burning me out.
Over the years I have pushed myself so hard, taken on more than I can handle, and given every last ounce of myself to do a good job. I have never let people down even if it’s come at a heavy price to me. Humans aren’t machines, though, and I have found that people extend the same kindness to me when I can’t do something as I do to them when they are ill so really it’s been me pushing myself too hard, not actually the expectations of others keeping me at the grindstone. I know this patterning comes from a fear of being deemed ‘inadequate’ and ‘not good enough’ but that’s not the reality now. I am really good at what I do and so that narrative is outdated and needs reviewing…when I get a minute!
When you look online you could be forgiven for thinking that self-care is all about bubble baths, and reading good books in bed, journaling, and going out walking in nature, decluttering your space, or drinking two litres of water a day, cooking healthy meals, and treating your body as a temple. And yes, it can be that stuff, without doubt – and so much more. But sometimes self-care is as simple as just saying “No” and doing nothing (which actually can be quite hard for me).
Listening to your inner wisdom and honouring what’s being said inside is self-care. And today, that voice told me, “I just can’t.” In the past I would have made myself power on through, but it would have come at a cost. I’m so low on spoons at the start of the day right now, that I would have been without cutlery for the school run, dinner, and bedtime – and this is not fair on myself or my children. They get a grumpy mum and then I feel guilty afterwards for not being what they need. I also suffer because it takes a vast amount of energy just to hold myself together on a daily basis and if I am left with just my hands – it’s no good. I need those spoons!
So, knowing where I was at, today, I gave myself permission to opt out and cancelled my first teaching session of the day which meant I now had until 1pm to rest and regroup. I took a shower and got back into bed and called my best friend. We chatted, caught up, and she gave me a much-needed pep talk (I’ve been getting my head in a mess about therapy and tying myself in ever tighter knots) and it was such a good thing to have done.
I limped through my double lesson at 1pm and realised that I was not going to make it through the afternoon lessons as things stood. When I got off my Zoom call at 3pm, I looked at my phone to see that my 4:30 was cancelling as they had tested positive for COVID. That gave me a bit of breathing space. I went on the school run and felt utterly exhausted. The child parts we really vocal and desperate for Friday to come and to be in the safety of the therapy room with Anita and I burst into tears in the car as I was driving to my kids’ school for pick up.
Adult me was trying to calm those poor distressed parts but it was like the old days where those young parts had no concept of Adult Me at all, and so there was no way of communicating, or soothing. I think this is a product of me (Adult) being so tired and thinly spread that my capacity to contain my various parts isn’t going quite a well as usual… and this has spilled into therapy, too.
I’ve felt disconnected from Anita lately and like things are spiralling (for the parts). At least Adult Me has a reasonably good handle on the fact that Anita and I are solid and fortunately Anita noticed what was going on on Monday, when I was in False Adult, and wrapped me in a cuddle after about ten minutes. That’s how it stayed for the remainder of the session. I talked about no end of shite but to be physically close felt so much more stabilising and containing than those sessions recently where I’ve been on my own private island of misery.
I collected the kids and felt done in. Driving home I decided that I was going to cancel the remaining sessions of the day and give myself the night off from being teacher. My wife is away for work this week, so it’s just been me doing everything and I needed a break. Financially it’s not great to have done this – being self-employed there’s no sick pay and so mental health self-care days cost me. But I figure the cost of not listening to myself today would have been far greater in the long run. I don’t like feeling strung out and anxious which is what happens when I go too hard.
To be honest, I still feel like I am on my edge and the next couple of days will be a real struggle, but at least I have done what I can to try and get to the weekend in one piece.
So, that’s my act of self-care. I’m financially worse off. There was no bubble bath involved. My house is still a mess. I’ve eaten complete shit all day and not drunk enough water. I have done no exercise. My body is certainly not a temple – or if it is- it’s one of those ancient ones that needs propping up with scaffold and a $10million renovation fund! But I looked after me today in the only way I could and that was to take some time out and give myself space to be how it is without expectation. In the ideal world I guess I’d have done that and done all these nurturing things above and be absolutely glowing now. But today, going back to bed and talking with a friend beat sitting with cucumber on my eyes shaving my legs (and it always will!).
Happy New Year 2022 everyone…it’s been a little (looong) while since I’ve made it here to post but it’s ok, I am not dead, just hanging on by a thread. The fact I’ve not blogged since Christmas is really a reflection on just how fucking busy my life has become not about my interest in my blog or writing. I really miss this space.
I seem to be running on treadmill that’s about two (hundred) speeds too fast for me, and there just aren’t any adequate windows of time in the week to sit down and reflect in my writing (or get any other pressing things done!)…hence the fact, today, I’m sitting here at 7am on a Saturday in my dressing gown carving out some time.
There’s a bloody cruel irony here, though. Every weekday I have to be up at 6am to stand any chance of getting us all out the house and honestly, I feel like I am scraping my half dead body out of bed when the alarm goes off, yet on the weekends when I can sleep in if I want, I wake up automatically at 6:20am and my brain and body goes, “We’re good, LET’S GO!!” If I tried to go back to sleep now I couldn’t, despite the fact I have yawned four massive yawns since starting this and really need to catch up on about a decade’s worth of sleep deficit.
Might try for an afternoon nap a little bit later!
As you can see, nothing has changed with my waffling and rambling ability…get to the point RB!
It’s been an ‘interesting’ month in therapy since coming back from Christmas holiday. The lead into the holidays was a bit tumultuous after Anita had a break at the beginning of December as well as Christmas and it took a good while for me to properly find my feet…well, actually, I am not sure I fully did, I just wasn’t completely on my arse. I said at the time that there were a few sessions where I struggled to connect with her and in one didn’t hug her until I left which really felt bad for the young parts. It’s been more of the same in January. Ugh.
I haven’t been able to put my finger on what has been wrong – only that something feels off. My body is tense, I am getting pins and needles in my hands and feet during the sessions, and I feel like I am drifting away from A…or like she is far far away. Part of me knows that this isn’t the case, she’s right there, she’s present and trying, she says the right things but they seem to bounce off me, I can’t take them in a lot of the time and so it ‘feels’ like there something wrong. My brain can’t find words but my body is in panic.
It’s the child parts that are struggling. Adult, or sometime False Adult, has been showing up quite a lot to cover this up – and for two successive sessions there was no touch in my sessions until walking out the room at the end which was fucking disastrous for the time between the sessions – and I think has led to this spiral of doubt and fear about the relationship.
I know that not being physically close for a couple of sessions doesn’t sound like all that big of a deal. I mean we’re on the same sofa, it’s not like she’s on Mars! In fact, there will be people who will be reading this who desperately want to hug their therapists and that not be an option to them (you know I’ve been there for 8 years with Em and I understand how painful that is), or people who only ever get a quick hug at the end of their sessions who wish they could have more will probably think I’m just moaning and not seeing how lucky I actually am to have Anita and her open season where touch is concerned. I do get it. And I also get that what’s happened in these sessions has been my doing not Anita’s. It’s not like she’s suddenly become withholding or changed the boundary on touch.
There have been sessions where I have done nothing but talk, or as Anita said the other day, “download” in the session… which is partly because my life is so fucking hectic and sooooo much is going on and I haven’t left space for the littles. I pay for it in a big way afterwards and really we need to make time for those young parts in each session, even if it’s only to acknowledge they’re there, in hiding.
The main problem that has arisen is that because there were two successive sessions of the child parts not getting seen they feel like Anita has forgotten about them. Outside the sessions it’s felt like the interactions Anita and I have had have been a bit, I dunno, just not like they used to be?! Again, this is me just being sensitive. When the child parts are really struggling, they need more and yet Anita would have no clue the child parts were there from the types of messages I’ve sent. Unless I am explicit, her responses are never going to meet the need of those little parts that feel scared and forgotten about because they don’t seem to be there communicating.
When I do send a clear message she responds as I need. I think maybe I need to tell A that even if there’s a really adult seeming message, or something very random (something about passports this week), could she please include the young ones in a reply because there’s a lot of shame around how much reassurance the young ones need at the moment. Or maybe I should just warn her that right now there’s a lot that the little ones want to say and to brace for it! I know she’s busy, though, and I don’t want to overwhelm her with, ‘I miss you, I feel like you’re far away, I want a cuddle’ every day! Sometimes, I think a quick five minute check in on the phone during the week would help as it would be a proper connection point…
Anyway, the last few of sessions have been a bit challenging. The child parts just haven’t been let out, whether that’s through endless moaning and chatter (that seems ok on the surface) or through a full on shut down where I feel like I am stuck in jail. Yesterday was a shut down. It was soooo bad. I’d felt really disconnected from Anita during the week, which is hilarious looking back as we have been in touch a lot…but as I said…it hasn’t been for the little ones, or not enough for them, and because there hasn’t been physical reassurance in the sessions (my own fucking fault!) it has led this shitstorm.
You’d think I’d bloody learn by now, wouldn’t you?
By Thursday there was a part of me that really didn’t want to go to therapy on Friday. It felt like Anita was a million miles away (even though she assures me that she is not and has repeatedly tried to reach through my walls over recent weeks). Instead of allowing myself to fester in that, I looked inside and wondered about what was happening, and actually it really boiled down to feeling like I haven’t seen Anita enough. I know that’s nuts, because of course I have seen her. But there has been a lot of disruption for the little parts that really struggle with separation on breaks.
As I said, it takes a while to bounce back from a break and December had two of them. It really destabilises the young ones. I am getting better with breaks (without doubt) but they do still have an impact. It’s so important after a break to work at the reconnection over the next few weeks and for some reason something has just not felt right since January. Often before and after breaks we have done 75-minute sessions which seem to buffer the separation a bit as it gives plenty of time to attend to the child parts who might struggle to come out knowing there’s a break and they have to go away, or after a break when they don’t know if things are still safe.
There’s something about that length of session that really works. I think for people with C-PTSD it takes us a good while to settle/ground into the space as there is so much mental checking that goes on before we ‘relax’. I’ve said lots of times about how I notice insane details, like a light switch, or a different set of fairy lights outside, or what lights are on in the room, or the other tiny things that normal people just wouldn’t see, notice, or care about.
It takes time to orientate to the room and alongside that, orientate to the therapist: is she tired? Is she in a good mood? What is she wearing? Is she sitting further away than last week? Is she listening? Am I safe here? And on and on and on… I linked a great post about this from my friend over at Girl In Therapy and I’ll put it here again because it really does highlight the journey we go on EVERY SINGLE TIME WE ENTER THE ROOM.
So, 75 minutes really takes the stress out of feeling like there ‘isn’t enough time’. In the normal run of things, sometimes half a session can disappear before I feel like I am ready to be how I need to be. And sometimes it’s longer than that. There is nothing worse than glancing at the clock and realising there is only 15 minutes left of a session but knowing now that there isn’t enough time to get what you need. That’s kind of what’s happening at the minute. I honestly don’t know how I managed 50-minute sessions. Well, I didn’t, did I?!
Sometimes, by the time the young parts feel safe enough to move towards Anita there just isn’t time. Like Monday, for example, another day where we hadn’t touched (ARGH!), she asked if I wanted a hug but also said we were nearly at time to finish. I declined because it would actually have been more painful to cuddle for a minute or two and then have to leave when I wasn’t ready to let go. It would actually be more dysregulating. I mean, I am rarely ready to let go, but it would have really hurt those little parts to feel pushed out before they were ready. And yet had that been a longer session, that time to connect would have been there and we could have had that 15 minutes of safety and holding before I left. Instead, I left feeling sad and abandoned – even though that’s not what was going on.
So, rather than run for the hills yesterday (which was what part of me was wanting to do) I decided to instead ask Anita if we could maybe do a longer session on Friday, for the reasons I have just listed. I text her on Thursday and she didn’t respond. Ugh. And, so, of course this fed back into all the stuff about her ‘being too busy’ for me now, and the young parts feeling abandoned and forgotten about and unimportant. Joy. It’s just a perfect storm situation.
I didn’t sleep well on Thursday night and woke up really upset at 4am and couldn’t drift back off. I went through the motions of getting the kids to school and then left for my session. Because Anita hadn’t responded to my message the protectors had come in…you know, the mature one first (the teen 😉) and basically all the way there was going, “Why the fuck are we going? Just turn round and go back to bed! She doesn’t care and is happy to ignore you. You’re such a fucking loser.” Adult me was trying to tell her to “Calm the fuck down” and explain that it’s not the end of the world. But y’all know how this shit plays out inside, right? In the end the teen sat with her arms folded, brooding, staring out the window, and giving me the silent treatment.
I knew this didn’t bode well for my session. When I arrived in Anita’s town, I decided to go and get a drink. (And thinking about this, now, it’s only just clicked how MUCH my teen was present yesterday!) I had time as there was no traffic on the roads and I’d got the kids to school in good time and not had to dash home to pick up stuff, or go have a shower! When I stopped the car I noticed that Anita had sent me a message:
I’m so sorry. I’ve only just seen this message ☹
Part of me completely understood and the teen just rolled her eyes.
So, the place I went to get my drink is a small chain in the area where I live. I could have gone to Costa or somewhere else closer to Anita’s but I knew there was this particular place where A lives as well as in the city where I live. I basically spent most of my A Levels in there revising or chatting with friends. These days (I mean since I’ve been at Uni which is twenty years ago!) I drink decaf skinny lattes – no sugar…. But yesterday I ordered a steamer with a hazelnut shot as if on autopilot – this is basically steamed milk with a very sweet shot of syrup. And it was autopilot…. for my seventeen-year-old self… man!! Sitting in the café I felt that familiar sense of not being good enough that pervaded that period of my life and honestly, I didn’t feel like a 38-year-old with kids!
By the time I got to Anita’s I didn’t think I felt anything much about it at all. I thought I was fine. To Adult, it is what it is. Sometimes it works out when you ask last minute for things and sometimes it doesn’t. No big deal. Only inside those young parts were scared – as they have been for a while now. Jesus.
Anyway, yesterday I got in the room, and I froze. I couldn’t take Anita is AT ALL for AGES. I know she was trying really hard to get to me. She moved closer to me on the sofa, but I must have been giving ‘fuck off’ vibes and it seemed like I wouldn’t let her close. Of course, the young parts were absolutely beside themselves inside, but I was so trapped and couldn’t reach out or let her in. I really wanted Anita to cuddle me and make things feel better – and bridge that gap that seems to be getting bigger and bigger week on week – but another part was convinced that she wanted to stay away and so I couldn’t accept her care. In these situations, it’s never that I don’t want a cuddle it’s more I feel unworthy of the care, or ashamed that I need Anita so much, and so say no.
I think maybe when this happens, we need to think of a way around it. Like, Anita might say, “Can I give you a hug? I’d like to give you a hug” and that sad, lonely, not good enough part shakes her head and pushes A away, and so Anita respects that- but it isn’t what I need in that moment. If I start crying or trembling, then Anita always shuffles over to me and wraps me in a cuddle, but it’d be better if it didn’t escalate to the point where I am so distressed that my body is having a meltdown before she realises it’s safe to come closer and is actually what I need -as it’s so hard to come back from.
I think if she said, in follow up to her question about a hug, “is there a part of you that feels like you don’t deserve to be cuddled, or that I don’t want to give you a cuddle, really?…and are the little ones inside ok? Do they need a cuddle? – because it feels like they are hidden away but we both know they are there watching.” it would go a long way to circumvent the part that is terrified of being too much, and then being abandoned and rejected.
Anyway, I could feel myself drifting away yesterday. It felt like I was in the sea and the current was pulling me further and further away from A. Somehow, I asked if we could read a story – thank god, as this is what I have needed for weeks. Anita got up and went to get the books and said she also had ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ if I wanted to read that. I instantly bristled inside and felt sick. I said I hated ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ and Anita asked me why. I didn’t have the words in the moment for all that the book now signifies. When we hadn’t connected all session and I’d been silent how could I jump into all the stuff about Em and how awful it had been when I gave her the book for Christmas?
Anita didn’t push it and asked me what I’d like to hear. “I don’t care” I replied. Honestly, I was like a brick wall, but the unexpected mention of T.V.R had rattled me. Anita read , ‘Barbara Throws A Wobbler’ and I could feel the little parts inside start to settle. I wanted to move across the sofa and snuggle into A but I couldn’t move. There was another part keeping me frozen and thinking about the stuff with Em.
When the story was finished, I asked Anita if I could read her something. I don’t know what possessed me, but I think it was starting to click that it wasn’t Anita that was the issue and it was the stuff around the anniversary of Em and I terminating. I got out my phone and found the blog post I had written on ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ and scrolled down to the part where I started talking about the book and what it felt like for me in the wake of the therapeutic relationship with Em ending.
I cuddled into Anita and read the post. I could feel myself shaking. At times I had to stop reading because I felt so upset but I persisted, all the while Anita held me tightly into her body. We didn’t have time to discuss the , but I don’t think we really need to. Just having her hear it was huge. I felt incredibly vulnerable sharing that with Anita but also it felt good to have her know about this stuff.
After the session my brain started whirring and overthinking shit – like it always does. I wish it would just rest in the moment and be content with how things are, realise that mine and A’s relationship is solid, and it doesn’t matter what she does or is like with other clients because when I am with her it’s only me and her in the room. Only it doesn’t work like that does it? There’s always that client sibling rivalry whether we like to admit it or not.
So, my mind got to wondering where ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ had come from. Had another client brought it with them to therapy? And if so, does Anita read ‘our’ story books to other clients? And, of course, that felt horrible because the young parts hate sharing Anita, as it is, without thinking that ‘our’ stories are not just special to us. And so many people have emailed me since I wrote that blog post on ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ saying how they’d bought it and taken it into their therapy that I thought it seemed fairly likely that this is why Anita has the book – it is therapy gold, after all…and whilst part of me knows this, part of me doesn’t want it confirmed because the idea that Anita is just going through the motions with me and that she has a conveyor belt of books and cuddles………..
For Fuck’s Sake RB when will you just chill out????
Anyway, I sent a message to Anita after session explaining a bit about why ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ was a trigger and she sent a lovely message back and things felt ok.
Last night I took myself up to bed and then it hit. Floods of tears out of nowhere. I was sobbing for ages. What was happening? Then the penny fully dropped about why things have been so difficult this week. The body remembers even if the brain doesn’t. I went back over my emails with Em and saw that the date for ‘tick gate’ was two years on Thursday and “Sorry I couldn’t help you, I wish you well for the future” was yesterday. I’ve been aware that this time of year, round Christmas is hard because it was when everything started to blow up with Em but the sucker punch of ‘adhesive’ and ‘like a tick’ and then being dropped like a hot potato is still so painful.
On a positive, it’s two years since I met Anita…and we got on this crazy ride. I don’t think either one of is especially fond of rollercoasters, but we haven’t got off yet!
I’ll leave this here for now. Sorry for the novel xx
So, we’re in that weird bit between Christmas and New Year again. That notorious chunk of time where I seem to flatline and become incapable of doing anything much at all after running at 1000mph into Christmas. There’s been no deviation from the long-established pattern this year: CRASH AND BURN baby! It’s like I have entered into a state of inertia…or maybe it’s just burnout…or depression…hormones…all of the above! – but whatever it is I’ve been completely out of it for the last several days – and not in a good way.
It’s not unusual not to know what day it is in this weird ‘no man’s land’ – I mean that’s everyone right? I wouldn’t say I am dissociated, either. I have a shit tonne going on in my brain but I feel paralysed and unable to do any of what’s on my list and that’s what I hate. It’s mental torture. I want to be able to relax and switch off and yet I get plagued by crap. To be fair, my tax return is like a dementor right up the last minute on January 31st so I may as well accept that that won’t be done just yet!
So, what can I say? It’s been a while since I have posted (again). I’ve been meaning to post something, the laptop has been on beside my bed for three days solid now, with the screensaver endlessly going. I keep looking at it, thinking I’ll write, seeing as I have some time (and that would be a good use of time rather than endlessly scrolling through social media on my phone and then feeling pissed at myself that I am not using my time off more effectively. Honestly, I think I need a tech detox for the next little while!…Ummm, well, WordPress excluded obviously.
There’s quite a lot of bits I could write about here, stuff to catch up on – like, perhaps I should go back to a few weeks ago and fill in from there? – well, what I can remember of it! Or perhaps I should write something thematic – I’ve been thinking a lot about the ‘senses’ in therapy – particularly smell and touch, oh an let’s not forget the x-ray vision! And then there’s Christmastime itself and all that that can bring up. Or gifts in therapy (in a good way). Or a reflection on the year (what a bloody year!). I don’t know. This will probably end up a mash up of all of it, span 4000 words and end up making no sense…so same as usual then eh?!
Maybe go get a cuppa before we begin!
And also, before I get going, I just want to say that I hope you are all hanging in there. My reader has been fairly empty of posts this last month from what I can see and I suspect that’s partly because it’s been the mad time heading into the holidays but also that people might be feeling similar to how I have been – kind of in a limbo, not feeling quite right, and not being able to reach out. If that’s the case then, I get it. Lots of us have also had that hell time of impending therapy break to manage and then the actual break too so solidarity there. And I just want you to know that those of you who have written posts that I haven’t yet commented on, I will get to it…and I do see that you are there. So, that’s a long-winded way of saying I hope you are all hanging in there and that I see you x
Right, so where to start? The last few weeks have been a bit of trial. I mean I honestly was dragging my arse towards the finish line and the end of term. Only it’s not the finish line when you have kids and a family. It’s just dropping one set of responsibilities and commitments so you can focus on the others. Somehow, we got to Christmas day in one piece and the kids had the things they wanted. To be honest though, with a partner that works in health and social care it was inevitable that Christmas was going to a fucking washout. And we were correct. There were calls to Public Health on Christmas Day to report a COVID breakout and Boxing Day was trying to spread a very thin layer of staff across an already stretched service.
My wife has been working 14-hour days and has now, today, taken a suitcase to work and will be sleeping there- there physically aren’t enough nurses and care staff around and there is no alternative.
People might think that this new COVID variant isn’t a problem, “It’s just a cold” they say – but it is a problem when it’s EVERYWHERE and staff have to isolate who have got it. The workforce is decimated. Sure, we might not be getting the COVID deaths we’ve seen previously but when you can’t care for the most vulnerable in society in the health and social care sector because we’ve allowed the virus to run wild and there are NO STAFF…well, it’s criminal.
People are not receiving the care they deserve. Hospitals are cancelling procedures. Cancers are being picked up late. People are being discharged back into the community to free up acute beds when they aren’t really safe to be discharged because there is such a pressure on beds. I could go on and on.
I honestly can’t believe the burden that has been placed on key workers and healthcare staff throughout this pandemic. People are on their knees. The system is at breaking point. And the system isn’t a system. It’s people. People like my wife. People like my colleagues in schools. I am white hot with rage, and I cannot believe our government have allowed this to happen. Only I can. A bin fire of self-serving shits are running this country and we seem powerless to do anything to hold them to account.
Anyway, this isn’t meant to be a rant about the state of things, but I just feel so fucking angry. I’m angry that the government has shafted us. I am angry that some people aren’t doing more to limit the spread of the infection by just being fucking sensible. I am angry that the people that end up suffering the consequences are the people who have sacrificed enough already. I am beyond pissed off that we are throwing the clinically vulnerable under the bus as if having ‘a pre-existing condition’ means you are collateral damage for keeping the economy moving. And apparently, I am meant to send my kids back to school on Wednesday where no mitigations other than some open windows are in place, and primary aged kids are not being offered the vaccine in the UK. I mean for the love of GOD!!!!!!
Deep Breaths RB!
So, back to therapy, which is what you are all here for, right?!…
The run in to the Christmas holiday was a bit fraught. Anita had a week’s break at the beginning of December (I think that was when I last posted) and so that set things off a bit internally knowing there was going to be so much disruption over the month. There were a few sessions between her coming back from that break and before the Christmas break – I think two weeks/four sessions. The first session back was really connecting but also really hard.
I’d asked Anita if we could start sooner that day, but she couldn’t which set some of the parts off. I was anxious that I might arrive and get derailed by the protectors who were feeling pushed away. It was the last thing I needed but always possible after a break. Fortunately, Anita and I reconnected really quickly (thank goodness!), she felt really attuned and pleased to see me and I settled quickly. I was cuddled into her and catching up when ‘out of nowhere’ (but also not out of nowhere) all the stuff about being a tick came up for the young parts and it was agony.
I guess I was panicking that after the separation we’d just had she may find my need to be close too much, like Em. Anita was incredible, really reassuring and holding, but there just wasn’t enough time to put it all back away at the end of the session. I left feeling a bit unsettled and off for the next few days. Anita and I exchanged some messages and she was really responsive and containing and it was enough to get through to Friday but I was more than ready for the session by the time it got to Friday morning. The young parts felt like they were hanging over a precipice and I just very badly needed to connect.
My best friend ‘Girl In Therapy’ wrote and published an excellent article that weekend that describes perfectly how triggering talk therapy can be for people with CPTSD – here’s the link:
– definitely worth a read if you haven’t already seen it.
The huge irony wasn’t lost on me as the next hour played out with Anita and how closely it matched the article.
I felt a sort of anticipatory dread as I walked up the drive. Something felt off. The dog started barking at the window and then I noticed her daughter’s dog was there, too. Ugh. I never have to ring the doorbell as the dog always alerts Anita that there’s someone there. That day the noise of the dogs really fucking irritated me – even though they settle once I’m there. I guess I was feeling sensitive and seeing her daughter’s dog triggered the jealousy and all that stuff about being inadequate and ‘less than’. Great.
It took a while for Anita to come to the door that day, not ages, maybe a minute or two – but that’s REALLY unusual. I started to feel myself panic. Anita finally opened the door and she had wet hair and looked absolutely done in. Basically, she didn’t look ready or in the right space for therapy which sent the parts that were already in a panic into freefall.
My need was huge that morning, I was already experiencing a vulnerability hangover from the tick stuff earlier in the week, and so it didn’t take much for me to read the evidence before me “Anita isn’t up to ‘me’ today” and go into hiding. I need Anita on her A game, not an Anita who was trying to ‘phone it in’. I’d clocked all this before I had even got into the room, and so by the time I sat down False Adult had taken over and was shielding the young parts. As children we were so good at knowing how to behave and adjusting to what was ahead of us and this hypervigilance has stuck. Sometimes I think it’s a superpower and sometimes it’s a complete bind.
Even though Anita had been so present and available and validating earlier in the week, I still feel a lot of shame about my insatiable ‘need’ and so my perception that Anita wasn’t fully there meant I could just avoid what was going on – pretend like Monday had never happened. I still feel so embarrassed that I am so affected by what happened with Em. I am terrified of Anita finally seeing me for what I am. She swears blind that what happened isn’t my fault and that Em is not fit for practice. She told me she thinks I have a very strong case for a complaint to Em’s governing body but also said that she doesn’t recommend a complaint because it’s a horrific process to go through (having raised a complaint herself).
Anyway, as the session went on, I could feel my young parts getting more and more distraught inside but the False Adult was so good, there’s no chinks in her armour, that there’d have been no way of Anita knowing. Especially as Anita was a million miles away. She had no idea what was going on. She didn’t seem curious, either… like, “RB, last session was really really hard and we left things a bit up in the air. You text me in the week and I know you feel unsettled after the break too…and you’ve spent half an hour talking about COVID and Brexit. Is there anything else going on for you that maybe we need to look at? Are the child parts ok? What do you need today?”
I could see the clock ticking down and I felt sick inside. I knew I wasn’t going to get what I needed that session and that I was going to be left holding all this over the weekend and it would be carnage. The session was over. I felt abandoned and rejected … unseen. I stood up and gave Anita a half-hug as I left. It was weird. I can’t remember the last time we didn’t touch in a session but it was setting all kinds of fireworks off inside. Mentally I was calculating that there were only two sessions now until Christmas break….AND IT ALL FELT LIKE A HUGE DISASTER.
Touch is such an important part of my therapy now. After all those years of there being ‘no touch’ and being made to feel like I was some kind of…tick…a parasite…for wanting to be close to Em I can say that the physical proximity and closeness that I usually have with Anita has done so much for moving things forward for me. I have said before that it is often when I am safely physically held that I feel able to look at the hardest, most vulnerable stuff. Anita can be so much more attuned – she can physically feel when I start to tremble, or I hold my breath, or whatever the fuck else happens that might not be evident or visible from a distance and respond accordingly. There’s just more of that co-regulation and so my nervous system can settle quicker and we can do the work.
Anyway, it sucked that day when I really needed to be seen and held both emotionally and physically and instead left feeling completely untethered and alone. It’s hard enough ‘detaching’ at the end of a ‘good’ session but never having connected in the first place is agony.
I text and called my friend when I got home – False Adult had gone offline and the Angry Teen had taken root. I was so upset, angry…all the feelings. Anita not being ‘present’ sent shockwaves through my system. There was a part that felt like I wasn’t deserving of her attention and care and so felt awful, there was another part that couldn’t work out ‘what had changed’ and another part that was furious that she wasn’t doing her ‘fucking job’! Somewhere on the outside of that was Adult who knows that A was probably tired or just a bit off, like we all are sometimes, but unfortunately all the noisy parts weren’t having it, “She’s just had a fucking holiday, she should be better than this!”
Anyway. Fortunately for both me and Anita I had to teach a double lesson that afternoon which meant no one could take to WhatsApp and let rip. Lol. After my lesson I had simmered down a bit and all that was left was a little part wondering where Anita was. What had happened? What had gone wrong?
So, I simply text:
Where were you today?
A replied that she wasn’t very well, had started to feel ill in the session, and had taken herself to bed, and was sorry that she’d felt distant.
Adult me understood it but there was another voice that couldn’t understand why she hadn’t said this during the session. If she’d have said, “RB, I’m really sorry but I don’t feel great and so I’m sorry if I don’t seem myself…” or anything really. Trying to carry on like I wouldn’t notice she ‘wasn’t there’ is daft. I could see it. The problem is, the narrative I create when she seems far away isn’t that she’s sick, it’s that she’s ‘sick of me’ and wants to be away. Ugh.
Anyway, I got through to Monday’s session which had to be an evening because my kids had broken up. And ARRRGGGHHHHHH fuckola. BAD BAD BAD. I don’t remember what happened – dissociation! Anita felt a long way away again. The distance was unbearable. Having listened back to the recording I can hear she was trying really really hard to get to me but I was totally frozen. At one point she asked if I would like a hug because she would like to hug me…and I just shook my head. I hate it when that happens. Every little part inside was screaming out and there I was frozen and unable to get out my prison.
The session ended and I felt absolutely desperately sad. I moved to put my shoes on and just fell apart, crying with my head in my hands and shaking. Anita shuffled over to me and wrapped me in her arms and I just sobbed as she held me close into her body. It was awful. I felt like the time had just slipped through our fingers again but at least I wasn’t going to leave completely disconnected.
Fortunately, my session being the last session of the evening Anita had a bit of time to run over and we had fifteen minutes where we really connected, and fixed things as she held me and I cried. She reassured me that she was still there and that we were going to be ok and that she understood that my defences were up because parts don’t feel safe and are scared. She acknowledged my fears and things felt sooooo much better.
It was time to go, though, and Anita gave me one last tight squeeze, kissed me on the top of my head, and said, “I love you, you know. I really do. You are very precious.” I got my elephant out my bag and handed it over. She took it and said she’d have it washed and ready for me for Friday ready for the break.
The week flew by as it always does at this time of year. I had to pack a lot into the week and before I knew it, it was Christmas Eve and the final session of the year. It felt nice to see Anita so close to Christmas and for the break not to be three weeks long like it used to be with Em.
I walked into the room and sitting there was my elephant and next to it, a gift bag of presents. Our stories were out on the side, too. The session was light but connected. I asked for a hug pretty close to the start of the session so there was none of that horrible feeling of space and distance. I have no idea what we spoke about but I know that it felt fine and safe. Anita said that she’d bought me some little things that were silly but had made her think of me and that I could take them away for Christmas and handed the bag to me as I left.
I gave her a big hug as I left and walked out feeling about as good as I could going into a break.
Earlier in December I had bought Anita a Christmas gift of a glass rabbit ornament with snowflake patterns on.
She always does her house nicely at Christmas and so it felt like a perfect present given our story ‘The Rabbit Listened’. She placed the bunny beside the candle lantern I had given her last year. I didn’t notice it as I was walking up the stairs and she said, “Did you see bunny? He’s sitting next to the present you gave me last year.” It doesn’t sound like a lot but actually, to have A remember what I got her last year and to put these things up in her home…well… I don’t need to explain do I?
Oh, and just an aside whilst I think about Christmas and hypervigilance…GROAN… last year I had an evening session before Christmas and got to see all Anita’s lights outside her house (in the day you don’t notice them). This year, again, I got to see them in the evening. As I walked in the door I said, “Did you change the lights on that bush?” and she said that she had as the set from last year had broken. This is how much shit my brain stores- a single evening session a year ago and remembering the type of lights on a bush in a fully lit and decorated garden…trauma anyone?!
Anyway, we’re kind of up-to-date again. This holiday has been ok. Like I said, I have been quite lacking in energy and not doing much but I haven’t been overwhelmed with that attachment slime. Last night I was struggling to sleep- after really doing nothing but sleep in the last week – I missed A (very ready for Tuesday session now) and so I grabbed my elephant and breathed in its smell – Anita – and fairly quickly the young parts settled and fell off to sleep. I felt settled because that young needy part of me was quickly transported into the safety of Anita’s arms through the smell of the elephant.
I can’t say strongly enough that it is these things, the touch, the texts, and the willingness to try and meet the needs of the young parts (within reason) that have meant I can do a better job of regulating myself outside the room and holding the young stuff for myself. And it’s because I have something tangible to tap into. There is evidence all around me of my relationship with Anita, and it’s within me, too.
I can imagine what it is to feel safe because I have felt safety with Anita. I can imagine how it is to feel held because I have been held by her. I no longer have this longing and unmet need to be held – because she’s done that for me. And whilst I might miss her and wish I could see her, it’s not the same pain of wanting but having that need unmet – deliberately withheld week in week out.
I can easily bring Anita to mind and feel grounded because I can feel her. I know she’s out there and will be back on Tuesday – which is huge because in the past she’d disappear cease to exist, and it was massively distressing. I know I have a disorganised attachment style (I mean duh!) but I do think that bit by bit A and I are working towards building an earned, secure attachment. I’m not there yet – but things are so much better than they were!
I wish I had more energy to write that out properly and explain it as I am sure there will be some people rolling their eyes – but it’s really down to infant experiences that were missed being filled (to an extent). I guess it’s a kind of limited reparenting. Parts of me are healing through Anita’s willingness to repair some of what was missing.
Some people believe that the time for those wounds to be healed and those needs to be met has passed – we, as clients are not children anymore, and so instead we need to grieve for what we didn’t have and accept that. We need to hold everything on our own. Be our own parent. That was Em’s philosophy.
No touch. No outside session contact. No transitional objects… no “colluding with that young part that wants to be held” (puke!).
I don’t think it’s as simple as that. I don’t think it’s an either or. I still have to grieve for all that never was and that should have been. I am regularly faced with the limitations of the therapeutic relationship and have to grieve what I can’t have in Anita. But that’s not to say that there isn’t a lot to celebrate, because there is a lot that I do have and there is a lot that has been soothed that was left raw and in agony before. It’s ok for there to be a level of dependency because eventually there’ll be interdependency and then independency… or at least that’s the plan.
Anyway, this is SOOOO long and I need to go and feed the kids!
I want to try and put into words something that has been weighing heavily on me the last month or so, especially. I mean, to be honest, it’s always there isn’t it – the mother wound – but I guess at the minute I just feel acutely aware how big of a deal it really is, and how heavy a burden it is to carry, particularly when I need some support and care as I struggle under the almost crippling weight of my day-to-day life.
I’ve written about the mother wound in detail before, here, but that was a long while back and maybe this, today, will have a slightly different quality to it. I know I make mention of this issue a lot on the blog because it really is the foundation that my shaky house is built upon. Today, once again, I feel the need to give it full attention because parts of me feel like I am crumbling right now.
It’s weird. When I try and look at this…this…’stuff’… the words just don’t come, or certainly not in the articulate, polished way I would like them to. There’s so much pain and shame wrapped around it like barbed razor wire, and this wounding spans so much of my life too, so it’s hard to really to find the right words to explain something that feels like it’s part of me, part of my make up.
If I listen deep inside myself, looking for the words, there’s just the overwhelming howl of a massively distressed baby and the screams of other very young children… and maybe if I listen very, very carefully, there’s a little voice whimpering and whispering, ‘Mummy’ over and over again.
It’s actually heart breaking.
Sometimes I think I struggle to write about this because the experience of this… feeling of… annihilation started before there even were words available to describe it. At other times, I just think it’s impossible to find the vocabulary to capture just how massive the sense of being ‘motherless’ is.
There is so much loss attached to what I am experiencing at the moment. Of course, I do have a mum… it’s just I need/ed a different kind of mothering, a different relational experience, and so the continual reminders of what I ‘don’t have’, even now, as an adult, is like being plunged into a vat of vinegar and, unfortunately, I don’t have any skin.
I can’t say that feeling of loss I experience is the sense that I’m now missing something that I have formerly had – rather it’s the loss of something I wish I had have had – something I very badly needed- it’s the felt sense of there having been something ‘missing’ my whole life, something that is integral to a healthy functioning.
You, know, sometimes I think it feels as if there’s a vital organ missing inside me and I’m continually aware of the cavernous void left behind. I feel this ‘empty’ space acutely in my chest – a black dark hole that seems totally unfillable. It’s the space left where a mother’s love and care should have been. I’ve spoken before about how the edges of this place feel almost ulcerated. It’s angry and burning…it’s bloody painful. No. It’s worse than that. It’s pure agony.
If you met me in-person you’d never guess I suffered with any of this. You’d probably experience me as a high functioning, self-sufficient, independent person who is always busy and keeps things going for myself and my family. In my day-to-day life I am successful, popular, and funny (omg imposter syndrome just kicked in big time there!). I don’t really lean on anyone or ask for support even though I really need it sometimes. My friends are absolutely amazing but there’s just some things they can’t do for me – like take my kids for a weekend so I can get on with jobs. And lately, I guess this is where that lack of ‘mother’ has really shown itself and had the spotlight shone on it.
I’ve spoken about my childhood many times here. How my mum would go away during the week and come back at weekends and how the legacy of that plays out even now – especially in my therapy with Anita. I hate the time between sessions and our breaks feel unbearable. I can’t stand being ‘left’ or feeling like I’ve been ‘forgotten’ and I am terrified of change when we are reunited after a break largely because I was never sure what kind of mood my mum would be in when she came back.
Lately, I’ve had a strong sense that my mum is avoiding me – or rather stonewalling me. I haven’t actually seen her since August, and she only lives 20 miles from me! I get that she may not want to see me – for whatever reason- but I really struggle with how little she engages with my children. They are great kids and what’s really sad is that they really like to spend time with her and yet…what can I say to them? She’s not in touch. She doesn’t ask after them… or at least, she hasn’t in a good while.
I sent a photo of my daughter putting decorations on the tree the other week and it wasn’t even acknowledged. I saw the blue ticks appear on WhatsApp and I saw she was online…but there has been no response… and I have no idea why. Other family members have rushed in with ‘OMG she looks just like you did at her age’ or ‘what a lovely photo’…but nothing from mum.
I try not to feel upset by it. I have said many times how my mum and I have a relationship that has reached a kind of equilibrium. It is what it is. It’s not close but it worked well enough – ’til now. But I think doing this deep attachment and trauma work with Anita has kind of lifted a bit of the scab on this stuff. Where I had convinced myself that I was ok, and things had moved on into a place that was ‘good enough’, the truth is I feel hurt that my mum seems completely uninterested in me. But the real big sense of hurt comes from the feeling that she’s rejecting my kids and by extension it’s like my inner child is experiencing that pain of abandonment all over again seeing just how ‘unimportant’ they are to her.
Recently, I had a real hard smack in the face when I was speaking with Anita. Don’t you just love the unexpected landmines you can trigger in therapy?! We were just chatting near the end of session. It was winding down and coming out of the deeper stuff and into more day-to-day. I said how I had taken my kids to a fireworks display that week and she told me how she was taking her grandchildren (her son’s kids) to the big fireworks display with her daughter the next day. It felt like being on that awful gameshow ‘Bullseye’ where when the contestants failed to win the presenter would say, “look what you could have won!” A sucker punch as they stared at speedboats and his and hers matching shellsuits. I find myself staring at a kind of mothering I just can’t have.
In that moment as I was cuddled into her, I felt so many things. Jealousy was definitely one of them and then hot on its heels – grief. Anita, of course, is involved with her kids and grandkids – it’s as it should be, but it just threw my experience with my mum into even sharper relief. It wouldn’t even occur to her to take the kids to something like this, or offer to take them for me. When the kids were very little we went on a Christmas train one year, or sometimes we’d go to see Santa, but lately there’s been nothing and I don’t know why.
Sometimes I wonder if she’s somehow come across this blog because I can’t fathom any other reason for the radio silence. I tied myself in knots for weeks trying to work out ‘what I had done’ for things to be as they are now. I know that if she had found this writing she’d be hurt. Of course, it would be hard to read this stuff in black and white. I think anyone’s first reaction would be to feel wounded and the victim and then shut down. But the thing is, I’m not trying to blame her for my experience of her when I was growing up. Like any mother she did the best she could with the tools she had available – and as a young mum, they were few.
I don’t think for one minute she set out to be how it was. As a mum myself, I know how it is to be stressed, tired, and at the end of my tether, and hand on heart I know I do not always get it right. Far from it! I’m a sensitive person and perhaps other children would not have been as impacted as I was by her absence, or her wanting me out the way, or the fighting and violence I witnessed…or the difficult teenage years we had. But it has impacted me and I am trying to heal from it. It’s not easy healing from something when you can’t have a reparative experience with the person who you experienced the wounding with.
So I take myself off to therapy twice a week and rake over this attachment stuff – and it’s hard because as an adult who has done pretty well for myself and feels like I have a reasonable insight into what’s gone on, I still haven’t done enough work in the therapy room to escape the sense that I haven’t done enough to make my mum want to stay (and, yes, I know that is the voice of my inner child).
I used to make excuses as to why my mum wasn’t all that involved with me and my kids. She had a massively stressful high-powered job and so there simply wasn’t the time or energy for us. Then she retired, and it was still the same… but then COVID hit, and we were in a pandemic so therefore couldn’t spend time… but then the restrictions lifted and it’s more of the same. It feels so rejecting. I don’t know if it’s intentional. I don’t know if she genuinely doesn’t want us in her life or whether she is so busy with other things that we’re an afterthought.
Again, this is where the contrast with Anita really stings. Anita obviously works but she takes an afternoon off each week to collect her grandkids from school, takes them to swimming lessons, and then often has them overnight. K does similar things for her granddaughters. So many of my friend’s parents are active participants in their grandchildren’s lives, too. They’ve taken on regular childcare – not because of the financial savings for the family (although that was a factor when the kids were pre-school age) but because they actually want to spend time with their family. My kids have never spent a night at my mum’s, or been picked up from school…and my god, sometimes I could really use the help given I work after school every weeknight until late. Having someone collect the kids, feed them, and put them to bed would be amazing!
It’s not just that I could do with a bit of help now and again, though. I feel so sad for the relationship that they, too, aren’t getting. My mum’s parents were incredible with me growing up. Despite living hundreds of miles away they’d have me for holidays, write me letters and send me magazines and sweets in the post. There was no sense, ever, of being ‘out of sight, out of mind’ and it’s continued through into my adult life. I ring my grandma every day to check in now she’s alone, following my grandad’s death last year, and I do that because we have built a relationship over my entire lifetime, and it is solid. It’s such a pity my kids won’t have that. I feel so sad, too, because my dad would have been such an amazing, involved grandparent. He loved kids. Although my mum makes not bones about the fact that she ‘doesn’t like children’.
I really need to get over this stuff, though, because whilst there’s this wish for something better all that happens is I get hurt over and over again. I need to realise that things are never going to change and move on from it. I’ve said in the past that I can’t expect people to be mind readers so if I keep stuff to myself and then don’t get what I need I shouldn’t really feel disappointed so this summer I did something a bit different. I let my mum see what some of the reality was for me – I don’t know what I expected but I know, deep down, I hoped for some tangible care and support.
In the summer my wife and I were going through a particularly tough time – tbh this whole year has been devastatingly hard for us. In January my wife got very ill with COVID, then lost her job, all the while trying to manage a serious health condition that could end her career. She found a new job (yay) but was immediately put under immense pressure with unrealistic working patterns and conditions which put her health at serious risk again and there were threats of ‘failing her probation period’.
We were both at our wits end. It felt like we were lurching from one disaster to the next. Stress exacerbates my wife’s condition and it was a vicious cycle. Financially, it was a really hard year, too, as after my wife lost her job in January we also had a period of time where she couldn’t work due to an operation that saw her out of action for almost a month. Then she was having to pick up agency work whilst she looked for a new position which pays nothing like enough and isn’t guaranteed hours. We were literally a couple of weeks away from not being able to pay the mortgage and bills.
The stress levels were making me ill. I couldn’t sleep, my anxiety was off the chart, I genuinely thought I would have a breakdown at times. And I certainly would have had it not been for Anita and K. No doubt about it. It’s been their love and care got me through this year – when really what I needed was my mum…or a mum that does being a mum.
Like I said, I never really share anything with my mum, I think she knows I am in therapy but we don’t talk about it! This summer she had asked me to collect her from a trip she’d been on. I’d cancelled work to enable me to do it – so lost two hours pay (which we really couldn’t afford), asked a friend to have my kids so I had space in the car to put her and her husband’s luggage, and then drove across the city and waited in a coach station steadily unravelling. My wife was away from home for work and had been driving hundreds of miles on top of working 14 hour shifts. She was suffering with her health and I felt completely exhausted. I’d been juggling my kids and work all week alone and by the time it reached Friday I just couldn’t cope anymore.
I was driving down the motorway with my mum and step-dad and I just let it all out. I was on the verge of tears but angry too. I was in a place of complete overwhelm. The dam burst. I don’t know what I expected to happen, but I guess maybe I thought showing how stressed and anxious I was might maybe elicit some support from her side.
If anything, she’s distanced herself since then. She hasn’t asked about my wife’s health or job. Her health is massively deteriorating but thankfully she’s found another job. She hasn’t asked how I am. When my childhood friend died a couple of months ago she went to the funeral when I couldn’t. I just don’t understand it.
I feel like I am moaning- and I guess I am. I just really wonder what it takes for the little girl inside to finally give up hope of being seen and loved by a woman that seems incapable of seeing me and accepting me for who I really am. I would literally walk over hot coals for my kids. Having just seen her friend’s daughter die of cancer you’d think she might see the parallels – I was the one of us that survived the cancer but the roles could so easily be reversed. Wouldn’t you want to invest in a relationship with your child?
It’s Christmas time. It’s a difficult time of year for me. Mind you, when isn’t eh?!
As my kids rehearse for performances (streamed online this year via zoom) it reminds me of the years standing on stage and staring out into the audience and seeing the faces of my friends’ mothers but not my own. I feel silly, as a grown-up woman still being upset by these ‘small’ things but I really wish my mum had have been there more when I was a kid…I wish that her physical and emotional absence hadn’t have left this gaping great hole inside. I feel like it’s going to be my life’s work getting over this.
Like I say, I am so lucky to have a couple of amazing therapists in my life. But they’re not my mother. I can’t call them at 10pm and ask them to come over because I need them, and things feel overwhelming. I ought to be able to do that with my mum – but I can’t – because she doesn’t know how to be that type of mum.
I have to mother myself.
And my god I am trying but sometimes we just need to be held by someone else.
(And yes, Anita is on holiday – ANOTHER break in the therapy – so it’s hardly surprising timing that this has come up so forcefully now!)
I guess maybe I should provide some context and say that therapy, this week, is disrupted again because Anita is away doing some CPD. This has meant my usual Friday and Monday sessions have been changed. Not lost. Not cancelled. Just changed. We rescheduled these appointments weeks ago so that I would be able to still see her. So, I saw her on Thursday and I will see her on Tuesday evening BUT as anyone with this kind of attachment crap will know, disruption to routine isn’t easy even if materially not a great deal has altered.
So, that’s probably why I have had yet another mini-meltdown/tantrum this week. The impending sense of disconnection from Anita had set all the littles inside into a bit of a panic.
I can’t remember a great deal about Monday’s session. It was fine. Sometime in the middle I asked for a hug, and we chatted as I snuggled into Anita. At one point Anita and I were talking about photographs and blogs and she said that she’d just updated some pictures on her website as now she will only use her own pictures to avoid any copyright issues. I know it’s a random conversation, but the backstory to how we got there isn’t worth the time here.
One thing I don’t do since working with Anita is go looking on her website. Even when I first came across her, I didn’t read every page of her site. I didn’t need to. She’d been on my radar for a few years, anyway. Every time the shit would hit the fan with Em, I’d do a search for therapists, and she’d pop up at the top of the results page. In addition to this, my friends also found her for me, saying ‘I think she looks like she’d be a good match for you’.
I know what a minefield therapy and looking online for stuff can be and so that’s why I tend to avoid it. Stick with what you have in the room, don’t go searching on the web. Only, this week, because I was already starting to feel disconnected from Anita I stupidly took to the internet in hope of finding something connecting.
So, there I was migrating round her website and it was all fine…until…I clicked on the testimonials page.
Oh holy shit…
Deep breaths RB!
Of course, as you’d expect, the testimonials were lovely. Really, lovely. You can see as you read them that the work that Anita has done with these clients has been life-changing. The comments are warm and there’s a real sense of how important and transformational the therapeutic relationship has been for them.
I mean, as a prospective client, it’s good to see this, right? You don’t want to see ‘This therapist is utter crap – don’t touch with a barge pole.’ (which is what should be on Em’s site!). However, reading those comments as an existing client TRIGGERED THE SHIT OUT OF ME.
I find it hard enough at the best of times to believe that what Anita and I have is real and important, but the slap in the face reminder that I am, yet again, one of many, and I am just Anita’s job…well, I really didn’t need that kind of spotlight shone on the relationship this last week.
So many feelings were sparked. I felt sooooo fucking sad. The little parts, for whom Anita is so very important, were in tears. It felt like yet another reminder, to them, that no one really wants them, and that they are never really deserving of anyone’s full love and attention. Basically, it just tapped into that wound where I was never central for my own mother and so I am certainly not with this mother substitute.
Fortunately, I have some great friends whom I can talk this stuff through with and get some perspective.
My best friend pulled no punches when I told her about what happened, ‘So you went looking for connection in her testimonials page when you can have real connection with her in WhatsApp?’ she said.
And yep. I shan’t be doing that again – there’s nothing good to come from stalking people’s social media ☹. Although having visited Em’s site a few times in the last two years, reading hers make me see what a fucking bullet I have dodged not working with her anymore!
My friend reminded me of my own words about love. So many times, I have said that we can have lots of different relationships and love different people and that doesn’t make one relationship better than another. She also suggested I let the young parts really speak this time and give them a voice. So, I wrote some things down that they were saying. Unfiltered. And it is so painful to see it.
Basically they were calling bullshit on my adult wisdom and want the strength of their feelings to be seen as important and for the relationship to be significant and not just one of many. Basically, these little ones want to be loved by Anita like a mother should love them. I know that’s not possible. It’s the fantasy and coming face to face with what the relationship isn’t and can’t be is painful – and there’s a lot of grieving that will have to happen around that…but it’s the work.
I plan to take that stuff to session on Tuesday night, if I am feeling brave enough, as I think those little ones really need to express their hurt. It’s not Anita’s fault and there’s nothing that can change, but the feelings deserve time to be heard and felt, I think. And I trust Anita will handle what I have to say with compassion and care.
Anyway back to earlier in the week – I muddled my way through Monday and Tuesday and then hit another wall on Wednesday morning. I needed to go into town to run some errands and I knew it was the same day that Anita works in the city. I felt so sad knowing that I would be about 150m from where she was working and yet could not see her. Again, those feelings that had been activated when I saw the testimonials on Monday came up again, because now she was with other clients and not me.
Anyway, on Wednesday I sent Anita a text which obviously made no sense to her:
And so had to try and explain better what was going on. I was flooded with shame and embarrassment but at the same time it wasn’t doing any good me festering away in pain:
Anita responded kindly:
but I felt GRRRRR and tearful and it seemed to get worse as the day went on as you can see from the messages! I was so glad that we had a session scheduled for Thursday morning as the week seemed to be going at snail pace and having to wait for a regular Friday slot would have sent me over the edge.
We had a good session on Thursday once I landed and came back in touch with the feelings I had struggled with. Anita did her best to reassure me before she went away. I was quite shaky for a period of time, and I sobbed quietly into her chest for quite a while. It took some time for me to regulate and feel safe, but I got there eventually, listening to Anita’s slow and steady heartbeat.
Anita commented that she could feel I was tense and brought up the message I had sent her on Wednesday morning. She said something about how every relationship she has is different and that she never works with two people the same. That didn’t really help. She said something about how there are so many different kinds of love and I don’t know what because it all kind of blurred as my brain fixated on not being good enough, or special enough, and all that crap.
It was quiet for a bit and then I said, “Do you think I am weird?” It’s not the first time that I have asked this question but the answer from Anita doesn’t deviate much.
“No” she replied. “You’re not weird. I think you’re scared. It can be very easy for you to go into fight, flight, freeze. That’s not weird. When you think about it, it makes sense. It’s very easy to spook. I think we’re all a bit like that. It’s like when I walk in the dark, I’m fine, but if I think about ghosts I am petrified. And it can be anything that can trigger that feeling rejected or abandoned for you. It’s the same. When it happens it can feel so real. Suddenly every noise you hear is scary and every little thing can trigger you. It’s what’s inside to keep us safe…but sometimes we can play tricks on ourselves. Especially if we’re hypervigilant already.”
We spoke a bit about this and then there was a pause.
I took a deep breath and then I asked her if “is this real?” (honestly, this particular young part keeps asking the same questions over and over again. Anita must be so bored of it!)
Anita pulled me in closer to her and with so much warmth in her voice said, “I’m real, and how I am is very real. I don’t think I could be something that I am not. I wouldn’t know how.” She spoke about how every relationship is unique and blah blah blah. I know it sounds like I am being a brat here but when I am struggling like this I don’t want to hear about everyone else or how everything is equal, I just want reassurance that our relationship is solid and important.
There was another period of just quiet as I snuggled into A.
A little voice said, “I love you.” Anita replied, “I love you, too. You’re very precious to me and I love you lots.”
Then it was the end of the session and time to go. I felt ok-ish but as I drove home I had a good think about things and drafted a long message to Anita. I knew she wouldn’t respond to it as she’d be away but I felt like I needed to say it before five days rolled around:
It must feel like you are banging your head up against a brick wall working with me, sometimes. You said when I first came to see you that it would take a long time for me to trust you, and I told you it would be hard because my system would be perpetually testing you after what happened with Em, and I hated that because it wasn’t fair when you hadn’t done anything wrong. I guess, at least, we partly knew what was coming back then, although I don’t think I was prepared for the level of crazy that was going to come up.
I feel so stupid sometimes. Lately, I just seem to lurch from one overreaction to another and I know it’s hard work for you. It’s driving me mad, so I really don’t know how you don’t just throw your hands in the air and tell me to ‘get a fucking grip’ and give up on me…but you haven’t yet, and instead you offer more reassurance, care, and time.
Every time I have a massive meltdown about something really small: not replying to that text about breaks, not getting a hug after the break, or testimonials on your website (and all the other things I’ve lost my shit over!) I get so flooded with shame and embarrassment by the way I have behaved and the strength of my reaction. If anyone was looking in it must seem so disproportionate to what’s actually happened.
There’s lots of reasons why I get so upset over seemingly small things – but I guess really it all boils down feeling inadequate and unworthy of your love and care but also being terrified that it’ll be taken away. I am always looking for evidence of something going wrong or proof that something is wrong. I am so determined that I won’t get hurt again, that I’ll leave before I get left, and so the moment there is even a hint of a perceived rejection or that what we have is ‘not real’, I’m running.
I know you care about me. The evidence speaks for itself. Week in, week out you demonstrate your commitment to this therapy – and us, and me – our relationship. I really, really see it. Or at least adult me does. And I am so grateful to you for everything that you do for me and all the various ways that you show me and all my tangle of parts inside that you’re safe.
I can’t imagine that there are many people that would tolerate my mess and still be there time and again, rescheduling so we don’t miss sessions, giving me extra time, wandering around in the dark when I’ve had ANOTHER meltdown, allowing out of sessioncontact, discounts, gifts, stories, and even washing soft toys. So, I REALLY REALLY do see it. And I do trust you. And I love you. And this is why it’s so scary now and why when things blow up, they blow up massively.
I’m more vulnerable than I have ever been. It’s like my armour is off and that’s never happened before. In the past, everything I have felt has been kept close to my chest and rather than express anything I’ve dissociated. But that doesn’t happen now and so when something gets triggered, I’m more prone to being hurt because there’s no protection. So small things feel painful. I’ve never really let anyone in before and there was a level of safety in that.
I prefer not being armoured up – it’s bloody heavy defending myself from everything all the time. But when an arrow creeps through that’s when things go really wrong. My protectors get the rage and go to war and that’s what’s been happening lately.
So, it’s not a text being ignored, or your telling me you’re keeping your distance because you have a cold, or other clients saying nice things about you that’s the issue – they’re just the triggers. It’s feeling like I am being rejected, or abandoned, or that I just don’t measure up compared to other people that’s the problem.
I’ve always struggled with the fear of being rejected or abandoned. I’ve always felt that there’s something wrong with me because it’s so easy for people to leave me. That’s where my wounding is. And it keeps happening. It’s not just the original ‘mother wound’ that’s the problem it’s all the rejections since, too. Then what happened with Monika seemed to confirm the narrative again and I guess I just really really don’t want the pattern to repeat again with you.
More recently having had my grandma tell me how my mum really didn’t care that she was leaving me when I was five has really opened up that wound again. I always knew she didn’t care, I felt it, but I guess part of me wanted to think it was just my take on things and maybe it wasn’t as bad as I imagined. To have my felt sense validated is in some ways positive but in other ways it’s completely devastating, and I think this is probably why I am even more wobbly than usual. There’s a lot of grief to work through.
The problem with this early attachment wounding that happened from the beginning is that it triggers a response that feels like it’s life and death…because years ago it would have been. I get it’s not now, but my brain hasn’t quite caught up with that.
Anyway, this is a really long-winded way of saying…I don’t know, really…I love you and I am sorry I am a crazy, jealous, easily triggered nutcase.
Big hugs x
So, I sent that on Thursday afternoon…and there was radio silence. As I said, I didn’t expect a response to the detail of that but we had agreed that an emoji or gif is useful when I reach out with something big or vulnerable.
I got my knickers in a bit of a twist by Friday evening and decided that I wouldn’t contact Anita at all until I saw her on Tuesday night. Grrr. Raarr. Good thing she’s on a course about anger right?! Timely CPD if ever there was any! Lol. Fortunately, yesterday morning a message came through:
Sending a big hug your way with a hug and heart emoji
And then today there was another one:
Sending big hugs filled with love xx
And they’ve done a lot to settle my system.
So, yeah, it’s all ok. Some big feelings to work through again but I am looking forward to reconnecting on Tuesday night and feel like it’s all ok enough.
Hope you’re all hanging in there in this bloody bleak misery that is ‘post clocks going back knackeredness and lethargy’! I don’t know about you but, honestly, I am completely done in. I haven’t acclimatised at all to the time change and my poor brain and body just can’t get to grips with the dark evenings and working to what feels like the middle of the night when it is, in fact, only 8:30pm when I stop work. I hope something gives soon because I really don’t think I’ll make it to Christmas in one piece if it doesn’t!
Zoom isn’t doing me any favours, either. Having myself reflected back on screen – crikey – talk about tired-looking! I really need a sunshine break and about a month off from the day-to-day grind or, failing that, some makeup that I can put on with a trowel! LOL. I really need a permanent filter on my face. My brain hasn’t caught up with the fact that I’m not twenty five anymore and am, actually, creeping towards forty!
I realise that I am blogging really infrequently these days and I wonder, actually, if anyone’s still reading this blog very much anymore. I rarely look at the data but today I did, and the stats seem high but the engagement not so much. Social media success (not that’s what I want or am looking for) seems to be built around putting out lots of content and hitting some secret crap tick on algorithms to keep ‘current’ and ‘visible’. I just don’t do that, nor do I have the time to, but I know what I am like online, I think we’ve all be programmed to be drip fed regular content and when that content doesn’t come we go and look for it somewhere else.
Anyway, that’s just some random thoughts because this blog really hasn’t been for anyone but me, it’s been my personal account of the ups and downs of my healing journey in therapy over the last several years. I am delighted, of course, to have come across some fabulous people along the way and your support has been so welcome and valuable. I guess there’s a part of me just wondering where I go from here. I think it’s perhaps because WordPress updated my site today and took another year of subscription payment and I thought, ‘Wow, do I even want to blog for another year?’
I’ve been so aware that I don’t have time to really write ‘properly’ anymore. I bang stuff out rather than craft it like I used to in the early days, and I notice it. Lots of the people I follow have fallen away over the years, too, they just stop blogging and I wonder if that’s kind of just what happens? People get to a point where they’re healed enough or bored enough and go do something else with their time?! Therapy is not central to their existence anymore and so they don’t need to write about it. I don’t know.
I know that when I first started this blog, and I was right stuck in the thick of that agonising attachment pain ALL THE TIME, I mean literally ALL THE TIME and being triggered week in week out by my therapy that I found it really comforting to be alongside other people who seemed to be in the same boat and at similar points along their therapy and mental health journey as me. It made me feel less alone, for sure. I often wondered, though, where the people who had come out the other side of the process were? Where were those people who had put the time in and gone the distance with therapy and were ‘better’ or at least ‘better than they were at the start’? And maybe I just haven’t come across many of those people but it’s a shame as I think it gives us all hope to know that it won’t always be terrible and triggering and …all the stuff.
I guess I feel, a bit, like I am transitioning into that space a bit now. I know that a lot of what I write here comes when I have had something blow up in therapy or there’s a rupture of some kind, but, actually, a lot of the time things are smooth and fine. Like today, I am here because I know the blog is sort of shrivelling up and dying, and I want to check in, but there’s nothing much to report right now. I mean, I’ve just eaten half a packet of bourbon biscuits Anita and I are doing the work, but I’m not sure if there’s anything especially interesting happening that you guys would want to read about. (Actually, there’s a blog that I need to write about what I think is/has signalled the end of my eating disorder – and I think that is massive!…)
That’s the thing, you know?- drama is interesting, ruptures get us engaged, BUT smooth, easy, doing the work with a solid therapist where things are connected and contained isn’t all that exciting is it? Does anyone want to hear about that, really? I know, in the past, when I would read stuff about therapists physically holding their clients or giving them transitional objects or washing something for the client so it smelled like them, and there seeming to be a really solid, loving connection, I would find it really painful to read because I so badly wanted that from Em and she would not budge on her boundary.
In some ways it felt like I was self-harming reading that stuff. I used to get that stabbing pain in my solar plexus and it would feel like that massive mother wound was just bleeding out. The thing is, reading those posts from those bloggers also helped me to see that my needs weren’t wrong, and that actually they could be met I just wasn’t with the right therapist for my needs and in the wrong environment to start healing my wounding.
So, what I hope, more than anything, for those of you that have read along with my significant struggles over the years in the therapeutic relationship with Em, is that you can see that it can get better but sometimes things have to get worse first. Sometimes therapeutic relationships don’t work out how you want- it’s not your fault- and there is the chance of something better elsewhere you just have to be brave enough to search for it.
If therapy tanks with one therapist that isn’t necessarily a reflection on you. It might seem to be repeating a pattern from the past, (we’re the common denominator), and we sooooo don’t want that to be the case, so we keep bailing out the leaky boat and trying to be what the therapist wants us to be…but that’s the problem. It’s not about fitting yourself into someone else’s idea of how you should be or behave ESPECIALLY IN THERAPY THAT YOU PAY FOR!! Sometimes, then it’s better to jump ship, swim in the cold water for a bit, and get to shore because the swim is easier than you imagine.
It’s really the thought of the cold water and the currents that keep us desperately clinging on and bailing out water with our hands as bucket loads flood in…and I swear to you, you’ll get through that bit where you feel untethered and alone. Not being triggered all the time and held ‘stuck’ in that desperate state of the sinking boat is so much of a relief especially when you make it onto dry land and find someone who is fully in your corner and actually can do ‘unconditional positive regard’.
Right, I’ll leave that absolute crap of a metaphor up there, now!
But without sounding gushy, I really can see how far I have come in the last couple of years. The shift inside has been so massive and it has meant that my life feels so much more manageable (even if I am always tired!).
I feel like Anita and I have reached that really lovely place where we ‘know’ each other, it’s safe (SAFE?? OMG I know what safe feels like now!), and no matter what comes up we can work through it. I am not scared of conflict or ruptures anymore – because when they happen there is such a lot of learning and growth, and most importantly, healing that comes from them. All of me, all the parts, KNOW that Anita can handle my rage and my love and all the feelings in between and that she actually welcomes all of me and all of my feelings. I am safe to feel my feelings and express them with her. She isn’t in the least bit bothered by my messy, unfiltered, reactive feelings and that’s so bloody freeing. To know I can have a hissy fit and run out the door one week and still be welcomed with open arms in the very same moment is massive. It’s something that was never afforded me as a child, and certainly not in my last therapy.
I know that maybe what I have written mightn’t make sense because, clearly, I still get triggered and there are ruptures – but relationships aren’t smooth all the time. What I am trying to say is that even when my ‘stuff’ is triggered in relation to Anita and the youngest parts are freaking out – deep down I know that the relationship I have with A is built on solid ground and there’s nothing we can’t find our way through, and because of that I can let out what needs to come, all the pain and anger and jealousy and god knows what that’s there and that’s so helpful. Anita sees me, all of me, all of my wounding, and she cares for all of the parts – even the ones that are complete pains in the arse!
Anyway, I am rattling on about not much here and I’m not convinced any of it makes sense! – so I’ll go make a cup of tea and have a few more biscuits and ponder on the post about the end of a twenty year eating disorder.
PLEASE, someone, come and have words with my system because it is completely losing its shit at the minute!
Honestly, you just can’t make this stuff up… but as always, here’s the reality of life in the therapy room for RBCG. Brace positions!:
So, after my last post, last week, things were kind of limping along internally and then sort of conked out altogether because I had absolutely nothing left in the tank. It was certainly a relief when the weekend arrived because at least the immediate pressure of work was removed, and I could kind of do the ‘three more sleeps thing’ on Friday night counting down to Christmas seeing Anita!
I didn’t do very much at all over the weekend because I had a bit of a reaction to my flu jab and so just lay, wiped out, on the sofa for the entirety of Sunday! The young parts were upset and unsettled after what felt like an eternity away for A, and soooooo NOISY but I had nothing to give them because I was completely done in. I was literally willing the time away to get to Monday evening to reconnect with Anita and to be able settle things internally.
We’ve all been there, right?
So, imagine my joy (not) on Monday when I woke up and the protectors had come online. The child parts were still absolutely beside themselves but shielding them were the angry parts that didn’t trust Anita and were raging that she’d left me/us at all. Those protectors had been so absent for the duration of the break that it was a bit of a whiplash effect waking up to that internal narrative of A not caring, and what a waste of time therapy is anyway…
I got on with my day but by the afternoon I had a really strong sense of not wanting to go to my session that evening. I mean the child parts needed to be there, but the protectors and runners had other ideas.
I text Anita to confirm that we were still on for our evening session time and explained that I wasn’t really wanting to come. Or at least parts of me didn’t want to.
I think, now, what brought the protectors online was actually the need for connection with Anita. I know that sounds utterly bonkers because, actually, those protectors stop connection- but here’s the theory: the need for holding and containment for the child parts was so strong that the protective parts desperately wanted to save the young ones from the disappointment of that maybe not happening.
So often after a therapy break (with Em) the young parts have been so in need of care and love but it wasn’t forthcoming and so it set off that agony inside where it feels like you’re going to die from the pain of it all. Of course my system wants to save me from experiencing that ever again. Getting close to that acute feeling of abandonment and rejection feels like it’s going to annihilate me.
Anita’s responses to my texts were warm … but left me cold, somehow.
I just felt like something was amiss.
And it was me – my stuff – but could I get a way round the edge of it? Could I fuck!
Driving in the dark to therapy I decided to stop panicking and to just go and get what I so badly needed. Anita had indicated that everything was fine, so I just needed to lean into that and trust it. Stop putting obstacles in the way RBCG and just go see your therapist who cares!
As I walked up her driveway, I could feel those young parts soooooo ready for a hug almost launching themselves out of me and towards Anita.
Anita opened the door, greeted me, and smiled. I went on into the therapy room, sat down and that’s when it all started to go wrong.
“I will warn you that I have a cold” Anita said. “I’ve done an LFT and it’s negative, but it’s just a particularly horrible throat…You’ve struggled to come today?”
Sulkily I replied, “I didn’t want to come at all” then whispered, “Can we turn the big light off?” The main room light felt too bright and jarring and I just wanted the low glow of the side lights and to relax into the space with A. Anita got up, turned off the light and put on the softer table lamp.
As she sat back down she said, “I’m keeping my distance because of the cold, as well…”
And that was it. EVERYTHING went mental inside. It was instant. I felt like I was going to burst into tears right there but, of course, externally I looked fine. No reaction at all. Poker face. Don’t let her see how upset you are!
‘Distance’ is triggering at the best of times but after a break it’s the very last thing I need. I can’t recall a session in the last year where Anita and I have not had any physical contact and here I was so desperate to be close to her, to cuddle and she seemed to be saying that it was off the cards. It was just too much for my system to cope with.
So many thoughts were running through my head all at the same time. My body was in a full on panic and I started to tremble. I can’t really explain how awful it was – there aren’t words. But I felt completely devastated. The protectors inside were lacing up their shoes and ready to bolt. I felt so abandoned and rejected in that moment. It was another episode of having my face glued up against the sweet shop window and being told I couldn’t have anything having waited so patiently to be there.
And yes – I know that this is just a cold, and Anita trying to be careful and not a deliberate rejection – but the young parts DID NOT UNDERSTAND that at all. To them it’s another mother who wouldn’t come anywhere near them when they needed her and it’s massively MASSIVELY triggering.
Totally oblivious to what was now happening inside for me, Anita went on, “What do you need from today? What can help you feel more settled?”
My brain was screaming “I need a hug” but instead I replied a barely audible, “I don’t know.”
“What’re your fears?” Anita asked.
It felt like I was being bombarded with questions and we’d only been in the room thirty seconds.
With a hint of anger I said, “Will you just stop talking to me.”
“Yeah, of course” and Anita sat quietly. I could see she was looking at me in the dark but I was staring into the corner of the room, unable to make any kind of eye contact.
The level of overwhelm I was experiencing was off the chart. The room was so gently lit that Anita had no idea that I was shaking. Where usually she’d have noticed and reached out in some way, I was instead left feeling isolated and abandoned.
A tiny child’s voice whimpered, “I want to go home.”
In that moment things felt so bad, the distance between Anita and I felt so great, and knowing I couldn’t get what I needed from her the only option available seemed to be to leave. It was the last thing I wanted but it would be less painful that sitting apart from Anita when I had already been apart for a week.
Anita replied, “You can go home if you want. The choice is yours.”
Look, we all know that therapists have to respect our autonomy and all that jazz, but in that situation, it is completely the wrong thing to say (well for me anyway). I might have been seemingly pushing away but actually when I say that kind of thing, it’s really a desperate call for connection. When we’ve not seen each other for ages being told I can leave is … well…it feels like she doesn’t care and it feels abandoning…EVEN THOUGH IT IS NONE OF THOSE THINGS!
Anita continued, “I will never force you to be where you don’t want to be.”
I could feel myself starting to head down into that tunnel of dissociation. Anita didn’t seem to get it. She had no idea that I had been triggered into such a deep place of doom and all within the first two minutes of being in the room. She had no idea as she sat on the couch beside me that I felt like I was being rejected and pushed away by her.
I could feel everything kicking off internally and I felt like I was going to fall apart. Not just cry but literally lose my fucking mind in there. I had held on so tightly over the week just to get to be with her and it was unravelling at a speed of knots.
“What part of you brought you here today?” Anita wondered at the same time that I repeated more angrily, “I want to go home.” I quickly put my shoes on, grabbed my keys and phone, and headed for the door “I don’t want you to go home…” Anita replied but it was too late, I was already half way out the door.
“I’m going home.”
I was out the room, down the stairs, and out the front door in seven seconds. My runners were channeling Usain Bolt.
This is new, right? Leaving. Never have I ever run out of a session. I’ve always sat and endured that physical agony of the young parts feeling alone and rejected – but I just can’t do it anymore. I cannot be in that place. It’s too triggering.
I can hear on the recording as I get off the driveway and into the dark that I let out this really pained sob as I burst into tears.
It’s awful to hear it back.
My car was parked round the corner from Anita’s house. I was in a right mess. There was no way I could drive in that moment so I just sat in the driver’s seat with my head in my hands and my knees tucked up into my chest. I basically curled up into ball and trembled and cried.
I was devastated.
How could it have gone so badly?
I sat in the dark for about five minutes – although it felt like seconds – I just completely lost time. And then reached for my phone. I felt really stupid but also really really lost and small.
As you can see from the exchange it felt like the universe was conspiring against us this session. Just as I had got back to my car, all the street lights had gone out and there’d been a powercut at Anita’s. I so badly wanted to go back to the house but also just felt completely stuck, like I said in the message, ‘paralysed’. I guess I was in a freeze response.
I just sat there, unable to move. About five minutes after Anita’s last message to me, a torch shone on the path next to my car door that was still wide open. I hadn’t even been able to shut the fucking car I was in such a state! I hadn’t heard the footsteps and yet despite being down a side road in complete darkness I didn’t react…which is unusual as I am so jumpy normally.
I looked up and there she was in the pitch black, and with a concerned but warm expression. I put I looked away and put my head back in my hands. Anita bent down and said something – and I have no idea what that is because the whole next bit of this isn’t recorded and I was so dissociated I can’t really recall much of the detail!
She asked if I wanted to talk and come back with her or maybe sit in the car together? I couldn’t move and told her that she could come in the car. My car is like bona fide special ecosystem of its own right now and I genuinely can’t believe that it had to be that day when this happened, when usually it’s tidy and smells nice and doesn’t look like trash can!
Anita was incredibly soft and calm and reassuring. My head was still in my hands and I was curled up in a ball but I could feel her even if I couldn’t look at her. She reached out and put her hand on my leg and told me that we’d be ok and could I explain what had happened?
I said she didn’t understand. That she’d never understand because she doesn’t have this wounding. That she has no idea how painful it is to feel rejected and abandoned. She said, “So teach me about it.”
I told her how her ‘keeping her distance’ had triggered me because I had missed her sooooooooooo much whilst she was away and that I really just needed a cuddle that night and it felt like she didn’t want me anywhere near her.
Anita was incredible. She refuted that and said that was not the case at all, of course she wanted to be with me and near me. She heard everything I had to say, which wasn’t a lot in terms of words but was enough to explain what had just happened. She said that telling me about the cold was not her telling me I couldn’t be near her and how in the past she’d told me the same and I have said that I didn’t mind, and we still ended up hugging so what was different?
I couldn’t articulate it in the moment, but I thought about it after and wrote it in a message yesterday which I have attached below.
I remember saying that I lose sight of her care and think things have changed and she replied with “RB, I wouldn’t come walking out in the pitch black in a power cut for anyone else.”
I think this really penetrated through to the parts that needed to hear it and Anita said lots of stuff about our relationship and how solid it is. I realised as she sat beside me in the dark that she really is my rabbit that listens. She is there, always, patient and calm waiting for me.
I wish I could remember the detail but I know that time, albeit in a completely random setting really did a lot of good. I was disappointed that I had completely lost my shit and not got what I needed so far as the physical holding goes, but emotionally Anita was right there with me. We are definitely a team!
Anyway, the long and short of it is that it’s all ok. We got me sorted enough to be able to drive and for her to leave. She asked me if I wanted a hug – which is impossible in the car – so I said, yes, got out the car and we had a really long hug in the dark.
Anita said something like, “I’ll look forward to seeing you on Monday and it really is ok” and I didn’t respond. “I’ll see you on Friday?” she repeated. “I don’t know,” I groaned.
There was so much conflict and shame and all kinds of stuff running round my brain. Deep down I knew we were absolutely fine – but there were a lot of parts still having their moment to speak.
The next morning I asked Anita is she had time for a ten minute check in before Friday and she offered me a time that evening:
I had a bit of time over my lunch break to think and I wrote and sent this message:
I’ve been trying to think about what happened last night and why but it’s not straightforward but all comes down to feeling disconnected and rejected and all that stuff.
Adult me tried really hard to stay away and not bother you while you were away on holiday and communicate in a way that wasn’t super needy, or too frequent, despite really feeling rubbish and like things were really not ok. By the middle of the week – woeful Wednesday – it felt really bad. I kept shaking and it was just horrid. If I had texted you what I wanted/felt over the week it would have been more like this, than stuff about IKEA:
I miss you and I’m starting to feel like you’re not real.
I’ve been having lots nightmares and feel really unsettled and shaky.
It feels like it did when I was little, and I’m scared that when you come back it’ll be different or you won’t want to see me anymore and I feel frightened.
I really need a cuddle.
Are we still ok?
Can we read stories on Monday?
I’ve been really sick and dizzy feel really clingy and like everything is too much but really want to see you
I feel really exhausted from holding all this and feel sad and overwhelmed but hope that we can reconnect when we see each other
All…the…feelings…are too much
And so, what I really needed last week was some kind of connection for that young part who worries so much about things going wrong or being forgotten about. Adult me can cope with you being away but the wounded child parts that struggle so much with disruption can’t, and it felt like you didn’t see/remember them. And I really get that this is me being mental because you did send stuff and I can see that now…but…ugh… I just can’t explain it really. I just really struggle with breaks and when it feels that bad it’s hard to hold onto anything positive.
So yesterday felt really high stakes. I really just needed for all that painful young stuff to be seen, held, and contained because I was wobbling really badly. When I haven’t seen you for a while, I struggle to hold onto all the evidence that has gone before that actually you do care, that I am not a massive pain in the arse (eek…think maybe that’s changed!), and that you do want to see me. I know you sent me that text yesterday telling me that you did want to see me and that you could understand how I was feeling but I was so far down my spiral of doom that it kind of bounced off.
When I arrived, I was so tired and so overwrought – it’s like the weight of the last week just caught up with me and I just wanted to be close to you. When you said you were ‘keeping your distance’ it felt instantly like you were pushing me away and it just lit the petrol that sets off that massive fire where everything is about to burn to the ground.
I get that wasn’t what you meant but that young part that is so used to being pushed away or disregarded got really triggered and really fast. I was totally gone into that place that is terrified. I know in the past when you’ve said something similar, I have said that I didn’t care about the cold, but that’s when I am walking into a situation that feels stable and safe…and after a break it just doesn’t feel like that. I am automatically looking for evidence that something has changed or gone wrong, and this seemed to be it. It felt like you wanted to be far away from me.
The internal reaction to what you said was immense. I felt sick and my heart started racing. I don’t think you noticed, but I was shaking. It felt absolutely horrific. Sitting there having a full-on trauma response to you staying away from me was too much. I had to leave. Staying in that situation was too upsetting and that’s why I ran away. I wanted so much to see you and instead it felt like I was being held at arms length and that’s really hard for me.
I know none of this is what was actually happening. I get it. But I couldn’t see that at the time.
I felt so dissociated last night in the car. I don’t remember much of what happened or what was said because I was so physically affected by what had happened. I really really didn’t want to be like that or for that to happen and I am sorry. I am embarrassed, too. I thought that I had a handle on this stuff but lately it seems like I am so easily triggered by small things. I don’t know if it’s progress that I can at least tell you how it is or whether I am just hopeless.
Thank you for coming and sitting with me in the dark.
On Friday even if you are a snot machine please can we have cuddles because I feel like I have been run over by a bus.
I miss you.
The conversation we had on Monday night was holding and connecting and so I’ll leave this there because, yet again, it’s an epic length and the editing tool is not working properly on here today! Sometimes I really feel like this 😉
Musing on counselling-related issues in the UK. I am a counsellor/psychotherapist and a client too. As the blog title suggests, my counselling journey began in the client's seat. For information about my counselling and psychotherapy practice see my website: www.erinstevens.co.uk
holding it together as I journey through therapy - a personal account of what it's like to be in long-term psychotherapy navigating the healing of C-PTSD, childhood trauma and neglect, an eating disorder, self-harming behaviours, as well as giving grief and cancer an occasional nod.
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