Separation Anxiety: Young Parts In Meltdown (Again)

Warning: this is quite long and I’m not convinced it makes much sense – my brain is in meltdown!

So, it’s Easter break…which, actually, is not really an Easter break at all, so far as what I have previously had to contend with in therapy goes! Em used to disappear for two or three weeks over Easter and that was that. No contact. Radio silence. It was like she ceased to exist – and this triggered me on so many levels. In addition to this, there was no preparation for the break – I knew when it was coming in advance, but nothing was ever done to help get my system safe and settled before a holiday. The was no talking to the parts about how the break might feel. There were no transitional objects (ha – the pebbles debacle is case in point). There was just silence (which breeds shame) and then absence.

I used to dread the breaks (and I still do, actually) and the closer they got the more my young parts struggled. A few days into a holiday and those little parts felt abandoned (and completely terrified) and then to add insult to injury, adult me would panic because my dad died suddenly whilst away on holiday (when I was 25) and so feared something similar would happen again with Em (hello PTSD response!).

So basically, breaks in therapy have always set off an internal ‘bad weather’ event – it just comes in varying degrees: very breezy/light rain (mildly inconvenient), gale force/heavy downpour (wasn’t equipped for this but I’ll survive!), or complete tornado/shit storm (Run for your life! Take cover! I’m gonna die!). Like I say, sometimes breaks feel just about bearable, just a little bubbling of anxiety and feeling unsettled and other times it feels like it’s unsurvivable danger to the young parts who wailing and feeling completely overwhelmed.

Guess which version it is this year?

Uh huh…shitstorm.

Fuccckkkk!!!

It’s disappointing, to be sure. You’d think after everything I have written lately about how good my therapy feels, that my attachment to Anita would be so strong that I would sail through a week off. Only that’s not how it is AT ALL. Far from it. It’s crap, actually. I want it to be ok, but the truth is, I miss her a lot. I’m not surprised though, my life is a real struggle at the minute and my therapy has really been a lifeline so for that to ‘disappear’ (albeit temporarily) it’s totally stirred things up.

When things feel bad on breaks there’s a clear trajectory through the holiday. I know the pattern – I just don’t know what the hell to do about it! To be clear, I also know that it’s my stuff, not the reality of the situation or a reflection of the relationship with my therapist.

So, what happens?

The beginning part of the break sees the youngest parts crying and the attachment stuff is so painful. I have an image of a two-year-old part screaming, alone, abandoned in an endless grey space and it is so powerful. She feels so scared and lost. I can’t reach out to that part- she’s got her back to me. And even if I could reach her, it’s not me she wants. I’m not the attachment figure (yet – but hope to be one day). My body physically hurts and I feel completely ungrounded. It’s basically all the horrible stuff about not mattering, being forgettable, and unimportant swirling around – and it’s just so cold and depressing and lonely. Basically, it’s abandonment and rejection 101 and it feels like I’m stuck in a Groundhog Day.

As the break progresses that young stuff becomes completely unbearable. I feel like I am juddering inside and then nightmares start – usually about the therapist being burnt out, changing, and then rejecting me – which is what happened last night. Groan.

It won’t be long, now, until I move into the next stage where the teen steps in to try and get a handle on the littles. It’s when she steps in that I feel like ‘fuck the therapy, I am done with it!’ I woke up this morning and my instinct was to cancel my session on Friday. I don’t want to feel all this hurt and pain that has so vividly just played out in my nightmare. The anger I feel about the situation is massive – but it’s just a mask for absolute sadness and devastation. The teen feels so let down. So stupid for trusting and attaching to the therapist when actually the reality is it’s easy to leave me and the little parts and I just have to be ok with that.

BTW I get that this is all ‘me me me’ but that’s the teen’s feelings. Adult me understands breaks just fine. We all need them! Our therapists have earned them (mine more than most!) – but I am not talking about my rational adult self here – I am talking about the fucking nightmare that happens for my system on breaks! I wish I could just switch into adult and have all the various parts powered down. It just doesn’t work that way, unfortunately!

So, the cycle continues…

Once teen has had a try and failed to get things under control, I end up with screaming little parts and now suicidal teens who feel like self-harm might be a really good idea, or a trip into anorexia (I am making light of it here – but it’s anything but funny) and then it gets really nasty inside. It is so hard to focus on my life. I try and keep busy and productive but inside it’s just awful. Nothing is contained or safe and it’s agony, actually.

So, as I approach the point where it’s all totally fucked inside, the Critic steps in and shuts everything down. The level of self-attack and shaming is just utterly horrendous. It makes the little parts want to die. The teen is already there. And so, it’s just like being in a torturous boot camp. The Critic is so mean.

This is where the narrative about Anita not caring, it all being fake, that I am too much and that’s why she’s gone away comes in. It says that actually Anita’s glad to see the back of me, I’m responsible for burning her out and now she won’t come back. I am stupid for hoping things would be different – because ultimately, I am the same ‘tick’ that Em saw and anyone in their right mind would find me too much and want to escape eventually.

Ouch.

Even though she’s a complete tyrant I do realise now that the Critic is just trying to protect me from getting hurt. Shut down the vulnerability, hide the need, and cope…I can do it on my own…I always have.

Only the little ones don’t want to be alone anymore.

Ugh.

So it feels like I have ended up on the emotional waltzers again. Waltzers are way worse than the rollercoaster.

I’ve been thinking about what has happened that has made this break feel so hard. It all started a couple of weeks ago. I knew the holidays were coming (I count the weeks down for time off work!) and I was glad that I would be able to rest and recharge a bit as it’s been so so hard lately – in fact I was looking back over messages to see and it’s been 5 solid months of hell now. I need to sleep. I am so so tired. The thing is, holidays don’t feel restful because whilst my work goes on a low gear my maintenance plan stalls.

When it’s school holidays I am automatically plunged into a childcare situation, or rather ‘lack of childcare’ and so therapy gets disrupted and so my ‘rest time’ actually feels massively stressful because that consistent therapeutic space for me is just gone and so the system gets thrown into chaos. Anita is only taking the bank-holiday off, but I still can’t see her as much as I’d like because I simply can’t get to her in the daytimes. In some ways this feels worse than if she wasn’t working and was unavailable. The little parts know she is there and it’s just them that can’t see her when other people can. This stresses me out and sends the little parts into a really bad place.

It’s horrible because I really don’t want to be ‘that client’ (or this client!). I don’t want to be having a meltdown over this. I don’t want to be so unbearably needy. I don’t want to make a big deal out of something that neither of us can do much about. It’s just embarrassing and I am so over it! So, I try and hide what’s going on inside. And this is where my ‘False Adult’ steps up.

The last couple of weeks I have gone to session and talked…and talked…and probably seemed fine. I have, I think, come across as mildly annoyed about stuff in my life, tired, and same same…but also pretty ‘together’ given what’s been going on. Anita probably has no idea that there is anything going on underneath, probably thinks I am doing pretty well all things considered.

Only, it’s that swan analogy – on the surface everything seems fine enough but underneath the legs are going like the clappers.

I am not ok.

So, what do I do when it’s like this? First thing is retreat. Part of me knows I am not going to be able to see or be close to Anita over the holiday so I start protecting myself from that loss before it happens and go into hiding (which is bonkers).

There was a session recently where, despite desperately wanting to reach out and ask for a hug, I just couldn’t. If I am shutdown and dissociated, I think it’s pretty clear what I need and Anita generally offers me a hug or to hold her hand in order to bring me back. This False Adult is different, though. I seem ‘fine’ and engaged and there are no silences. I think I even do a pretty good job at masking how I feel with ‘reasonably relaxed’ body language. On the surface it seems like I am coping and don’t look as though I need anything. It’s smoke and fucking mirrors, though.

Inside the young parts are still there and wanting connection and holding so badly, but I just don’t let them out. I guess I know just ‘how big’ the need of those young part is and I don’t want to be too much for A, or overwhelm her before her break. I don’t want her to go on her break and it be such a huge (and welcome) contrast/rest that she realises that working with me is draining and so she decides not to come back or to refer me on.

It’s stupid though (and I really know this – but am trying to show the process in all its bonkers), because all that happens is this young, needy stuff builds and builds and then when the break comes it explodes all over the shop and is more likely to encroach into the break. Realistically, it’d probably annoy Anita more reaching out during a break than if I was just needy and clingy in the time leading into a break. So why does it still happen? I don’t think what happens before breaks is conscious but it’s definitely a pattern. It’s easier to pretend that I don’t need Anita than actually have to say, out loud, ‘I miss you already and I hate that I feel like you’re gone and it scares me’… because … ugh… puke. Vulnerability overload and eeekkk it’s not safe!

It’s certainly not much fun feeling like I am at the emotional fairground. It’s like part of me can see exactly what’s going on and just wants to cringe in the corner because it’s so predictable, so familiar. But at the same time, I can’t help but feel some compassion for myself. It’s such an exhausting situation. I just want some time out from my system and to properly rest. I feel so sad that this happens over and over again.

So, I seem to have digressed a bit. The day False Adult turned up I talked my way through the entire session…because that’s therapy, right? But no. It was the first session (face-to-face) in months and months that I hadn’t had a cuddle with Anita during the session. And OMG was that a massive problem afterwards! As I got up to leave, I gave Anita a hug but…it wasn’t the same, or enough, or what I needed and the young parts were in bits.

The time between sessions that week was fucking hideous. I mean, really bad. It was me that didn’t reach out and yet, somewhere in my poorly wired, misfiring brain, it felt like it must be something wrong with me. Maybe Anita didn’t want to be near me anymore. Maybe she was glad that I didn’t ask for a hug. Maybe she was relieved that she could keep her distance. Maybe something has changed between us. My mind went to town on me and it sent the child parts into freefall. They couldn’t understand what had happened and why Anita hadn’t seen them.

It was agony.

And this, remember, is all because a break was coming up. The lens I view myself and the therapeutic relationship through at this time distorts everything… and I hate it.

After that session I felt awful. I almost text Anita the morning of the next session to ask her to keep an eye out for the young parts and to ask if we could have a cuddle at the beginning of the session so that they knew it was safe to be there. But I didn’t. It felt too exposing. Too vulnerable. I hoped I would be able to ask for that myself.

Nope.

I didn’t leave this next session or those thereafter without a hug but it took me a really long time to ask and to get what I needed. And before I knew it, it was time to go. And when that happens it’s like being ripped out of the safety before I’m ready. I know this is my own fault. I know that Anita isn’t going to shame me for wanting to be close to her or for struggling with separation anxiety – but there’s a part that is terrified of exactly that. There is so much inner conflict.

Just writing this makes me feel mental.

As I said, adult me can see what the processes and patterns are…but insight doesn’t actually help much when I feel like this. It’s only Tuesday today and so it’s a few days until I get to see A. I have managed to get a friend to have the kids for me this week so I can get to my session, but god knows what I am going to do next week – and that stresses me out when I feel so unsettled.

I realise all I have done here is moan in a confused way. I’ve actually really struggled to write this so I do wonder if I am a bit dissociated because I can’t hold anything in mind properly. I’m trying to work out what to do next but also trying to work out what I could have done differently leading into the break to maybe make this more of a ‘breezy with a bit of drizzle’ break rather than a total ‘shit storm’.

I guess, I should have told Anita how I was dreading the break (that isn’t really even a break). I should have been honest about what was going on for the young parts because that might have invited a conversation about why they are so terrified and perhaps we could have put something in place to make it feel less bad. I should have sent the text before the session knowing it was likely that False Adult would turn up and hide the reality of what was going on.

I am so lucky. I really know that. I am reminded every day of Anita’s love and care. Sitting in bed writing this by the glow of the light she bought me for my birthday is a huge transitional object, as is the gorgeous necklace she gave me after the Nov/Dec lockdown but right now, the youngest most traumatised parts just feel like she’s gone…dead gone. It’s the object constancy stuff again and I don’t know how to get round it. I know it’s not all my system that is having a meltdown (thank god) but when this really young stuff is activated it’s just pure hell. I am so tired of feeling overwhelmed. Right now, I just want to listen to a bedtime story and fall asleep. I know some people have voice recordings of their therapists reading stories, or saying something reassuring and I do wonder if this would help those very young parts…but again, it’s hard to ask for that when you’re drowning in shame and feeling like you’re already too needy and demanding.

I’m trying to shake off the horrible feelings I have been left with after last night’s dream/nightmare. I hate when I dream of A and she embodies all the things I am panicking about. To be rejected in a dream is just so painful…and waking up it just adds fuel to the fire.

Anyway, that’s the break so far…fun times eh?!

Mother’s Day. When Your Therapist Is Better Than Your Actual Mother.

It’s been a few weeks since it was Mother’s Day, here, in the UK. I had wanted to write this back around then, but have got so far behind with the blog that it just hasn’t been possible. I’m still hanging on by a (very frayed) thread and to add insult to injury it’s the Easter therapy break (well – a whole 8 days without a session!) and so there’s all sorts of overtired, young parts’ feelings swirling about that that need to come out somewhere – and here seems like a good place rather than bothering Anita (arrrghhhh it’s a struggle!)! However, to at least keep some kind of sense of chronology going, I will get this written and posted up first. I should have a bit more time to write over the next couple of weeks as it’s school holidays and I am not tutoring many students through the break … thank god!

Anyway – that’s a bit of a preamble. Let’s get down to business.

I don’t know about you but I really struggle with Mother’s Day. It always falls on or around my birthday (I was actually born on a Mother’s Day – oh the irony!) and so it kind of creeps into that -and I almost don’t enjoy my birthday because it’s overshadowed by Mother’s Day. I don’t necessarily mean by having to see my mum – it’s more like if we (my wife and I) plan to go out somewhere, or do something, on or around my birthday, everywhere is just filled with mums and daughters and I can’t escape it.

No matter how much I try and ignore them, I can’t get away from how many people there are out there that ‘seem’ have close relationships with their mums. Spas and restaurants are rammed with relaxed-looking, smiling mums and daughters who are clearly enjoying each other’s company. There’s a kind of intimacy and connection that I simply do not have with my mum, and I can’t help but feel a bit…I dunno…sad…jealous…disappointed…hurt… There’s all sorts of emotions around it and try as I might to not let it get to me, it does.

Since becoming a mum, myself, I think Mother’s Day has become a bit less hard because I see it as a time to celebrate being a mum to my own babies. I can’t lie, though, the moment the pink cards with sickly sweet, sentimental pictures and messages hit the shops there is a definitely a part of me that baulks at it. I think it’s probably the teen. For her, especially, the mother wound is still gaping open and so Mother’s Day, or March in general, is just like being prodded with a stick deep down into that painful place, with a mocking ‘look what you didn’t get and what you’ll never have’.

I find it hard picking out a card for my mum. I have to find one that is maybe artier and fewer on words because, frankly, a card with two figures hugging that says something like ‘you’re the world’s best mum’ or ‘Thank you for being an amazing mum’ just feels… Wrong. And don’t let’s get started with the ones that have lengthy verses inside!

My mum doesn’t touch me – we’ve had two hugs in the last 13 years – one when my dad died, and more recently when her dad died and she was in tears at the hospital so I held her. Touch and holding has never been a part of our relationship – well, certainly not since when, at 14 years old, I reached out to hold her hand and she said. “Don’t do that people will think we are lesbians”…

Ummm.

So, yeah, that was a big kicker wasn’t it?

Especially as I was gay (not that she knew it then).

Don’t get me wrong. We have a relationship that works for both of us now. She is good with my kids and we ‘get on’…it’s just not…enough…or it is enough… because the really sad thing about it is that if, tomorrow, my mum came along and was suddenly full of love, hugs, and attunement, I simply don’t want any of it from her now. That ship sailed a really long time ago. My young parts have taken themselves away and don’t come near. It wasn’t safe as a kid and I sure as hell won’t put them out there again. It’s interesting though, because it’s not even like attachment is really a choice. You can’t make yourself feel something about someone if it’s not there but equally you cannot ‘unfeel’ feelings that ARE there!

And this is why therapy has for so long been so hard (pre-Anita). The child in me had transferred all that need and longing to be held and seen and loved onto someone else (Em) and like my mum, Em was cold, withholding, and would not come anywhere near me. It left me feeling inadequate, unlovable, and untouchable. Basically, I was both deficient and too much. It was incredibly painful but also incredibly familiar to be experiencing this stuff in the therapy. I think that’s why it took me so long to get out of that situation. It was a complete re-enactment of my relationship with my mum and I thought that was all I could expect, all I was worthy of.

It’s such a shame because I think, in fact, I know, that working with maternal transference and handling it sensitively and with care can be a real game-changer. Doing the work on the mother wound can be so profoundly healing. I get that it can feel intense and overwhelming for both therapist and client at times. There are a lot of big feelings and a lot of needs that haven’t seen the light of day in a very long time. Not only that, needs and feeling that are already mixed up with shame because that’s what we learnt as kids. Having several clingy needy kids and angry, depressed teens coming out and expressing ALL THE FEELINGS is a lot to deal with. I can understand why therapists can find it difficult to see beyond the adult body that is sitting in front of them BUT making repairs in this area of wounding and creating a safe attachment with all those younger parts is ‘the work’ for so many of us.

I think what many therapists fail to realise, or really acknowledge, is that it is such a huge thing for us to even dare to attach to a therapist and to show them our most vulnerable and wounded selves. It often takes a lot of time to build up enough trust to show ourselves, and if that happens it’s not something to run screaming from it’s something to be celebrated! If we let a therapist see all those wounded and damaged parts then I think, actually, they should be a bit honoured because we’ve spent our whole lives with these parts in exile, hidden away and shrouded in shame.

Therapists: when we (and our parts) attach to you, we need you to lean in, not freak out. It’s normal for humans to want to be in relationship. There’s nothing weird about having loving feelings towards someone with whom you do such intimate work. And yet, there is so much pathologizing of people like me (and the community here). My last therapist called me ‘adhesive’ and ‘like a tick’ and it’s done more damage than I can ever put into words…although, clearly, I keep trying as it comes up frequently here in this blog!!

My last therapy was completely retraumatising which is why I feel so lucky to have met Anita who is the complete antithesis to Em – not only is she healing the mother wound with me she healing the harm done in the therapy with Em…of which there was lots. Anybody that’s been following this blog over the last year will see how transformational working with Anita has been for me. It’s like being bathed in shame remover and then being put out in the sun to dry.

Anyway, just before Mother’s Day I was online looking for cards for my mum and I scrolled past this:

Instantly, there was a part of me that wanted to give it to Anita. I took a screenshot of it and sent it to my friend and explained how I wanted to give it to A but realised how risky it could be. My friend and I have both experienced what it is like to have this kind of gesture thrown back in our faces – gifts refused etc (although not at Mother’s Day as never done anything here before!) and my poor friend was told that her therapist ‘already has her daughters’ (OUCH) and so this stuff can be excruciatingly painful. My friend has been to hell and back with me over what’s happened with Em over the years and so she was really trying to protect me from getting hurt. I am so glad I have her. And I get it, for some therapists any kind of step into mother comparisons might signal red flags etc and suddenly we’ve tiptoed into the crossing a boundary territory and it all goes to shit. I mean look at what happened with Em.

However, for both me and my friend (and I am guessing lots of you too) it’s not about wanting the therapist to actually be our mothers. We don’t want adoption papers signed! We don’t want to move in or spend Christmas with them – we have our own lives, partners, kids etc. In fact, we don’t even want the relationship to exist outside that room. Sure, we might want more time with the therapist (an hour or two a week isn’t really enough with C-PTSD) but we are pretty clear that what happens, happens in that safe container.

We know we get the best version of our therapists in sessions. Outside the room they’re probably just like the rest of us: grouchy, tired, needy, and a bit ‘over it’ – and we don’t need that! But what happens in the room can be magical and transformative and it’s the closest experience we have ever got of healthy mothering. Why wouldn’t we want to acknowledge that and express thanks for that…especially at time that is usually so fucking painful?

So, despite clearly knowing it was a risk even acknowledging Mother’s Day I decided to buy the card for A. I didn’t write it or give it to her the session before the weekend because I thought that it might a bit uncomfortable, but decided that I would give it to her the Monday after Mother’s Day. As it turned out, it was on that Friday session when I had been really shut down and struggling to connect (there’s been a lot of that recently but largely due to the stress I am under outside therapy not because A has done anything wrong!) where Anita gave me a birthday present and I kind of knew at that point that what we have and what we are doing wasn’t going to be ruined by a card.

So, I wrote this:

Dear A,

My friend told me not to give you this card, she said it would probably lead to a conversation I didn’t want to have and that would trigger all the young parts and cause a rupture between us. I mean, I get it, I’ve thought about that too, but still, there’s a part of me that wants to send you this because the statement is true.

In this last year you have been more available, present, and caring than my mum. I know you are my therapist and not my mum but what I have learnt over the years is that mothering comes in lots of different forms, from lots of different people and I wanted to acknowledge that and to thank you for being amazing. I really don’t know where I would be right now had you not been in my life.

You asked on Friday whether I felt like you were letting me down. I know I barely responded, I felt so far away and disconnected, but internally it sent all kinds of shock waves through my system. I couldn’t really get my head round why you would say or think that. No. You haven’t let me down at all. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

I don’t even really have the words to describe how far from ‘letting me down’ you are (what is the opposite of that?!). Even when things have felt impossible and desperate and I have been distant, disconnected, or dissociated you always find a way to bring me back and connect with me and that’s huge. I never leave you feeling like there is something wrong between us.

I cannot believe how patient and kind you are even when I am pushing you away. I don’t mean to. It’s not what I want to do AT ALL but there’s definitely a massive fear about being too much right now and so I back away in order to stop that.

I wish my brain could hold onto the feeling of safety and care between sessions but it just doesn’t, or can’t yet. It feels frustrating to repeatedly feel like everything is brand new every time I see you… well, kind of. I guess I am on high alert looking if something has changed.

Anyway, I guess this is the work. Thank you for everything you do for me and for the best hugs. I love you. Big hug xxx

So, I got to the session on Monday and spoke about the crap that was going on with my wife’s medical stuff, job, blah blah more shit and more unexpected trapdoors. I was so deflated by it all and we talked about a lot about it all. And then I reached a point half an hour in and said, “I don’t even know what to say!” I was done with talking about the day-to-day stuff and whilst we were connected it’s different when it’s all adult. You know when you have the young stuff needing to be seen and worked on too just bubbling away inside? Well, it was that and I knew the card was sitting in my bag waiting. I felt safe enough to get it out and said, “Can I give you this? You might need your glasses!”

Anita went and got her glasses opened the card and immediately smiled and said, “That is gorgeous!”

As she sat and read it, despite her positive reaction to the front, I could feel the tendrils of panic creeping up and over my body. Shame. Embarrassment. Fear. All the stuff. This is definitely the hangover from so many times with Em where I would write something, take it to session, be so incredibly vulnerable, and then she’d finish and it would feel like the door was being slammed in my face. She’d never take a step towards me and instead say something like, “I’m just your therapist” or “Your young parts might want to be held but that won’t happen here”. Blah blah. You all know the drill!

When she finished reading, Anita looked up, smiled at me and said with so much warmth in her voice, “That is lovely. Thank you. And I am glad you gave it to me. It really is lovely.”

I was silent almost in a freeze, I think. I could hardly breathe.

Anita continued, “I’m glad you feel like that. Because for me that is what that is what this work is about. Helping your system start to trust.”

More silence and freeze from me. Then in a tiny voice, “It doesn’t feel very good.”

“Your system at the moment?” Anita asked gently.

A barely perceptible nod from me.

And then with so much gentleness in her voice, A said, “I should imagine it was quite scary to give me that card wasn’t it?”

I moved my eyes from the spot on the floor and turned to Anita and said, ‘Yeah’.

She looked and me leant towards me a little and said, “But I have read it, how you said it. And I really have. I feel honoured. Really honoured. Thank you.”

“It just feels really scary” whispered the little voice.

“It’s ok…but nothing feels ok at the moment does it? I wish I could keep you safe from all of it.” Anita just really gets it. It’s not just what she says but how she says it. As I have said so many times it’s like being doused in soapy shame remover being with her.

And then all the parts of me knew it was safe. That she is safe. That I am safe with her and that we are ok.

I know it’s like doing the hokey cokey in therapy – the parts going in and out with trust and testing. But over and over again Anita is there and when we get to the chorus, we join hands and run into the middle together!

The little one asked, “Can I have a hug?”

And as usual, and with so much care and warmth in her voice Anita replied, “Of course”.

And then, after what felt like quite a big session, I just snuggled into her for the remainder of the of the time and listened to her heart beat. I find this holding so soothing. I can feel my nervous system relax and regulate. I can’t do that on my own, or for myself, and I am so glad that Anita realises how important co-regulation is for the young parts of my system. That half an hour was so so healing…and this is why my therapist is ‘better than my real mother’!

It’s been an incredibly tough month – but thank goodness for therapy!…

It’s been over a month since I last posted here which is the longest I have ever gone without blogging. It’s not that there hasn’t been a lot going on – far from it – I could write thousands of words on how it’s been but I simply haven’t had the time or energy to do anything other than survive, lately. It’s been that bad. My anxiety has been off the chart and I feel perpetually on edge (although it’s justified!). I am stuck in flight mode and my nervous system is freaking out big time. I can’t sleep. Eating has been a real battle, at times. It’s just been the biggest uphill struggle for so long now. I can say wholeheartedly that I didn’t think being a grown up would be this hard. Adulting sucks!

I appreciate how doom and gloom that all sounds and it’s hard to go into too much detail about what’s been going on as it’s so specific that it would be easy to identify me from the information if you happened to know me in real life. A broad-brush picture is: the job stuff with my wife took another very nasty turn (really bad!), and since her COVID we’ve discovered that she has an undiagnosed autoimmune disease (the GP missed the markers in the blood tests she had six months ago when she went in pain and with vision problems and since then she’s gone rapidly downhill). We have learnt that lack of intervention has already caused some irreparable damage. This damage could be life-changing and if not got under control soon, career-limiting. This latest revelation has meant that a surgery she had recently has been unsuccessful and another surgery that was planned has had to be postponed to try and get her system under control to make it safe enough to operate. FFS!

And then my grandfather died of COVID (contracted in hospital) earlier in the month. That was really horrible and hard to see. Honestly, to be with someone, unconscious, fighting for every breath despite being pumped with oxygen is something I’ll never forget and it makes me really wonder why there are still people out there who are refusing to wear masks or get the vaccine and think COVID is some kind of hoax to control us all. I wouldn’t wish that kind of death on anyone and it’ll take a long while for the memory of this to fade. I am hospital phobic anyway, so it’s not been great.

There’s been other stuff, too, but essentially (as you can probably see) things haven’t got any better and in terms of health and finances we’re in a really bad spot, still. I could do with the lottery fairies smiling on me!

So, suffice to say life has been very very hard and it’s a long long way from resolving. I keep saying to Anita that it can’t possibly get any worse, this has to be bottom, and then I discover another trapdoor and plunge down through it into another level of hell.

I have to laugh about it or I’d cry. And I do cry, but nowhere near enough because there isn’t time. Having said that I bawled my eyes out watching a webcast of my grandad’s funeral yesterday. So much grief came up and out – and I am sure if wasn’t only about the loss of a lovely man, it tapped into so many other losses: my dad, my wonderful friend, and… Em.

The one good, solid, and reliable thing (silver linings!) through all of this has been Anita’s consistent care and support. I honestly don’t know where I would be without her and I literally thank the universe every single day that I crossed paths with her. Even though it hurt like hell, I am glad that what happened with Em happened last year because I know how bad things would be if I was still working with her. She’s only working online now and has put her fee up by another £15 a session…there’s no way I could have afforded to see her but not only that, I could not have coped with the perpetual stress and anxiety of being in therapy with her. Working with Anita has given me at least some sense of a solid base, or a safe space in my week – and it has been so needed.

Because things have been so much in survival mode, I can’t even really remember what’s been going on in the therapy to recount much here. I can’t really recall very much detail and the chronology feels a bit skewed – my brain has been so overloaded. I have been all over the place. There’s been times when all I have been able to do is cry and cuddle Anita, grabbing onto her like she’s a life raft in a stormy sea.

Fortunately, she is always there to hold me if that’s what I want. I have asked her on a few occasions if she thinks I am weird or too needy or too clingy for needing to be so close to her (young parts freaking out) – she doesn’t even stop to think or take a breath before emphatically answering ‘No! Not at all! You are exactly as anyone would be given all you’ve gone through’. What’s even nicer is that she often follows up with something like ‘you are really so easy to love – what’s happened to you is not your fault and I really want you to hear that and know that’ all the while holding me a little bit more tightly. I can literally feel the love and it is so healing.

After a particularly bad week earlier this month I’d sent a few texts. Not really wordy ones just touching base but kind of needy ‘are you there’ GIF type ones. And then the shame and panic hit a bit and I sent a GIF of a bear repeatedly poking another bear with a carrot and asked the question:

It’s the non-shaming simple responses that I get from Anita that go such a long way to settle my system and build trust for all the parts of me in the relationship with her. Having those young parts allowed to communicate with an emoji or GIF (or longer message/email which rarely happens) has been transformational. It’s not ‘therapy outside the room’ but it is holding and containing enough for me to be able to do the work in the room.

It’s so helpful to be able to give Anita the heads up on the morning of a session and say ‘we need to talk about…’ so that I don’t arrive and chicken out. Again it is rarely necessary but having that freedom to reach out makes such a difference. I can’t believe I struggled for so many years with Em. Feeling bad for sending any kind of message (which only happened very occasionally) and getting the boundary talk and a ‘I didn’t read your text’ was so damaging for the parts that were struggling so much with coming to the room.

Anyway #AnitaRocks

I seem just to be waffling on here and saying not much but honestly, March has been absolutely brutal. When my grandad was dying, the visit meant a 700-mile round trip over two days with my mum (!) to say goodbye to him. I was absolutely battered when I got home, the drive was long, the emotional stress of visiting my grandad was huge, trying to support my mum and make conversation when we have an ‘interesting’ dynamic was ok but exhausting, and to add insult to injury, the person in the room next to me at the hotel decided that it was a good idea to have a 5-hour long row on the phone to their partner. I was so angry and so so tired that I ended up banging on the wall at 3am (this is not like me!). I had also had to reschedule students and condense 5 days of work into 4 (need the money right now!)

It was all a bit too much, and add to that I had also had to cancel my Monday therapy at short notice (I got the call that my grandad was end of life on the Sunday morning and left the house within half an hour in the hope we’d get to see him before he died). You can probably imagine how that set the young parts jangling! The night that I was alone in the hotel I felt so worn out and emotional that the young parts were really on edge even though Anita had been accommodating and understanding and had offered to see me at our usual/occasional Tuesday evening time (if I was not too tired for it). Sometimes an extra day waiting just feels too long when life already feels too much, but at least I didn’t have to hang on until Friday.

I do know how lucky I am to have a therapist who is so flexible with me. It is another benefit of having a therapist that works full time in their own private practice and not 3 days a week in the NHS and 2 days private (like Em). Because Anita works more days there’s always flexibility and opportunity to get a session when I need it or juggle things around if stuff comes up. If there was ever a crisis or something cropped up when working with Em there was never any space (although maybe there was an she just didn’t want to see me?!) and I just had to sit with it. This was especially difficult given that she also didn’t do check-ins or any kind of outside communication.

Sitting here now it’s clear just how bad a fit it was. That aloof, distant style just didn’t work for me AT ALL!

Anyway, despite being knackered on Tuesday I was determined to see Anita that evening. My grandad had died on the Monday evening and I really just needed some time and space to decompress with my safe person. I arrived at Anita’s and after about 10 minutes talking just completely ran out of steam. I think I started to relax and the adrenaline that had been keeping me going disappeared and I was left with the reality.

I felt totally done in.

I asked if we could turn the ‘big’ light off in the room (I was so tired and it felt too bright) and instead put on the salt lamp she has. Then I asked for a hug, cuddled into her, closed my eyes and came very close to falling asleep as I listened to her heart beat. Our breathing synchronised under the orangey pink glow of the lamp and it just felt so containing for all the parts that were struggling. I don’t remember much about what was said but I do remember how calm and safe it felt. I can imagine some people reading this thinking that ‘this is not therapy’ but it works for me. It is healing to me. And after years and years gaining ‘insight’ I just really need to do the relational healing – and that is what’s happening.

Anita sent me this one the other day 🙂

The next week I don’t know what happened but there was a session where I just found it impossible to connect with Anita. Bloody emotional rollercoaster. It was definitely a teen part that had been triggered. I think I (young part) had sent her a text (nothing important – like literally a GIF or something) and she hadn’t responded when she usually would have done. I don’t know if it was shame creeping in round the edges or what – but I couldn’t even look at her when I got to the session. I think when I am operating in overwhelm my hypervigilance goes mad and I panic that something is wrong. Looking back over the messages, I can’t even see why I had got worked up!

Sometimes when we’ve had really connecting, emotionally intimate sessions like that evening one, I almost get a vulnerability hangover and go into myself, I think. Like I saw Anita not replying to my text as a sign that she must now feel like how it had been in the recent amazing holding sessions was really too much for her and now she regretted letting me so close. I was too much. She had finally seen what Em had, and she wanted to get away from the parasitic tick (me).

OH HELP!

When this stuff starts circling in my brain it’s agony. The shame is so huge. I know this is my inner critic doing its best to keep me safe and it’s utter bollocks given how it really is with Anita but for some reason I can’t get out of that state when I am in it. I hate it. I mean honestly, it was such an epic panic and meltdown inside. I know it was a product of being overwhelmed and overtired but it feels so hard for all the other parts of me that long to remain connected and to be safely held when I shut down and keep Anita at arm’s length.

Anyway, on this day Anita was being so warm and lovely and PATIENT. Telling me she was there with me. She held out her hand and asked me if I wanted to take it. She even offered me a hug. But I just couldn’t reach out and refused all her offers of connection. I really wanted to hold her hand and hug her, but it was like my hands were tied behind my back. Anita kept gently reassuring me but nothing was working. She’d told me she had had a migraine and had to cancel clients in the week and had been too ill to look at her phone and realises she’d been less available and responsive. I realised then, that the lack of reply was because she’d been ill in bed. I felt like an epic dickhead.

Anita then said, ‘I know it’s your birthday tomorrow, and I have got you a present but I haven’t had chance to wrap it up or get you a card because I have been stuck in bed with my head’. I was struck dumb by what was being said. Here I was, again, pushing this woman away because I was scared that I was too much for her and thinking that she doesn’t care and wants to be away from me (over an unacknowledged GIF — I do see how mad this is!), and instead here she is telling me that she’s remembered my birthday and not only that, has wanted to give me something as a gift.

I looked at her for the first time, embarrassed, and said, ‘you really didn’t have to do that. That’s so lovely. But you really didn’t have to.’ She replied with, ‘I wanted to. It felt right. It might not happen every year but it feels right now’. She bent down and opened the cupboard in the room and took out a box and gave it to me. It was a Himalayan salt lamp just like the one in the therapy room. I had told her how I really felt relaxed when we were in that evening session and how calming the light felt and she’d not only kept that in mind but bought me one. She told me they were meant to help with sleep and that she knows how much I have been struggling to sleep lately and she hoped it might help me.

I was so blown away by her kindness, again. Like the day she gave me my beating heart necklace when we came back out of the last lockdown and I’d tanked with online sessions and had meltdown after meltdown. I mean it’s incredible. I put the lamp down and gave her the most enormous hug and thanked her and spent the rest of the session snuggled in and talking about all sorts. Little parts had a lot to say – as you can probably imagine!

The lamp is amazing and I love lying in bed listening to podcasts or whatever with the light on. It has a dimmer switch so you can make it really low light to sleep by – like a night light. It’s really helped…but then I also think psychologically it’s like being tucked up in bed by that parent figure. Every time I go to bed I have the reminder of Anita’s care for me. I know it’s intense right now, but I don’t care! For the child parts it’s huge and settling and I feel like holes are being filled in bit by bit inside me and I am moving towards a more healed place – even despite the fact that my life is going down the toilet!

I can see this is getting long so I will end here – even if it’s a bit abrupt.  I have more to write about Mother’s Day (eek!). I know it’s a sore area for a lot of us mother wounded souls but I think it’d be better as another stand alone post…oh and then there’s Easter break coming too!!

I hope you are all hanging in there. Thank you for all the emails from those of you who have checked in. I am sorry I haven’t replied. I have literally been on empty x

You’re Not My Mummy…But Parts Of Me Wish You Were.

This time last year I wrote a blog post titled ‘You’re Not My Mummy’ where I spoke about how the young parts of me hadn’t yet accepted Anita into the role of ‘replacement mum’ having only recently just terminated with my therapist, Em, after 8 years working together. I was still in a state of complete meltdown about the ending and the idea of having anything like the level of attachment to Anita that I had with Em seemed really unlikely. The attachment of those child parts is really fixed on one person at a time for me. It really is like an infant relating to its mother.

Look, before anyone starts rolling their eyes and tutting, I absolutely know our therapists are not our mothers! I understand transference. I read a lot! I don’t actually believe my therapist is my mum. I don’t want her to adopt me (much!). My adult doesn’t see Anita as a mum, at all, but there’s absolutely no point in denying that the little ones definitely do…now! (Oh the irony!)

For ease of expression and writing here, I think it’s fair to simplify things and say, that for me at least, a lot of the work I do to process my mother wound and childhood trauma is largely achieved by letting my young parts relate to my therapist as though she is like a mother to me. Of course, my adult is there in the room too (sometimes!). A and I unpick a lot of what goes on together from all angles and different parts’ experiences and it’s amazing how many parts can come floating in and out during a session. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the way I get to really process my childhood trauma is by having those child parts activated in the relationship with Anita.

When the feelings are live, they can get metabolised, understood, and healed in real time. I have spent years talking about my childhood and narrating it through my adult and there’s so much distance and disconnect there. It’s a filter that has served me well in life because I haven’t ever expressed feelings (that’s safer) but actually in the end, I almost couldn’t feel anything as stuff was so deeply internalised. Allowing EVERYTHING and EVERYONE to have their place in the room with Anita has been a gamechanger for me. I mean I really cannot believe how much I have been able to bring to her that has been locked away for a lifetime and shrouded in shame.

I remember saying, last year, how part of me hoped I would avoid getting stuck in the transference with Anita and maybe I’d be able to circumnavigate it altogether because it felt so nice not being caught up in all the negative attachment stuff that I had experienced with Em. It was such a relief to do therapy with someone that didn’t instantly trigger me and who felt safe and accepting. We were doing some great work and laying the foundations of what I thought could be a strong working alliance but part of me dreaded the possibility of finding myself back in the familiar territory of dissociation, disconnection, and high anxiety that was so big a part of therapy with Em.

Looking back now, I feel really sad that I thought that was what could be in store for me. Like if I attach to someone then, ultimately, it’s bound to be a shit show of pain and hurt no matter how much I want it to be healthy and healing because that’s my relational pattern. I am a tick, after all.

But that’s not how it is.

Attachment doesn’t have to be agonising ALL THE TIME!

It wasn’t until June when the young parts switched their allegiances and fell face first into the attachment zone with Anita. I remember I was ironing one afternoon and a little voice inside said, ‘I miss Anita’ –

‘Oh shit’, I thought, ‘here we go again’. The thing is, because Anita and I had been steadily building safety and trust in our relationship I was actually able to tell her how I felt. I didn’t get filled with shame or embarrassment for having the feelings (I mean to be fair she’d already seen a fair amount of the crazy in the aftermath of Em and I ending), they just were. And she was not in the least bit bothered and told me that she thought we were definitely getting closer and it was normal to feel this in an emotionally intimate relationship especially when young parts were involved. I love how she has always normalised my experiences rather than pathologising them – it’s so refreshing.

Anyone who’s followed me for a while will have seen how transformational this therapy has been for me in building me back up and helping me see that I am worthy and valuable and not some freak with too many complex issues who needs to be kept at arm’s length. I am astounded that I can safely feel ALL OF MY FEELINGS with Anita and she accepts ALL OF ME. It’s so strange to really experience ‘unconditional positive regard’ (or love as I prefer to call it!). I can’t believe I can cry…and not just cry…but sob my heart out with her having never shed a single tear with Em until the final session when it had all gone up in flames.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a long way to go, still! But therapy with A feels therapeutic not torturous. It’s not all sunshine and unicorns by any means. We have had ruptures but they get repaired so quickly and I can express how I feel when things A says or does upset me. She is never defensive or attacking and is open to hearing whatever it is I bring to her (especially when a teen part is having a meltdown). I do get that that is how it’s meant to be but it’s a change to what I have been used to.

I am deep in a pit of young attachment need right now after my life just collapsed and nothing feels safe in my adult world. Thankfully, it feels safe with A in the room and in that relationship especially for the young parts. I genuinely feel like Anita is holding the other end of the rope and is holding on. She said the other day that she is holding out her hand and will be there to stop me disappearing. I know therapists can’t rescue you, and I have to dig my way out my own hole but there is something really lovely hearing, ‘I can see how hard things are for you and I really wish I could take it all away for you. I know I can’t but I am right here with your for the whole of the journey and you can lean on me’. I honestly don’t know what I would do without her right now…and of course that ‘without her’ felt like it could be a very real possibility a few weeks back.

When my wife lost her job at the start of February, we were plunged instantly into financial insecurity and instability which has sent my system through a massive loop. I don’t do change very well and I certainly don’t like not feeling secure. The week following the job loss my wife also had to have an operation with a two-week recovery period and she is due another in a couple of weeks – all time she can’t work. I’d already spent weeks stressing myself out during isolation so really it’s been a hellish couple of months now.

In order to cover the immediate shortfall income, I have basically maxed out my credit cards but obviously that only delays the agony where debt is concerned…which again stresses me out. My wife will be able to work again soon but agency work is sporadic and far less well-paid than what she was doing previously. So even if things work out well with reasonably regular shifts we’ll still be about £800 a month down until something more suitable comes along. FFFFFUUUCCCCKKK.

In terms of stress, it’s been epic and I just haven’t coped. Last week was so bad I felt borderline suicidal which was really scary for me as it’s been a very long time since I have felt so awful – like when my dad died over a decade ago and I had a breakdown. I felt paralysed with fear and couldn’t see a way out of it so just spent hours feeling anxious and incapacitated. It was horrific. I even did the NHS anxiety and depression score thing (as if I needed confirmation of how shit is all was) and scored a fabulous 24/24 on the depression and 17/21 on the anxiety… I have always liked to do well on tests! Lol!

When my wife lost her job I text Anita and told her that we’d have to stop our sessions after the session we had booked in for the next day because we just can’t afford anything right now and then we’d pick up when things improved. It felt really awful and I was so so sad about it. Anita responded really warmly and told me we’d find a way forward together when we met in person and not to worry. She’s so different to Em, who, when we were in a similar situation a couple of years ago (honestly so much bad luck!) didn’t bat an eyelid when I was worrying about how we’d pay our bills and I was clearly really distressed. Therapy twice a week a £50 a session meant we accrued quite a lot of additional debt at that time and it was really hard feeling like I needed my sessions but also knowing I was putting us further into debt.

So, back to 2021, I arrived at my session that evening feeling crap but also really dissociated. I was so overwhelmed by all that had happened that I had to step away from it a bit and the only way I seem to know how to do that is to disappear. The weeks of stress and anxiety I had felt worrying about my wife when she had COVID and panicking that she’d lose her job had taken its toll and then to have my worries confirmed…well, it was too much and I was thoroughly exhausted.

I tried to be adult in that session but after a catch up on the latest elements of ‘new shit and stress’ I just couldn’t hold it and fell apart and into Anita’s arms where I trembled and sobbed and for ages and she held me until I settled listening to her steady heartbeat. She continued to hold me until it was time to leave. There have been so many sessions like that lately that I can’t really say what’s happened from session to session in any great detail but the level of holding and containment has been essential as I’ve let so many tears out even if the words have been relatively few.

In this session Anita said that she thought pausing our sessions was a bad idea and insisted that we could make it work. She said that pausing would be traumatising for my system when things are so bad already and I really need the therapy. She told me she could reduce her fee and I could pay when I could afford to, but that I needed to keep coming (if that’s what I wanted).

Honestly, the relief was massive. It felt like Anita really genuinely is invested in the work we are doing and that she really cares about me. I mean I knew this already; she demonstrates it week in week out in how she is with me. But I think dramatically reducing her fee so that I could keep coming really showed me that it’s not about the money to her. I felt so much shame about not being able to afford to pay her properly and yet it really wasn’t a dealbreaker for her. It’s taking some time to get my head round!  

We agreed a fee for the next two months rather than per session and to do 75 minutes face-to-face and reduce the Friday online session to a 15 minute check in – which was fine by me (at the time) as I don’t get a lot from the online but touching base is good. This is largely how it had been anyway, over lockdown, where I have only been going once a week in an evening to fit around home-schooling and childcare. It’s not been ideal this year but I have kind of accepted that something is better than nothing and there are so many people who aren’t able to see their therapists face-to-face that I know I have it really good.

I have missed the twice-a-week sessions in the room since Christmas, but to be honest I’ve just been grateful to see A at all, especially after the having to isolate for two weeks and then thinking would have to stop altogether it’s felt like winning the lottery having any time!

This last couple of weeks has felt hard as I started sliding on the black ice of depression and anxiety on speed. The time between sessions has felt looooong and my young parts have been really struggling with that. The object constancy stuff is a real problem for me and I just can’t seem to hang onto the sense of safety and her care and warmth for seven days. I feel like such an idiot saying that when there is clearly so much evidence to the contrary. I’m still wearing the groove in my brain, though and it’s like recoiling a spring but in the opposite way to how it’s been set. It’ll take time.

There was one session where I was so desperate to connect with Anita but I just couldn’t. My protectors were fronting and I could feel my little parts screaming inside. It was agony. I couldn’t look at her and was frozen. Anita was patient and kind and so reassuring letting me know she was there, that she was waiting for me to let her in, and that she wasn’t going anywhere. She was already sitting beside me, within touching distance, but I said it didn’t feel like she was there and she said, ‘I know, and I think it’s been hard only seeing each other once a week hasn’t it?’ Sometimes she just sees exactly what the problem is and it cuts through all my defences. I just crumbled on the sofa into a flood of tears and she pulled me into her and held me again as I cried and cried.

These sessions probably sound like nothing much is happening but actually SO MUCH healing has gone on in them. I’ve been at my lowest, stripped bare (not literally, obvs!), and allowed myself to be really seen and that is massive. To be responded to with care, compassion, and love has been so huge. Anita is so responsive to my need. Last week I text her on Thursday evening. ‘I miss you’. That was it. She replied shortly after with, ‘Would you like to come here tomorrow morning?’ When I picked up the message I was stunned. I asked if that would be ok, and she said of course and she’d look forward to seeing me in the morning.

With my wife being off it means I have childcare and so I think Anita realised that and knows how helpful the second session is to me… especially after my performance earlier in the week. And that second session did make a huge difference. I came away feeling so much more settled despite more tears and trembling. I’m seeing her twice again this week, and although my child parts have been feeling really needy and unsettled (because of life) knowing that I only need to hold it until Friday is massive and feels more possible.

Anyway, that’s a huge ramble without a lot of detail, I’m afraid. There’s more to say but this is long so I’ll get myself back in the zone for the next post!

Thank you, guys, for all the support you’ve sent my way in recent weeks (and months). It’s meant a lot to me xxx

Trust In Your Sixth Sense (Or Is It Just Hypervigilance?).

When I was seventeen, I went and saw a palmist in Bangkok and he did a detailed consultation for me. At the time I was sceptical – I certainly hadn’t got into my astrology and tarot at that point! My dad had been to see him years before, when he worked in Thailand (his Thai friends all swore by this guy), and his reading had been surprisingly accurate for the past as well as what had started to unfold in the intervening time since he’d come back to the UK.

I figured there was nothing to lose so went and sat in his consulting office, put my hands in some ink and transferred the image of my palms onto paper. With the print of my hands and my date of birth alone before him, he took compasses and all kinds of mathematical equipment and set to work. I sat and watched as he methodically worked his way through one hand at time. After about twenty minutes, finished, he looked up and spoke to me and told me what my palms said.

I remember feeling like there was a lot of accuracy in the reading at the time, but then at seventeen telling me I would be in an arts field and hate maths was really a 50/50 guess surely?! He said that I would have two children – which made me bristle and instantly made me think the guy was a crock of shit because at that point I knew I was gay (I wasn’t out yet) and couldn’t imagine how children would ever be part of my life (although I desperately wanted to be a mum). There were other things, too, but to be honest looking ahead twenty years when you’re that age seems like another lifetime…well, it is now I am here!

As I walked out the door, I remember him holding my hands in his and telling me that I have a very strong sixth sense and to trust in it. I thanked him for his time and put my inky print in my bag and went on to enjoy the rest of my holiday. When I got home I put the envelope containing the reading in a box with other souvenirs and photos and there it lay for the next few years as I went off to university, met my wife, travelled the world and grew up a bit.

When I was twenty-five I got the news that my dad had died suddenly of a heart attack in Thailand whilst on holiday. It was, without doubt, the worst, most distressing experience of my life. I’ve written about it before so won’t bother again now, but the trauma surrounding that event was the trigger that sent my life into freefall and opened Pandora’s Box spewing out a lifetime of trauma that I had dissociated away. This bereavement signalled the start of the massive mental breakdown I had.

Every single day I miss my dad and, at times, even now, twelve years later, the grief rises up in me and I howl with pain or wake up in floods of tears when he enters my dreams (which is a lot lately). My anchor is gone and I struggle to accept that. Especially when, right now, I REALLY need him. It sounds daft, being an adult myself, but when I feel like I do right now (like a child), I really could do with the steadying presence of my rock.

Anyway, after he died, I was going through his stuff, clearing his house, and found his palm reading from years before. I opened it up and glanced through it. It was so on the money that I could barely breathe. When I got home, I went into my loft, found the box that contained my reading and looked to see what it said, only now viewing it with more grown-up eyes and living further in the future. It was definitely interesting. There were some parts that I was hoping wouldn’t materialise not too far ahead but others that might be a possibility. I folded it up, put it away again and carried on with my life.

Time moved on. We moved house. The box in the loft moved into the next loft and the hand prints, souvenirs, and photos were safely stored there along, now, with my dad’s copy, his passport and letters he had written me over the years. My wife and I got married. We started a family (and yes, 2 children!). I got cancer. My wife lost her job. Things got bumpy. Things got better. Then bumpy again. And then really bumpy…which brings us to now.

If you look at the picture (above) you’ll see that it’s slap bang in the wobbly red ‘SHIIIIIIIITTTTT’ area between 37-38 years old where finances are fucked. I turn 38 in a few weeks and ugh…can’t we just fast-forward to 40 where I apparently get super successful and hit the peak of my life for the next 18 years?!

I’ve been AWOL here on the blog a bit this month. Since Christmas I have written, on and off, about how hard things have been feeling (really fucking hard). The Christmas therapy break felt tough this year, but then that wasn’t surprising as I headed into the anniversary of ‘tick gate’ and the end of my therapeutic relationship with Em. Then lockdown three thousand was announced, home-schooling started AGAIN, and I had to reduce face-to-face contact with Anita to once a week and no visits to K ☹. Then my wife got COVID and was isolated from us for weeks upstairs. Obviously, the kids and I were also stuck inside – so then no face-to-face at all with A…GROAN.

Incrementally, week on week, things were getting emotionally harder to cope with. I could feel myself sliding. I just felt so stretched and anxious, and on the edge, and yet the support I needed felt further and further away. Of course, Anita hadn’t gone anywhere but it didn’t feel that way when I had to revert to complete online therapy during isolation. There’s fuck all privacy here so online sessions are often interrupted by one of my kids who suddenly need me. I can never fully relax into a session, and the parts that need help rarely show up, or if they do, they get so upset that it actually feels worse.

I am really shit with online therapy (no shit!). But it felt especially hard this time because Anita was here, she hadn’t gone away, and she had been willing to see me face-to-face this lockdown after my complete lack of coping in the November/December lockdown! No need to write more on that!! You’ve all been along for the ride. So, it just felt so fucking unfair that I couldn’t see her and I couldn’t believe unlucky we’d been for my wife to get Covid.

Things started to escalate inside over the isolation period. I felt a sense of foreboding and panic rising up in my body. It’s a familiar feeling of dread that is so visceral it cannot be ignored. It wasn’t about being unable to get to see Anita or COVID (although those stresses and attachment stuff were definitely there too). Instead, I don’t know why, but I started to feel like my wife was going to lose her job. It was such a strong burning feeling in me that I really couldn’t ignore it. On paper there would be no reason this should happen. She’s very good at what she does and has transformed the place she has been working in with recognition from the inspectorate.

Perhaps I was just being silly. Maybe I just had too much alone time. Perhaps I was just being pessimistic and was crumbling under the stress and pressure of the last couple of months…but it didn’t feel that way. I couldn’t get away from the feeling and no amount of rationalising would make it go away.

I got out my deck of moon tarot cards (definitely got a lot more alternative since that day getting my palms read!). It’s freaky what happens with them. Frequently I’ll ask a question and get a card that resonates. Then I’ll ask the same question again…and get the same card. A few months ago, I pulled the same card six times in succession on the same afternoon! I close my eyes and spend ages shuffling them about – I have no reason to try and ‘cheat’ but it always makes me feel a bit ‘eek’ when the same card keeps coming. Anyway, I asked the question three times and got the same card. It felt confirming but also not what I wanted to hear.

Two days before my wife was due to go back to work, and we had all received negative Covid tests I decided to tell her what I was feeling. It was making me ill. The fear of losing everything (which is where my mind takes me when stability is questioned but that’s the trauma brain) was making it so that I couldn’t eat and the nightmares I was having every night were taking their toll.

Usually, my wife would tell me I was overreacting and to not run away with panic. But this time she didn’t. She looked at me seriously and said, ‘You know what RB? Your Spidey sense has never been wrong in all these years we’ve been together on anything. I hope you are wrong but if you’re right we’ll be ok, we’ll find a way through together’. That helped a lot. I mean I was still stressed out beyond words but at least she was accepting that my gut was screaming and that maybe it might have a point even if there was no tangible evidence yet.

Then it happened. As suspected. On the Monday she went to work for a morning meeting and was on her way home within half an hour. Absolute farce. I told her to record the meeting just in case even though there was no reason to suspect that anything was wrong. It’s a good job she did. Our friend is a HR manager for a big organisation and listened to the recording and was absolutely horrified by what took place. The laugh is, in the UK if you have less than a year with an organisation you can have your contract terminated for no reason at all so long as they pay you any holiday owing and stick to the terms of their contract – i.e a week’s notice.

I felt so sad but also so vindicated when my feeling was confirmed to be correct. But of course, here we are again. No job and huge stress with bills etc. I text Anita the day it happened to let her know. I had already spoken to her about my worries in the weeks before it happened (she probably thought I was losing my mind and overreacting!) and told her that I wanted to see her for our planned session the next evening but from that point on we’d have to put the therapy on hold as I didn’t know how we were going to cover bills let alone therapy. You can probably imagine what that felt like.

This last year, but certainly the last few months, has been an emotional rollercoaster and to lose the one thing/person that actually helps me function felt unbearable. I felt utterly beside myself. Anita as usual was, and has been, incredible throughout but this is long so I’ll write more on this later.

So what was the point in this post? Well, what I am learning, despite the shit storms is that I can and should trust my gut. The other day I was so shut down and was isolating myself from A. It was so painful. I wanted to be close but was terrified of being too much. The fear of abandonment stuff was massive and I think this especially the case right now with all the instability at home. Anita said she thinks I know deep down, and can feel, that she is safe, but sometimes the fear that I have about what’s happened in the past comes in and impacts how I can relate to her.

I always knew in my gut that Em was not safe. I tried to convince myself otherwise- that it was my hypervigilance gone mad and that there was something wrong with me. I so desperately wanted her to be safe that I repeatedly ignored what my body was telling me. Whereas, I have felt safe with Anita from day one. What comes in when I am silent and disconnected is not that I am unsafe with her, it’s the fear that I’ll lose her by being too much – especially now, when she’s seeing me for next to nothing.

It’s a completely different thing to how it was with Em because underneath that I DO KNOW that if I let Anita in, she is there ready. She is willing to connect. She isn’t scared of me. I know she loves me. I can feel it even without my sixth sense! Sometimes my brain just doesn’t get the memo in the moment that things have changed and it takes a while to unstick the brakes.  

        `

Kind Regards (And F*ck You)

Dear Em.

It’s been a year since that last, awful termination session with you. The one where you sat, repeatedly glancing at the clock, willing the time on.  It was, without doubt one of the most cold and painful interactions that I have experienced in my life. Sitting across from you, knowing that you really couldn’t have cared less whether I was there or not, was complete agony. Even now, it physically hurts to think back to it – the somatic response to what’s happened is still huge. It’s a year on, and I am nowhere near close to processing or healing the damage done by bringing and showing my most vulnerable self to you and having the young parts rejected.

That final, horrible day you were completely unmoved as you watched me cry (for the first time) and told me with absolutely no feeling that we’d ‘reached a plateau’ and simply said, ‘it is what it is’ and that it must feel ‘rejecting’. It was rejecting. Any normal person in that situation would have said, ‘it must feel rejecting, but I am not deliberately rejecting you’. You gave me absolutely nothing to cling onto in that session, you just let me drown. You didn’t even say goodbye. All I was left with was confirmation that what we’d been doing for all these years meant nothing at all, and that I was completely deluded for thinking (hoping) that after years and years in the room together that the therapeutic relationship was more than a financial transaction to you.

Knowing that you were willing to end a long-term therapeutic relationship with a two-line email response and no onward referral really should have told me all I needed to know about the quality and strength of the relationship we had and the level of care you had for me. I should have let go at the point, and not tried to reach some kind of resolution. I thought I would be stupid to run away from you and not give myself the opportunity to have some kind of decent ending. But the ending was anything but decent.

I sometimes wonder why I put myself through that final session, especially when so many people that care about me, including my current therapist, advised me to stay away and protect myself from even more hurt because it was clear that nothing good would come of the meeting. It pains me to say that they were all right because I so badly wanted them, and my gut, to be wrong.

I guess that the parts of me that were so attached to you hoped that being face-to-face you’d see how painful it all was for me, how distressed I was by what had happened, and you’d want to help work through the trigger of you likening my young parts to ‘adhesive ticks’ (which is what made me retreat and react so strongly in the first place). I thought at the very least, given my history, you would take some care not to reinforce the beliefs that I already carry about myself before we parted ways.

In that session you said you didn’t mean to hurt me with the tick analogy- but it did hurt. When I told you this, I was made to feel like I was too ‘sensitive’ and ‘defensive’ – those are actually the words you used. When I have recounted this exchange to ‘normal non-mental’ people and other therapists they have been horrified by it. In the retelling I have kept it simple and unemotive, because part of me wanted to believe that it was all me, that there is something inherently wrong with me, and that you were right that I was just overreacting to a ‘metaphor’. But that has never happened – there’s not one person who has gently tried to tell me that what happened was me being a bit too sensitive.

In fact, over the last year of us working together, I was advised by two therapists (who went and discussed me with their own supervisors) that it would probably be in my best interests to leave and raise a complaint to your governing body because what was happening was abusive, retraumatising, and dangerous.

It’s strange because on the occasions I went outside of our therapy (to other therapists) when things felt awful, I was looking for someone to tell me that what was happening was the nature of therapy and that I was being too needy or resistant and that my high levels of dissociation were a product of doing trauma therapy and I should keep at it. I never wanted to hear that maybe my gut was right and that what was happening wasn’t ok. I so wanted someone to tell me that the emotional pain I was experiencing in the therapy was a product of my history and if I stuck with it, it would be the path to healing. That never happened, though.

Throughout the time we worked together I could never shift the sense that you didn’t like me much and didn’t really care. In so many ways being with you was like reliving the relationship with my mum! No wonder the maternal transference was so strong. It was so familiar feeling inadequate, unwanted, and unlovable. It was my norm to have a cold and unavailable caregiver and I guess there is comfort in the known.

The most you ever said to me when I was falling apart and needing some kind of reassurance was, ‘if I didn’t care about your well-being then I wouldn’t be working with you’. And I guess on paper that looks fine but it felt crap. You used to ask me what it would feel like to be cared for and I said ‘it wouldn’t feel like this’ [what it felt like in the room] and you’d tell me that if I haven’t experienced care how would I know what it’s like. I think you were trying to make me think I should accept that what was on offer was good enough. You’d tell me over and over that if I had a secure attachment, I wouldn’t experience you like I did. Again, I wanted to believe you but, in my heart, I knew that it wasn’t right. It never landed well.

I really wanted to believe that it was me and my issues making it feel so bad. Struggling to trust people and fear of abandonment are both huge for me, as you know – but I know now that it wasn’t all me because I don’t feel like this in the same way with my new therapist. The level of safety and connection I feel with her is so different, but it hasn’t come through her standing back and letting me suffer. Her presence and care is tangible. There’s no guesswork, or wishful thinking required. She is demonstrative and clear. It’s exactly what I needed.

As my young parts became attached and all the ‘stuff’ became live she’s been so accepting and welcoming. We’re in the trenches together. It feels collaborative. She actively works with the young parts of me, she doesn’t try and make out that she knows what I need more than I do. She learns from me and makes space for me to express whatever I feel and need – and magically, the attachment wound is starting to heal. There are ruptures (of course) and they get repaired really quickly, they don’t fester for months on end. My feelings are validated and understood. Therapy now feels like a safe house where I can explore my wounding rather than a place where the wound gets poked each week and then is left bleeding out between sessions.

All my wounded parts are learning what it is like to be in a relationship where I actually matter. I don’t feel like I am on a conveyor belt and thrown out the minute the clock chimes. I know time boundaries are important in therapy but if we ever accidentally step on a landmine close to the end, or something comes up and I am dissociated or distressed I don’t leave until it’s safe to do so – or I at least get asked ‘are you ok to leave?’. It’s insane that simple questions like that feel so alien to me. I used to leave your house dissociated more often than not and have even injured myself because of it!

The power feels more balanced now where I so often felt disempowered with, and by, you. I don’t think you meant for it to feel like that, but the way we worked didn’t empower me at all. Even when I did build up the courage to ask for things from you (and it took months and years) it was rarely met well. I felt like a child who was beholden to its parents’ wishes – and that was repeating a pattern. It took me years to feel anything at all, or to come in contact with my needs, and then I was faced with the painful reality that I was on my own and my needs were never going to be met or examined or explored compassionately.

All those months trying to get you to write me a note just to say you were ‘still there’ (because I had struggled so much with the summer break) became what is known as ‘pebble gate’ on my blog. Six long months of waiting and hoping that you’d do something to help me with object constancy was ridiculous – so much so that I ended up telling you what to write which completely missed the point. It was so disappointing and felt both rejecting and abandoning. And yet my new therapist has repeatedly asked me if I wanted to take a transitional object from the room without prompting.

She understands attachment and C-PTSD. She sent me away with her necklace over the last lockdown and when we returned to face-to-face had bought me one the same. I know this is unusual, but working on an individual basis, attuning to a client, and allowing yourself to be present in the relationship is so important. You and the relationship you create with the client is where the healing lies, it’s not in theories, or strategies and techniques. Relational trauma needs to heal in relationship. Love is essential and needs modelling to us. It’s so hard to love (and trust) when love has been your great disappointment.

Looking back now, I can’t believe how much I was prepared to shrink myself to try and fit with your vision of how my therapy should look. I mean honestly, the fact that I even suggested sending you three dots in the hope you’d reply in the same way, as a last-ditched attempt to maintain some kind of connection and ease the spiralling into the abyss that happened in the time between sessions, just tells me how fucking desperate it all was. Fuck. And the absolute excruciating pain that it was when you told me to tell you what I wanted and then to flatly refuse… god.

Refusing to even read or acknowledge my texts or emails was so hard . Often, it was the young parts that struggled to come to therapy that reached out in this way (and it was rare for me to do it because you were so disapproving!). I know you are busy. But honestly, you say you work with attachment disorders … I literally can’t see how you think that given how it’s been. Different parts communicate in different ways and, sure, it’d be ideal if they all turned up in the room, but sometimes they need to tentatively find a way in from the outside. They need an invitation…especially the teens! Why is it so hard to see that you are dealing with a mini-bus full of child parts when a client like me walks in? Sometimes you need to think outside the box.

In one of our final sessions I had given you a list of things that I thought would help make things better for those parts that were struggling with therapy: drawing together, playing games, transitional objects, sitting closer to me when I was distressed, sitting on the floor, letting the young parts text in the session when they couldn’t talk… and the list went on…and you said ‘I don’t work in that way’.

I felt so much shame around wanting to feel close to you. The attachment was so strong and yet all I did for the best part of four years was feel distressed because my object constancy was so bad and I couldn’t keep any felt sense of you between sessions. The boundary around outside contact fuelled this and I would become more and more upset. There was absolutely no flexibility in your approach and you so doggedly believed that you were right and that if you conceded on anything it ‘wouldn’t do me any good in the long run’.

I would be so hopeful that seeing you in person would ease that attachment anxiety but it rarely did. Occasionally, you’d tune into those young parts and use that calm, soothing tone and I could feel my nervous system settling but in the end that part of you disappeared and all I felt was your frustration and disgust at the youngest parts. The problem was, the further you retreated the more distressed the young parts became and the greater the dissociation in sessions was. The day I showed you the picture I had drawn of you being covered in barbed wire really ought to have been the start of a huge conversation – but what could you say? It was true.

I still don’t know what I did wrong or why you were so distant and detached. All I can ever come back to is that you thought there was some kind of sexual thing going on for me and you were repulsed by that. There really wasn’t anything on my side. I loved you but it was from that really young part that was so deprived of love and care. It was never sexual for me. And even if it had have been, that should be safe to bring to therapy.

Anyway, this just seems like a big string of listing what was wrong with the therapy and actually that’s not what I am here for. I am actually here to thank you for letting me go. It broke my heart. I mean it literally devastated me. But I am glad that it happened because if we’d have continued working together, I would be in such a bad place, still.

The last year with my new therapist has shown me that it’s ok to be me. I don’t need to hide. I am ok as I am and am valued for all of who I am. I am loved.

I see now that it’s not weird to want to feel secure in the therapeutic relationship and to feel like a therapist actually cares about your well-being. It’s not odd to want someone to come sit closer when you’re dissociated and stuck in a traumatic place. It’s not unhealthy to reach out for support when things are bad. It’s not strange, when healing relational trauma, to need a transitional object. It’s not bad or wrong to want a hug. It’s not unhealthy to love and be attached.

Emotional intimacy and physical touch don’t mean there is a blurring, or lack, of boundaries. It doesn’t mean that the child that missed out on so much years ago thinks it’s got a new mother and will stay stuck forever. Healing takes place together. It can’t be done alone. If it could I’d be fine by now! I know what’s wrong with me, I’ve read all the books, I have ‘insight’, but I needed an ‘other’ to help me heal the wound that was forged in a relationship by giving me a reparative experience in another relationship.

And the best of it? The thing you tried and tried to get me to do – mother my own young parts? It was utterly impossible, as though you were asking me to lay a golden egg. But guess what? Getting some of those fundamental basic needs met: being held, feeling it is to be safe to be vulnerable, experiencing what it is like for those young parts to be cared for rather than disgusted by means, that I can see now what I am meant to be doing. I have a template. I have a little nook inside myself where I can keep that love and I can start to tap into it. I’m a long way off the finish line but at least now I am in the race.

So…that’s it. You hurt me more than you can imagine but you did me a favour in the end because now I have what I need to heal. I sincerely hope that you have undergone some more training in working with complex trauma and attachment because it wouldn’t be fair for you to do what you did to me to another vulnerable client.

Kind regards (and fuck you).

RBCG

(and yes, I am angry!)

Isolation…

I don’t know about you, but I am so sick of bloody video calls now. I cannot take much more Zoom Doom, Skype Shite, FaceCrime, or WhatsCrap. Sure, technology has been helpful and without it I wouldn’t be able to work right now, but I am starving for real human connection (and that’s not just from a therapy perspective – I need my wife back!!). My world is backlit in blue light and my brain is completely done in. I feel overstimulated and overwhelmed and I am sure this is, in part, down to the amount of time I spend staring at screens (it’s not lost on me that I am at my laptop typing this – but writing is helpful so…!!).

It’s been two weeks- so far- in isolation but honestly it feels like months. My wife contracting COVID has turned our world completely upside-down. To say that I am going slightly (a lot) crazy is an understatement. It’s been a long, hard, scary slog these last few weeks and at times I have felt like I was drowning in overwhelm.

I can usually switch myself into gear for work but this week I have been staring at the screen, knowing I need to start the call, and a voice inside has been crying ‘I just can’t’. I like my students, we have a good laugh, but it’s just felt like the part of me that is funny, and capable, and light-hearted just isn’t available. Of course, I somehow find a way to be the right version of myself in the moment – frankly there’s no choice, we need to eat and right now it’s only me who is earning anything but it’s taking everything I have got to function as I need to. It’s been a shocking week for internet glitches – one session Zoom booted my student out 5 times!

Juggling home-schooling for both my children, trying to do my job competently, looking after everyone 24/7, and trying to not freak out about my wife who has been hit really hard with COVID has been a struggle. When everything feels unsafe and insecure in my day-to-day it’s not very long until the wheels fall of internally. I have been hanging on by a thread and by bedtime I am on the verge of tears (and I am not really a crier). The internal feeling juddering is horrific and I feel like I have electric pulsing through my feet. I really need to see K and get a nervous system reset! God, I wish!

My sleep has been appalling, lately. I rarely fall asleep until after 1am. Then I wake up again at 3am, toss and turn and stress and then drift off again, and that’s when the anxiety serves me up textbook nightmares. It’s happened every single fucking night for weeks: plane crashes, streets of burning houses, being chased… my poor system is just terrified. I’ve had dreams with my lovely dead friend, my dead dad, I mean it’s just been utterly heart-breaking and scary. Several nights I have woken up with my heart racing and in floods of tears. I think it’s fair to say that I’m not doing brilliantly.

And because we’re in isolation it’s felt like everything that I have been facing I have been facing alone. I know I am not alone, not really; I call my wife on FaceTime and I have spoken to Anita but life has become pretty much a non-contact sport. I am so grateful that I have my kids but hugging them is very different from receiving a hug from another adult. It’s me holding my kids and not them holding me (which is as it should be) but the fall out of not being allowed to touch my wife or see Anita face-to-face is that I feel like the baby I was in the incubator all those years ago. No touch, no regulation, just stuck in a box scared and alone.

What I really need is a big containing long holding ‘it’s all going to be ok’ hug. I need to be back in my own bed next to my wife. I need my team mate back on the field because being a woman down is not easy!

I need to be able to leave the boundary of my property and go for a walk. I need some time on my own away from my children – I love them dearly but it’s been intense essentially being a single parent these last few weeks as well as their teacher!

I need to know where we are at with regard to my wide’s job. I need to know if we are going to be facing the possibility of a redundancy next week. I need stability but failing that, I just want to know what we are dealing with.

And yes… I need to see Anita. In person. I need to let the child parts out and let them get some kind of holding and reassurance. I need the energy in a room with her. The body language. Eye contact. Just all of it. A’s been so accommodating to me this week (but then isn’t she always?!). It’s all been kicking off inside for me but yesterday my daughter was losing her shit over something she’d been asked to do by her teacher and was in tears over it. This lockdown is really affecting the kids much more than last year. They desperately need their friends and routine and stability. Schools are asking a lot of children this time around and I really feel sorry for them (this is not just my young kids but all the students I teach 11-18 from many schools).

Anyway, I was just about to have my call with A and was sitting in the living room when I heard sobbing coming from my daughter’s room. My phone started ringing as I was walking down the corridor to her room. I picked up and explained that I couldn’t talk because I needed to sort out my little one. Anita was fine about it and said she was free all morning and just to call when I was free and to take my time and do what I needed.

We were scheduled to talk for half an hour (because of my fucking lack of money!) but it ended up being an hour (I didn’t realise – the time just went because there has been so much to hold this week) and Anita said to just pay her for half an hour. I was so grateful to her. We spoke about how hard it is to get things squeezed in and she suggested moving my Friday morning session to after the kids are in bed so I can talk freely and not be up against it. She is really so kind and I absolutely can’t believe how lucky I am to have found her after Em.

This year has been so tough in so many different ways but I know for certain that I would have been in a far worse state had I still been working with Em. At least the attachment stuff and the agony of it hasn’t been too bad with Anita and if it has got triggered, I have been able to tell her!

What else?…aside from the immediate life crisis, it’s been a weird few weeks internally, too. It’s been a year since the stuff with Em ending. The 3rd February was our termination session. And whilst I am in no way desperate to see Em or go back to that hell I am still reeling from how it ended. Currently, if anything, I seem to be enveloped in a protective rage about it all and just want to let her know exactly what I think of her!

So….that’s just a moan and a ‘this is where I am at’…I’m sincerely hoping for my wife to get a negative test result, and to go get tested myself so that I can perhaps get back to Anita on Tuesday evening.

Finger crossed.

Love to you all and big thanks to those of you have emailed to check in and offer your support. It means a lot xx

The Price Of Trauma

It’s been a complicated, stressful, and emotionally messy week. ‘No change there, then’, I hear you say! To be honest, I thought I was close reaching my breaking point these last few weeks. It’s certainly felt like I was at rock bottom – but as it turns out, there was a hidden trapdoor I didn’t know anything about just waiting to spring open and give that extra little bit of depth and doom to plummet down into. I really need to stop saying, ‘how much worse can it get?’ because invariably the universe seems to think I am issuing it some kind of challenge.

My wife came home sick late last week with a fever and by early Monday morning we got the confirmation that it’s COVID – we knew anyway, the rapid deterioration and the developing symptoms were there and clear to see. This is unbelievably stressful on many levels- she’s actually very unwell with it, struggling to breathe and I can see that’s she’s scared – and nurses don’t tend to get scared with health stuff because they’ve seen so much shit in their careers that they shrug most stuff of as ‘you’re not dying so you’re fine!’ To see my wife in tears via FaceTime (because she’s isolating) is heart breaking. She is the solid rock in this household and suddenly she’s more like a jelly than a chunky bit of granite.

I’m trying not to let myself run away with what could happen but it’s hard not to – you all know what I am like. I know it won’t help anyone if I start catastrophising and so I keep on keeping on because I have to hold it together and remain calm for the kids, but there are things that are a disaster already just a week in. Like me, if my wife doesn’t work, she doesn’t get paid. She doesn’t get sick pay in her job and SSP doesn’t come anywhere close to covering what’s not coming in from her salary. So, once again, we are on a really financially precarious footing. We’re still not recovered from her losing her job last year and every day she’s not in work is another bill that becomes a challenge. Like many people in their 30’s and 40’s we have no savings and a lot of unsecured debt.

I text and cancelled my Monday session with Anita on Friday because that’s the only area where I can cut anything from our budget– everything else is already on a knife edge, every pound accounted for. It felt rubbish because, now more than ever, I really need my sessions. I am not in therapy twice a week because it’s ‘something to do’ I am there because without it I don’t function. Therapy is a huge part of my maintenance plan but also my fucking healing!

I really hate that mental healthcare is so exclusive and based on your ability to pay for it. I hate that my system is so traumatised that without that routine of my Monday and Friday sessions I swiftly fall into a place where I don’t cope. I did once-a-week sessions for years with Em and it was horrific for those young parts that just don’t have any sense of object constancy. I spent the whole time anxious and spiralling in the abyss between the appointments. Twice a week is much better but even that’s not perfect.

I know I am not the only one that feels like this. I feel angry that I am saddled with the bill for trauma that was done to me and it’s the reality for so many of us we’re left footing this enormous bill. When you exhaust your ‘quota’ of NHS therapy you’re left to manage by yourself. Discharged. ‘Goodbye and good luck!’ A lifetime of trauma doesn’t just get resolved in 12 months of once-a-week sessions with a psychologist (and that’s if you are even lucky enough to be given that and not just 6 sessions of CBT). When I start reeling off my history and the coping mechanisms I have built over the years it’s clear as day that this isn’t short-term work.

So what do you do when you hit the end of your NHS entitlement? Essentially, you’re faced with a choice – accept that this is the best it’s going to be for you or take on the equivalent of another mortgage to try and help yourself some more…and cut everything unnecessary out of life to facilitate it.

It’s insane.

If you had a broken leg that wasn’t healed the hospital wouldn’t say, ‘well, you’ve had one cast, and that’s your lot – hobble on’, they’d look again at how to try and mend you. When I had cancer they didn’t say, ‘We thought based on your initial scans that you would need 8 rounds of chemo. However, looking at your most recent scan we can see the treatment is working and the tumour is shrinking but the cancer’s still there. We now think you need another 4 rounds of chemo and radiotherapy, but tough, we don’t have the budget…’ I mean, can you even imagine? – Of course they booked me in for more chemo and the radiotherapy and because of this I am still here. And yet when it comes to mental health it’s tough shit and that withdrawal of support feels so abandoning and rejecting which again taps into a lot of the trauma for childhood – not being worthy of care and support, being too much etc.

It’s hideous, really.

It stresses me out to think about how much debt we have accrued over the years just so I can go to therapy. Sometimes it feels counterintuitive because the financial lack of safety negates the benefit of therapy. I hate feeling unsafe and financial insecurity really impacts my well-being. I panic about money a lot. I take on more and more work to try and cover the shortfall but in turn I feel exhausted and burnt out. It’s a vicious cycle but I literally don’t know what else to do.

My wife can never understand how we never have any money when we both work so hard, don’t drink, don’t eat out, don’t socialise, don’t buy presents for each other even at Christmas and birthdays. We make sure the kids have what they need but it stresses me out when their feet grow or they need new clothes (which seems to be all the time!). Our holidays (which we didn’t have any at all for 6 years) go on credit cards piling on the mountain of existing debt. It’s hard to explain to her that all this is down to the fact that she is married to a basket case whose system is so fucked that therapy is like life support.

I feel bad about it, but what’s the alternative?

Anita text me on Sunday evening to see how I was and said we could do our session if I wanted and arrange payment later. When I cancelled my session with her I told her that we just couldn’t afford it. I declined her off because it’s not like there’s a magic money tree in the garden that I can shake in a few week’s time and miraculously find another £50 hanging off a branch. It was kind of her to offer but really it just moves the problem.

We got confirmation in the early hours of Monday morning that my wife did have COVID and by Monday lunchtime she had deteriorated so much that I text A in a panic and asked if we could check in during the week. Maybe there’s a treasure chest lurking under the patio?! Suddenly, everything just felt really unsafe and out of control because the COVID diagnosis directly impacted another medical procedure and ugh…it’s just too precarious…but of course it also sent my brain on ‘we just cannot afford this’.

Anita and I fixed up a time to talk on Wednesday and I just ploughed on in survival mode – feeling increasingly ‘not ok’ and also panicky and disconnected from A. The last session we had face-to-face had been a nightmare for my system and the fallout from it has been huge. I feel like I am just fizzing with nervous energy. My nervous system is wound up like a tight spring and I feel like I am going to either explode or collapse soon.

I have been trying hard to look after myself through all this – eating properly etc (which is a fucking miracle given my ‘go to’ under stress is to starve myself) but even with self-care I was totally done in and exhausted by Tuesday evening and took myself to bed early – like 8pm. I couldn’t sleep, though. My brain was whirring and I just felt like talking to Anita online was going to make everything worse. I have been hanging it together with rubber bands and chewing gum but this is only possible because the child parts have been locked away. There was a very real possibility that an online session could trigger them, there’s no space here right now, no privacy I could end up falling down another trapdoor.

I felt incredibly unsettled – so much so – that I text Anita at 10pm to cancel our session:

A, I’m really sorry but I don’t think I can do tomorrow. I’m sorry it’s short notice to cancel. Things here are really hard and I just haven’t stopped running since Friday. I’m completely exhausted, stressed out, and drowning. Tomorrow is my crazy busy day and we’ll be up home-schooling from 7am. I can’t see how I can fit it is and talk to you – there’s no private space to speak to you either. I can’t escape to my room.

Also, I know that I am on my edge and as much as I want to talk to you, I think given how bad things feel it might actually make things worse because distance doesn’t help and I feel really far away from you already. It’s that thing where my brain doesn’t even think you exist or believes you are dead. I’ve sort of thrown all the non-coping parts in the cupboard because I can’t do my life right now. I need to be armoured.

I don’t know if you got the email I sent you last week but it’s very much in the needing to survive it by going it alone. I know that that’s not ideal but, actually, I can’t give space to the parts that are terrified and spiralling because I can do nothing for them – but what I can do is not trigger myself further by putting a screen between us. I cannot afford to fall apart. I hope you understand. X

She replied a little later with:

I am so so sorry to read your message and do totally understand. Please do let me know if there is anything I can do to help. Think of you with lots of love xx

I didn’t reply as it was 11pm and there was nothing to say anyway.

I could not sleep despite being absolutely exhausted. I tossed and turned and felt absolutely awful. My brain wasn’t consciously thinking of anything but my body just would not relax. I got cramp in my feet. I felt hot and cold. The anxiety was horrendous. That feeling of falling through the black abyss, the young stuff about being unsafe and uncontained was massively activated but it wasn’t really in regard to Anita even though I felt somewhat disconnected from her. It was 4:45am the last time that I looked at the clock and then I finally fell asleep for an hour and promptly had a plane crash dream (and have had it every night since).

I woke up feeling terrified and my heart was racing. And then my brain clicked. 20th January. A year since the horrible session when Em compared me to a tick, and the session that led to our termination on the 3rd February. This time last year was absolutely fucking horrific. It’s been on my radar that January was the anniversary of it all going to shit but somehow the date of ‘tick gate’ crept up on me. Of course, I am worried and stressed about the here and now but there’s also a big undercurrent of anxiety about this stuff with Em and that, I think is why I feel like everything is life and death. It’s that early annihilation stuff being tapped into.

I responded to Anita’s text when I woke up. Honestly – I’m like the tide changing all the time. I briefly outlined what I had realised when I woke up and asked if we could speak at the time we had arranged. We spoke yesterday for half and hour. It was very adult and I didn’t mention any of the stuff about Em or the attachment stuff or feeling disconnected because opening it up didn’t feel like a brilliant idea given I had a solid run of 10 hours ahead of me juggling my kids and teaching my lessons. However, it was connecting enough and I am so glad I have her in my corner.

I don’t know when I will get to see Anita face-to-face again. I have to isolate until Sunday and so far, I feel fine…so fingers crossed I don’t get sick, too. But ugh. It’s all too much stress not knowing how things are going to work out and money…fucking money man…

I know this is just a rant but actually I realised that money is such a huge thing and I know for a fact that I am not the only one struggling with the price of trauma – and therefore the price of therapy. I think what’s hard, too, is that we value our therapists so much that it’s not a case of thinking the therapy is ‘too expensive’ or ‘not worth it’ – it’s just simply unaffordable sometimes and that’s far from ideal when you REALLY NEED IT! It’s not easy to talk about this, either. I feel incredible amounts of shame around being unable to afford therapy – and this leads to all the stuff about not being worthy of it, deserving of it, good enough…it’s a vicious cycle but then £100-150 a week for years and years and years is just not realistic for lots of us is it? But like I said before, what other options are there?

I hate to be so doom and gloom but I just feel rubbish right now.

x

Dear A, this is hard and I am struggling…

Dear A.

This is hard and I am struggling. It happens, without fail, every year. The period from the 27th December to the start of the new school term is a complete emotional disaster zone. I can trace this feeling back over at least the last twenty years, if not longer. It’s become part of the season just as much as Santa and Christmas films. I think a lot of people feel this way (do they?) – but even if there’s a lot of people in the same boat, it doesn’t help because what I feel right now is so incredibly isolating.

I desperately need time to recharge and given how hectic my day-to-day life is surely now, of all the times in the calendar, this should be the time I kick back and relax and have pj days. Nobody is expected to do much – I mean there’s the joke about not knowing what day it is and feeling like there’s no purpose – only it’s absolutely no joke feeling the way I do now. This isn’t relaxing. It’s harrowing. Yes, I am in my pjs but it’s because I have no energy or will to get dressed.

I feel so depressed. Everything feels a huge effort and I feel overwhelmed by the smallest of tasks. I should go and empty and reload the dishwasher, or at least get in the shower, but I can’t. I will do it at the very last minute before my wife gets home from work so as not to arouse suspicion of the fact that I am not functioning.

I feel so lonely and unsafe… I don’t mean that I am going to self-harm (although that has been a feature of this time of year before) I just mean I feel scared and not ok, not safe in my body. My nervous system is in tatters. I feel incapacitated. Frozen. Paralysed.

It’s at this time, every year, when all my fears rise up and I just feel desperately sad but also worthless and useless and all of those other horrible things that I struggle with so much. I can’t escape it and I can’t shift it – in fact, thinking about it, a decade ago it was this time that signalled my complete emotional breakdown which saw me off work for 17 months. It’s not a good time!!

As much as I want to ‘cheer up’ and find some energy and joy I just feel emotionally and physically wiped out. I know, now, that this is the very young stuff – pre-verbal- activating. It’s the feeling of that endless painful black hole in my chest that I wake up with, the panic, the emptiness, the tears that won’t come, the overwhelm and the detailed relentless bad dreams night after night.

And I can’t soothe it, that part of me. I just feel like I am in my own emotional prison and I don’t have the key to unlock the door and get out.

It’s bad.

Thinking about it, I am not surprised that over the years it’s been this time that has signalled the start of a rupture with Em. Things feel so desperate. I mean it’s as bad as it gets for me, and I’d reach out when I shouldn’t and then get radio silence which obviously triggered more pain, more shame, more of the ‘I am not worthy of care or love’. And this is where I am at again – now. Only I am writing this in a blog post in order not to create a rupture or to push you away. I don’t want to be ‘too much’ but this stuff, these feelings are too much for me and it’s hurting…and we’re only at the midway point.

It’s a negative downward spiral.

I know you’d probably say something like ‘try and do something nice for yourself’ but I don’t even feel like I have the capacity to exist right now. I know that’s dramatic. But ‘self-care’ feels like asking me to start speaking Chinese. I simply can’t do it.

I feel so stupid. In my last post here I wrote about how I genuinely thought this break would be ok because things are so much more secure and settled in my relationship with you. What I failed to recognise was the part that was around then is settled but this part, here, now is not. This part is the one that cannot take anything positive in. It’s the one who has no sense of object constancy. It’s the one who feels desperately alone and scared and has no words – it feels like a matter of life and death. I guess, given how bad it feels in my body it has to be the baby. It is the distress of a child who needs holding and is left out in the cold.

I don’t think how I feel is triggered by the break alone. It doesn’t feel like that…but when this stuff becomes live, it’s the break – the lack of contact – that makes it so much worse. My mental health maintenance plan is on ice – you and K aren’t there. In the usual run of things if I felt this way, the longest I would have to wait to see you is three days. I could text you and ask for a check-in and we’d probably be able to speak within 24 hours, and you’d respond with something holding in the meantime. But it’s different now. This is your holiday and I don’t want to burden you with my mess. It’s only been 9 days since I saw you but to these little ones that are panicked that feels like a lifetime ago.

Adult me is trying hard to just count it down and get through the days until we meet again. The thing is, this year I don’t even feel like I can take comfort in the fact that I am seeing you on Monday, 5 days from now. I really need to see you. I need to hug you and to cry and let some of this stuff out…but there is no guarantee that will actually happen. I am usually panicked enough on a break that my therapist won’t come back or that something bad has happened or things will go wrong (and they did last year!) but whilst I think you will come back because you care, we still might not get to see each other.

The COVID numbers are going mad here in the UK and I genuinely think we will be put in a strict lockdown again. It’s only a matter of time. And whilst there have been more provisions made for supporting mental health face-to-face in recent lockdowns, even if you don’t choose to go away and bubble with your partner, if schools revert to online learning as of next week, I will be home, here, looking after my kids and still won’t be able to see you face-to-face because I’ll be unable to get out in the daytime. As daft as it sounds there is a part of me that hopes you do go away because the idea of you staying here and my being unable to see you during the week when you are just down the road feels utterly unbearable. I could cry.

And so there it is. All my usual annual Christmas stuff playing out, the attachment pain, break struggles, and the extra cherry on top of the doom of potential lockdown just to add insult to injury. 2020 has been so hard and yet I fear there’s not a great deal to look forward to going forward.

I am so sick of hanging on by my fingertips. Survival mode is … overrated.

I miss you.

x

What A Difference A Year Makes

Well, here we are, it’s Christmas Eve, and well done to us, we’ve almost made it through the shittest, shitty, shit heap that has been 2020! I mean what a year it’s been, and it’s not even done yet. It seems like it’s the year that wants to drag every last drop of misery out of itself – here in the UK a new, more virulent strain of COVID is doing the rounds and more of the country is about to go into a tier 4 lockdown as of Boxing Day. Great stuff.

NOT!

Still, I am not here to go on about the state of all things Covid related – we all know what’s going on, we’re all in the storm together, although to be fair we’re definitely not all in the same boat. Some people are clearly doing ok on their super yachts, others of us are in leaky rowing boats, but there are so many others who are clinging on to driftwood desperately trying to stay afloat. I feel incredibly grateful for what I have this year even though it’s been tough.

Never has this blog name been more apt than in 2020, as I quite literally have been holding it together with rubber bands and chewing gum. I know it’s been hard for loads of you guys, too, so I really hope that you are able to have a decent time this Christmas – when, let’s be fair, it’s not always the easiest time even on a ‘regular’ year. I guess maybe one saving grace this year is that many of us will not be forced into hideous family celebrations and might actually be able to Christmas our way…pjs and a tub of Ben and Jerry’s anyone?!

Work has now ended for the term. I’ve just about got on top of the house (although with kids it never lasts!) and am near enough Christmas ready, and so it’s that time where my brain starts reflecting back over the year trying to make sense of what’s happened and how things have changed…and this year, thank goodness, lots has changed for the better. I can’t really believe how different things are now but what a journey it’s been getting here. Sweet Jesus!

This time last year, I was in yet another rupture with Em – it hadn’t spiralled as far as ‘tick gate’ and ‘I shouldn’t have accepted your gift’ just yet (those delights came in January) but we’d started the Christmas break on a really bizarre and uncomfortable footing. You might remember that she came out in a big 30-minute rant as a Tory (!) in our final session before the break suggesting left wing leaders were ‘communists’ and openly mocked one of the female leaders as ‘Jo Swimsuit’.

That session left me stunned and shocked. I mean I had already worked out we were on different pages politically, but up until now I had never experienced anything like this with Em. Mrs Blank Screen was so vehement in her opinions and ranted at me that day. It certainly wasn’t what I wanted or needed heading into a long break and it also set off a few more alarm bells.

Despite having repeatedly asked to do some work to help stabilise things for the young parts before the break she made no attempt to help me with it whatsoever (too busy ranting!), and when I fell apart after that session, she left me suffering for the three weeks. That’s a really potted history but you can always go back to December 2019 if you missed the steady descent into termination. Ugh!

Anyway, I was just rereading those posts as I was interested to see what was going on (although on reflection it seems like a bit of a wilful act of self-harm as nothing good was going to be there!) and to compare it to now.

Two things I wrote stick out to me. One was a text I had sent to Em on the Friday of my holiday. I was meant to Skype her, but it was just not on the cards so I sent a rather long text of which this is a part:

I suspect that you’ll say something about difficult feelings being stirred up and how you’re ‘just my therapist’. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong after nearly 8 years (on and off) because I feel further away from you than ever right now. It seems like at a time when lots of people like me struggle some therapists are bringing in transitional objects, writing notes, encouraging parts that struggle to communicate verbally to write, offering up text check ins, playing games, sitting next to clients and generally being reassuring etc and I get that’s not how you work but yet again we’ve landed upon a break and it’s, ‘if we don’t speak, I think we’re back on the 3rd or 4th’ and it’s just a world away from what I needed. I hate that it feels like this and disruption is so hard.

Reading this again makes me so sad and I remember how painful it felt. The somatic feeling of rejection and abandonment is just so awful and just gnawed away at my solar plexus and chest. I wish I had known before I got deep into that therapy that absolutely everything I listed above (and touch that I was too ashamed to mention in the text) was ‘off limits’ with her. It was really only once I was deeply attached to her that it become clear she was unwilling to meet me where I was at. I mean it took six loooongg excruciating months to get her to even write some words on a pebble – and they had to be my words, not even hers!! – to serve as a transitional object. I should have left then!

UGH!

For those of you that have followed me for a long time, you’ll know how hard I tried to fit my square peg into the round hole that was on offer with Em (haha – no pun intended!) – even if it meant distorting myself and shaving bits off. I tried to reduce my needs to the absolute bare minimum: remember the three dots in a text that she wouldn’t do? I look back now and just can’t believe I was made to feel like there was something wrong with me for wanting a real and genuine connection with her. I can’t believe that I tried so hard to fit in a mould that wasn’t right because I was told that was what was best… more pears!

In the same post I wondered:

The question I guess I have to ask myself is whether the things I feel like I’m missing out on are deal-breakers or whether or not I think what is on offer with her is enough. What I do know is that I have given so much time and energy to this therapy and yet I feel like I’m stuck. I feel like I’m trying so hard but just keep running into walls which makes me reinforce my own walls.

And that was it, wasn’t it? No matter how I tried to make what Em was offering ‘enough’ it simply wasn’t. I was never safely held in that therapy and it just left me in a state of perpetual ache and anxiety. It was retraumatising and kept me stuck in what felt like a huge re-enactment of being unimportant and unwanted as well as being too much… but despite knowing this, there was still part of me that wanted to believe if I just tried a bit harder then maybe it’d be ok, that at some point something in me would shift and it would feel better…it was just part of the process.

There was another part of me that was steadily gathering momentum and was slowly reaching the point where actually I couldn’t do it to myself anymore. Those things I mention above weren’t complete deal breakers but the no touch boundary was killing me – it was a fast track into dissociation time and again, and the key ingredient that was missing was that actually I just didn’t feel cared for. I wanted a therapist that was prepared to think outside the box a bit. I wanted to feel connected to Em. And I get that there are a zillion ways to forge a connection but being in the emotional dead zone for so long I was willing and wanting to try anything – in reality it shouldn’t have needed anything in the listed stuff above. Those individual things aren’t deal breakers, but feeling genuinely cared for is!…and that was what was lacking.

It was over this Christmas break that I realised I needed something different and started looking around for another therapist. Anita had been on my radar for a couple of years (!!) but I had never taken the leap to contact her, which looking back now is a huge regret – imagine how much better things could have been! Still, I am a great believer in things happen when they are meant to.

The first session back with Em in the new year was a disaster and at that point I approached Anita to arrange an initial meeting to see how it felt and try and work out of a way of moving forward. It went really well and I wish-wish-wish that I had gone with my gut at that point and left Em- that way the ending would have been completely on my terms. Instead, I decided that I wanted to try and work things out with Em and, although I knew I would probably have to leave, I thought it would be better to work through the rupture and create a decent ending and transition into therapy with Anita in a more gradual way…I guess a kind of weaning off process!

It obviously didn’t work out that way in the end as we rapidly descended into her calling my child parts a tick and then her telling me she’d reached the limit of her competency when I challenged her on it…and then terminating via a two-line email… before conceding that maybe a termination session might be ok! January was absolutely fucking horrific!

My system is still in shock about it all and I still have to do a lot of work on this with Anita- but really this year has been mainly about stabilising and creating a sense of safety and trust in the new therapeutic relationship, which is easier said than done when having just experienced harm in the previous therapy!

I feel so lucky to have met Anita. I genuinely feel like we are a good fit- a great team…and it’s not just because of the hugs (but of course they help)! It’s been a complete revelation to be in a therapy where, as she told me the other week, ‘I am in the driving seat’, where I can express my needs and know that they will be listened to, probably met, but if not, I’ll certainly not shamed for them.

Therapy doesn’t make me feel ill or sick or anxious like it used to. I mean I literally used to drive to Em’s with my heart pounding and feeling like I was going to be sick. The attachment stuff is there with A (a lot!), and it gets activated (especially when we’ve been working online) but the difference is Anita responds to me with care and compassion and like it’s ok to be attached to her. It used to repulse Em. And because I feel safe with A, all the parts do – the youngest ones, the angry teen, the protectors- there is a LOT less dissociation in sessions than there ever was with Em. I don’t need to leave so much now because I am not left feeling endlessly alone. Anita is attuned to me and comes and takes my hand before I disappear.

I said recently about how it feels like she has a big bucket of ‘soapy shame remover’ and keeps steadily dousing me in it. It is working. More and more I am able to ask for what I need. I don’t need to get swallowed up in shame for wanting connection or holding. I don’t get flooded with shame when I send her a text. I don’t feel unworthy of her care and attention. I know that I am accepted and loved as I am. I don’t need to pretend to be anything other than who I am with her. And that’s incredible.

I’m not going to write up my recent sessions because there’s really not much to say that’s any different from the others, recently. They have been holding and helpful and deeply connecting. I feel settled. For the first time in years, I can say that I feel ok about the Christmas break. The little parts of me miss her already, of course they do, but what’s different this year is that the separation is bearable because I know, deep down that Anita is going to come back, that she cares about me, and that I am held in mind.

I am loved.

And it is through Anita’s love and care (And K’s too!) that I am beginning to see that I am worthy of love and care. My internal narrative is starting to change bit by bit…finally! And it is because of the transformative power of relationship. Anita doesn’t do anything fancy, doesn’t bombard me with theory, or techniques…she’s just highly present and connected, she’s doesn’t hold herself back from me and she gets me, gets it, and for a child that has been emotionally abandoned and neglected this is therapy gold.

After our last session on Monday she sent me this…

and alongside my beating heart necklace and all the patient hours Anita has sat with my witnessing my pain I feel that my little heart that has been so badly hurt on so many occasions is safe now.

What a difference a year makes!  

Sending love to you all xxx