holding it together as I journey through therapy – a personal account of what it's like to be in long-term psychotherapy navigating the healing of C-PTSD, childhood trauma and neglect, an eating disorder, self-harming behaviours, as well as giving grief and cancer an occasional nod.
Hi everyone – it’s been ages since I have blogged. And even this, today, isn’t really a blog, it’s a letter that I have written that I am debating recording in a voice note for A. We are on a break (ffs!). Things have been horrible for ages now. This ongoing rupture is bloody agony and is driving me crazy. My life is also falling apart… not because of therapy but the instability in the therapy is certainly not helping matters.
I don’t know what to do, really. I appreciate I sound like a brat in what comes below (which is why I have put it here first whilst I decide what to do). I get that this feels quite out of context as it’s been such a long time since I have posted and so the background isn’t there and there’s a lot of ‘big feelings’ coming out.
Anyway, I’m hoping to write something and catch up soon as I have a few days off now. I am sorry I haven’t been commenting much on your blogs. I just haven’t been here…although looking at my reader today, I think a lot of us are AWOL. I’d like to think it’s because things are going well for everyone but I suspect it may be that people are worn out and on their edge. Big hugs x
A, everything is a right mess and I don’t know what to do about it. I’ve written something in order to try and process things a bit but I don’t know if it makes any sense because I feel so upset. I’m going to read it anyway because I need you to hear it.
The first time I contacted you to see about starting therapy with you I grilled you on whether you thought you were able to work with complex trauma and if you had done enough of your own work to work with someone like me. I remember sending the email and thinking I was probably asking a bit much, probably overstepping what was acceptable to ask a new therapist, but it was all heading south with Em and there was no way I was going to go blind into another therapeutic relationship and I really needed to be sure that any new therapist really understood what they would be dealing with.
You assured me that you had experience of working with CPTSD and that having received my message you had thought carefully about whether you had the capacity to take on a complex client because you understood the need and how delicate the work is …but yes, you thought you could and you commended me on trying to take care of myself in asking those questions and so we arranged to meet.
Our first session felt so different to anything I had experienced in therapy before. It felt like you were really ‘there’ with me and for the first time in ages I felt seen and heard. But not only that, I felt ACCEPTED and UNDERSTOOD. There was no sense of being judged, you just felt warm, and open, and perhaps someone who might be safe enough to work through a lifetime of trauma with. The relief I felt was palpable, but I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy transition leaving Em…little did I know at that point just how bad it would get and the lasting damage that would be done.
Em’s tick analogy has lodged inside me like a jagged piece of shrapnel. It is so painful. I feel sick and tearful every time I think about it – which is daily, and to be honest it’s not even conscious thought, instead it’s like a shadow that follows me around, or worse, a deep sense of shame that I carry inside me. I’ve told you about that thick tar that I feel like I am coated in and runs through my veins – well it’s that. Even though all this happened a couple of years ago, it’s not gone away, and I am not sure that it ever will.
I don’t know if you know how much this enduring sense of shame and of being ‘too much’ is present in the room when we are together and in our relationship in general? Whenever I want to be close to you, to hug you, or to see you, or now simply reach out and text you my brain serves me up those words “It’s like you want to be inside me, your young parts want a constant drip feed of what they need, a permanent breast, they are adhesive, like a tick…” and I am floored. I can’t really explain how bad it is, but it makes that vulnerable part want to curl up and die.
The steady work we have done together on building trust and safety had silenced that voice a lot, the one that tells me I am draining you dry and am an unwanted parasite – the one that says I need to be careful, or you’ll leave. But it’s got louder and louder again in recent months since you’ve stepped back. The part that feels ‘unlovable’ and ‘too much’ is always looking for confirmation of that and so not being able to do longer sessions and you not replying to my texts is taken as evidence that I’m finally too much for you too, and it’s so painful. As much as I try and work round it it’s playing out in our sessions over and over again.
I know you say your need to retreat isn’t about me and you have tried to reassure me that this is your stuff and Adult Me can hear that and gets it. But the young parts, the bits that actually need to be in therapy, don’t get it and I need you to understand what’s been happening for me since February because things aren’t ok. Well, clearly, they’re not. I’ve run out of the therapy room so many times now because it feels unbearable being so disconnected, and other times I have struggled to make it into the room. I know things aren’t going to change but we still need to look at this because whilst you probably think it’s settled down now, it hasn’t, I’ve just taken it inside and it’s eroding my sense of safety in the relationship.
I feel so far away from you now. My protectors are on high alert because when they look for evidence that you’ve gone, it’s all they can find. The week before your break I texted you and told you I missed you. You didn’t acknowledge it. Then I asked if we could find a way to connect so that I didn’t feel so alone, and you said “absolutely” – but then the Friday session happened, and it felt like you hadn’t understood how desperate it actually felt. On Thursday before our session I sent you a picture of a crying child. Nothing. You used to send me messages saying things like, “looking forward to seeing you” before our sessions but you don’t now and so when I have already spiralled off it feels really precarious coming. Like do you want to see me or am I just another thing on the list that you have to get through?
The week leading into Friday’s session was awful. I was falling apart. Massively. For the first time in years, I seriously considered self-harming. My brain was wandering into not being here anymore. Things felt so bad, and I just felt like there was no way through it. I felt so alone and scared. You couldn’t have known from the messages I sent you how bad it was because I didn’t say it explicitly, but there would have been a time when I would have text you and told you that, or at least asked to check in or if we could do a longer session. But I don’t ask now because I know you don’t have capacity and so instead, I try and hold it on my own.
I didn’t self-harm but it was there like a shadow all week. What I did slip into like a comfy pair of slippers was not eating. I didn’t even know it had happened until Friday when I realised I hadn’t actually eaten a meal all week and had just been dashing about and had a few biscuits here and there. Fortunately, I caught myself quickly and have been on top of it. The last thing I want to do is go back down that road- especially on autopilot. Things are really bad at the moment – it doesn’t really get much scarier than thinking you could lose everything, but it’s been compounded by feeling like I am on my own now. I felt like I had dragged myself through the week and just needed to be able to put it all down for a bit and be safe with you but that didn’t happen. I worry that telling you that makes me sound manipulative but it’s not, I’m not trying to make you do or feel anything, it’s just a reflection of how bad it’s been feeling and I think you need to know because I always seem to be ‘coping’ when actually I am so far from it.
I miss feeling connected to you and I know I have to learn to find another way, but it feels like a big shock to my system. I miss the goodnight messages you would send. I miss the photos of places you’d been that helped bridge the gap when you were away. I miss you checking in with me when things were difficult. And I know it’s not like that’s completely stopped but I miss feeling like you were ‘there’ and I hate that you being ‘gone’ makes me feel like it’s happened because I am not important enough or worthy enough of your care and attention. Things are really bad at the moment, terrible in fact, and it feels like you just don’t care at all.
I know all this is hurting much more than it should because of how things used to be when I was little. But it’s very hard for the young parts who grew up without a mum in the week. You had begun to feel ‘real’ and I had started to get a sense that there was something maybe a bit solid and safe in the relationship even when I can’t physically see you. I was heading towards the sense of there being an ‘invisible string’ and I felt myself relaxing and beginning to breathe in the relationship. But now – to go back to what they’ve always known – well it’s like being body slammed. I know that seems extreme, but it is how I am experiencing it.
The young four-year-old part of me that had started to cry and reach out has gone back to silence and hiding because no one cares, and no one comes. She’s used to coping alone…surviving…and so it’s returning back to what is known. The baby is still screaming to be picked up and soothed but again it’s a scream that is going unheard and cry that will eventually stop. You told me once that a baby doesn’t try and annoy its mother by crying when it’s hungry and that needs don’t work on a timetable – but now we are trying to work on a timetable and it’s so hard because so much of the upset I experience is triggered from being left. It’s the sense of abandonment is what sets everything off inside. I try and get through the week and not be ‘too much’ and not contact you ‘too much’, but the internal chaos and upset is intense.
I try and coach myself and all the young parts through the week. I tell the parts to “hold on” and say that, “it’ll be ok” when I see you and that “nothing has changed”- but more often than not, when I arrive now, the despondent older child parts (especially the teenager) won’t let you anywhere near. They feel rejected and abandoned in the week so why would they let you close in person? That’s what happened on Friday. I was in complete agony, trapped and terrified. I don’t think you really got how bad it was, I could hardly speak and it was an effort to tell you anything at all. When I say things like “my body is in pain”, it’s physically excruciating and a symptom of how much emotional distress I am in.
Earlier that week I had I told you I needed cuddles in a text. I feel really stupid asking for anything like this, stories, whatever, but what you tend to get in messages is the youngest parts’ needs being expressed. They’re the ones that get imprisoned in the room and can’t reach out easily. So even if I arrive and seem stand-offish or shutdown or whatever it is that keeps you far away as you said, “keeping you at arm’s length” (which incidentally is how I feel about you – I feel like I am being pushed away and that’s why I am so protected) I need you to reach through that and get to those young parts. I know you asked if I wanted stories but I was already so far gone that I couldn’t get back to you.
I need you to know that when I say “no” to a hug it’s only the protector saying “no”. There has never been a time in the entire time I have been seeing you when I have not wanted you to come closer to me or hug me or hold my hand or give me some physical signal that things are still ok. I don’t know how we get round this, but I think I said before, maybe you could ask, “Is that what all the parts of you want, or is it a protector trying to stop the little ones from getting what they need because it thinks you’ll get hurt?” That sort of thing really cuts through that protective part that feels like it’s unsafe and you don’t want to be with me. When you acknowledge the young parts it gives the protector permission to step back.
I know how nuts that sounds – and I think you asked me twice on Friday if I wanted a hug. So I do get you were trying. You’d think I would be able to respond to that, wouldn’t you? And I REALLY wanted to. I wanted to shuffle over to you and snuggle in and just feel safe. You’d think I would understand that you asking me more than once if I want a hug means you aren’t trying to get away from me or push me away, but I get frozen in fear. I don’t want to be too much and the longer we are far apart and silent the worse that feeling gets.
I can see the time ticking away and I feel desperately sad. Those little ones have been hanging on all week to see you and then this happens. It’s so painful, and so reflective of what it was like when I was a child. I needed my mum to look like she was pleased to see me when she came back after a week away, to give me some kind of physical cue that everything was ok, that I was still wanted…and this is what is playing out with us and going so badly wrong at the minute.
I am so filled with shame for needing you so much that I can’t even look at you now. I don’t know what your facial expression is like so can’t read what’s there, but it feels too scary to look at you or make eye contact. When I am frightened, we hardly talk so I can’t even judge your tone of voice and I read your silence as frustration, anger, or lack of care. I really, really just need for you to reach out and let me know it’s safe. I need for us to find a way to connect quickly at the beginning of sessions so it doesn’t spiral into something terrible where I feel like there is no option but to leave.
I’d told you I felt like I was drowning in that last session. You told me that people who are drowning usually put their arms out for help. That might be the case – but when I feel like you are not even ‘there’ I don’t register that I can reach out. That’s how bad it feels. The level of dissociation was off the chart. I genuinely felt like I was in freezing water, in a choppy, grey sea, and was totally alone. I might have looked like I am with you, but I was nowhere close. Adult me is a really strong swimmer but when it’s like that, and I tell you I am drowning I’m little and I am scared and I can’t swim.
You said once that you wouldn’t let me drown. You said there would always be space for me with you. You told me that I didn’t need to stay out in the cold. And I trusted that. You told me I was brave for trying again and you understood that coming to therapy was almost like asking me to run back into a burning building when I have already have third degree burns. It felt like you got it, but now I tell you it feels like you are watching me drown and you tell me it’s because I’m not accepting help. It feels like you don’t really care. If I was able to reach out and ask for help I would.
It feels like such a long time since you laughed and told me that you had a cupboard full of chocolate. With Em I had been told the cupboards were bare and that statement felt like you really saw me, understood the trauma I had experienced and knew what I needed. You said I needed a different experience of relationship – I was looking to do the deep relational work and you said you could do that with me. I don’t know if that’s how you feel now, or whether I’m too much for you. I get that all this is probably a reflection of the depth of the relationship we have. It’s messy and sticky and covered in feathers not neat and clean…and maybe this is where the healing will come but right now I am face down in the pain.
You have never shamed me for my big feelings, you say that I am not too much, and sometimes you say you love me… but not as frequently as you used to. After years and years of feeling chronically unsafe things had begun to settle but now… it feels like I’ve lost you or I am losing you. Or as I said last week, like I am lost. And it’s scary. I don’t even know if I am making sense it’s such a mess inside.
When it’s really bad, I sometimes wonder if I was sitting in floods of tears instead of frozen and silent whether you would still stay away from me? My silence and freeze is how I express overwhelm – that is my crying. Sometimes I cry with you but it’s not even a tenth of what’s stuck inside, it’s still ‘controlled’. I wish I could just fall apart and let it out but it wasn’t safe to cry as a child, and I learnt early on that no one comes anyway. But that’s the reframe that needs to happen – if I am silent and still, I am not keeping you at arm’s length, I’m massively distressed and need you to come close. I know this is a difficult area but we need to figure something out because I can’t keep getting to the place where it feels so intolerable that I can’t bear to stay and run out because it feels like I am being abandoned and that is how it feels.
When I said I was going home last week you didn’t say anything – I guess you’d had enough too – but the message it sent to the young parts, again, is that you just don’t care. Rather than try and fix things you let me leave and then stayed to chat with whoever it was that was sitting on your front step. That really didn’t help. I guess it’s my fault for leaving before the session was over, but that whole episode just made me feel exposed but also highlighted that other people are more important to you even if I am falling apart.
With a break coming up it was always going to be tricky, but it really couldn’t have been a worse way to leave with a long break looming. Usually, I would have given you my elephant to wash just before a break but I didn’t this time. This wasn’t because I didn’t want to, it’s because I didn’t feel like I could, it didn’t feel safe for the young parts to express that need…and that’s where I am at. It feels like those young parts have been completely forgotten about and abandoned. There’s been no preparation for the break and now I just have to tough it out and frankly it’s not been going all that well.
It’s Thursday now and this is the longest period of time we’ve ever had no contact and I suspect that you won’t contact me before Tuesday’s session. It feels like a punishment. I get you need a break. I get that you are tired. I get that you have a lot on. And I get that I am hard work…but it gets to be even harder work when the young parts aren’t attended to, and it feels just like total confirmation that you have had enough. You’ve totally backed away. And I get why you are doing it – a bit – but the impact it’s having on me is enormous. I get you have to look after you, of course you do, and I have to look after me but so much of my looking after me comes through the relationship I have with you right now. I get I need to ‘individuate’ and take care of the little parts inside and I am getting better at that but we are still in the thick of this work and …I don’t even know what to say.
The fact that you and your supervisor have had discussions about referring me on makes me so unsafe because I feel like if I don’t do what I am meant to do or I get too upset about how different things are you get to decide to get rid of me. In so many ways I feel like the rock I was standing on has turned to quicksand. And none of this is meant as a criticism. I don’t want you to hear it in that way at all. I know this is the work. All these triggers and feelings need working through. This is life. But I need you to know that this is really painful and I am bracing myself for you to tell me that you can’t work with me anymore after this holiday… which on top of all the stuff that is going on in my day-to-day life feels horrendous.
There’s a part of me that feels like I should just tell you I am not coming anymore and protect myself from more pain because I can’t see how it’ll be anything close to Ok on Tuesday as things stand. There is so much hurt right now. And I don’t know if you are meaning to hurt me or whether is accidental but either way I am struggling. If things can be mended, then I really need us to find a way to connect in our sessions and to have a plan for when things hit the skids because I am finding it hard enough to adjust to feeling like you’re gone in the week without also feeling like you’re not in the room with me. I need to feel like you have your end of the rope, or invisible string, and lately it feels like you’ve taken scissors to it and I am left completely alone.
So, it’s Eating Disorder Awareness Week (EDAW), apparently. I don’t mean to sound so blasé or critical, but I guess like many people who have suffered with an eating disorder and mental health issues I am left feeling a bit cold when ‘awareness’ is mentioned. I think there is a lot of awareness out there but what we really need is adequate funding and investment in training, in order that there is proper provision to support people who are suffering and struggling better (or at all!). We all know that it’s a postcode lottery with what treatment is available not to mention the waiting lists…oh and, of course, the ‘time-limited’ interventions. So, forgive me if I don’t feel all that enthusiastic about this week, or any of the others that come along raising ‘awareness’. I guess I’m just old and over it and would rather see some tangible action so that people like me get the help they need at the time they need it – and don’t spend a lifetime tangled up in pain.
I’ve been saying for a while that I would find some time write about the end of the long-standing ED and so this is my contribution to EDAW – but really, it’s for me, a written acknowledgment, to myself, to honour the journey I’ve been on. I don’t really know where to begin, if I’m honest, but this week seems an especially apt time to finally close the book of many many MANY chapters.
So, I guess I begin at the beginning?… all those years ago when the crafty bastard came along and took root? I suppose that’s as good a place to start as any…but inevitably this will take me back to the very beginning because everything that came before the active anorexia fed into the development of the ED (excuse the pun!).
This is probably going to be a pretty long piece – so perhaps go grab a cuppa. I suspect it will be a bit ‘bitty’ and disjointed here and there, too, as there’s lots to say. It has been such a fragmented experience that I can’t see how it will ‘flow’ but I guess if I keep some kind of loose chronology we’ll get to the end and into March 2022 where I am now sitting with a big bar of chocolate and cup of hot milk as I type – and enjoying both with no hint of “I shouldn’t” or “I’ll have to pay for this in exercise later” or hating myself for not having the willpower to resist these treats. I never for one minute believed this would be possible – but here I am…and contemplating a cheese toastie in a bit!
So, deep breaths, ready for vulnerability download:
I have been battling with anorexia since I was 15 which, sadly, is almost 25 years of my life. My goodness, that’s depressing when it’s right there in black and white. 25 years wasted….
Looking back now I feel so much sadness and compassion for that poor young woman (that was me) who found herself deeply distressed, struggling so badly with soooo many different issues, who took to starving herself in order to cope, and was barely holding it together with rubber bands and chewing gum. I feel so upset that no one paid attention or saw beneath my coping exterior. I was like a swan to everyone around me, gliding along on the surface whilst desperately kicking legs beneath it in order not to grind to a halt or fall apart. It was exhausting trying to appear ‘fine’ when I was anything but. Parts of me longed for someone to ‘see’ me but my protectors were so strong that no one was ever able to penetrate my defences. No one tried but then I wonder if I’d have trusted them even if they had?
I wish I knew then what I know now about myself, and about the destructive nature of eating disorders. But then I was a kid in the late nineties – information wasn’t readily available, the internet and social media weren’t ‘things’ back then (sending a simple text message took ages repeatedly pressing number buttons to get to each letter) and so much was ‘taboo’ – having said that, I don’t think the internet or social media was what I needed, or more ‘awareness’, as I say, I wish back then there had have been someone, anyone, who would have noticed and helped me through what I was experiencing, someone who could have helped release the strangling grip of the eating disorder and allowed me space to breathe and recover and learn how to be me and to accept myself.
Basically, I wish I’d have had a K or an Anita when I was 15 because there’s so much evidence to suggest that eating disorders that are addressed early have the best success rates for people getting through them and moving on. Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of those people who got support at the right time, but I feel so blessed that I have support now and I definitely think that my relationships with A and K have done wonders for me, helping me grow stronger. It’s through having their love and care modelled to me that I have learned to love myself and see my own worth. And this is the thing, for me, my eating disorder, when you boil it down, was actually not a great deal to do with food or body image. It focused on those things, but they weren’t the primary drivers.
There are loads and loads of reasons why people fall into eating disordered behaviours, but I can only speak from a personal perspective here, and say how it was for me. Anyone who has followed this blog for a while will know by know that my growing up experience wasn’t exactly what you’d call ‘optimum’. From the very beginning it wasn’t brilliant. I was an accidental pregnancy, a pregnancy that turned out to be fraught with problems, a pregnancy where my mum spent the final three months of her pregnancy in hospital with pre-eclampsia. Poor little me was stuck in a toxic womb environment and then had to be induced 6 weeks early because I ‘was in distress’ and so I wasn’t exactly onto a winner…and have been distressed ever since. Lol.
After a long and difficult labour, I was born, and reportedly didn’t make a sound. They’d pumped my mum so full of drugs that they weren’t sure I was alive or if I would survive. There’s no doubt, now, that I ought to have been delivered by c-section, but this was the early 80’s, on a Sunday, in a hospital that is renowned for its poor practice over the years. Apparently, the doctor on-call was on the golf course and insisted on finishing his game before coming in to assist with the delivery…as you do.
Tiny baby me was whisked off to an incubator which is where I spent the first three days of my life. I’ve written about this before, here, but every time I think about it, no matter how much therapy I have, it still stings. My mum’s ‘go to’ birth story as I was growing up was, “I thought the baby in the incubator next to you was mine, I didn’t even recognise you.” Undoubtedly, my mum was traumatised by both her pregnancy and her labour, and I am not surprised she went on to develop post-natal depression…but what has any of this got to do with my eating disorder you might ask?
Those early hours and days after the birth of a baby are so important for bonding and attachment. The moment my children were born they were put on my chest, and we had skin-to-skin contact. In fact, the moment my son was born he was skin-to-skin and began to breastfeed immediately. Both my babies were elective c-sections so their births were as straightforward as they could be: my daughter was breach presentation, and my son was enormous so I’m glad I was given the option both times to choose what I wanted. I am certain that a calm birth experience meant that I was very able to respond to my babies and bond quickly. I wasn’t in pain or distress, and neither were they.
I know how important it was for me as a new mum to be close to my babies and to bond – I didn’t put either of mine down except for nappy changing in the first twenty-four hours and they slept on me skin-to-skin – not even in a baby grow. My mum was barely in her twenties when she had me, and didn’t have any of that, or any decent antenatal support prior to birth. I can’t imagine how upsetting it must be to not see your baby because it’s been whisked away, not know if its ok, and then not to know which baby is yours when you finally are allowed to see it. My mum used to retell the story like it was funny, but I think, now it must’ve been her way of coping with something awful.
Anyway, the post-natal depression undoubtedly didn’t help with the bonding process. My dad used to come home from work to me and by all accounts I don’t think I was massively well-attended to during the day. I understand it, but it’s still hard to know that as a small child I was not getting what I needed. I don’t blame my mum PND – it is what it is, and there was next to no understanding of it or support for it really then. But if I was left in dirty nappies then I think we can probably infer that there wasn’t a great deal of feeding going on either.
When I was 9 months old my mum left the country with me. Her relationship with my dad had completely broken down and she basically ran away from an intolerable situation with him and my wider family. Again, to be taken from everything I knew at that time must’ve been disruptive for little me. I don’t know much about the three years abroad but I know we moved back to the UK when I was nearly four. I have only a handful of memories before I was seven: one is being sick after my preschool vaccinations, and the other burning myself on a barbecue but being too scared to tell anyone about it when I was just four. I have no recollection of my first day at school — or anything.
My memories only really kick in when I moved house I and started a new school midway though year 2 and the week of my seventh birthday. Before I started therapy, I thought this was normal. I thought most people had no idea about their lives before that age. Apparently not. Sometimes I wonder about what might have happened or what it was like, but I know what it was like from when the memories actually begin, and I can’t see it being very much different. I imagine that my clever young brain wiped out a lot of what was there to make it survivable.
When I was working with Em, I remember a session where I told her about the burn on the barbecue (I still have the scar now). I’d said how I had been told to stay away from the barbecue because it was hot. My dad had put the tongs on the grill to disinfect them in the flames and then taken them off and hung them on the side of the frame. I was alone in the garden and was inquisitive, like children are. I can remember it clear as day…the searing pain when the boiling metal hit my skin and then peeling the tongs off my leg, taking the skin with them, leaving a long burn on my inner thigh.
Em wondered aloud what might have led little me to be in a position where I was too scared to tell an adult that I was severely hurt in that situation. My daughter was about the same age I had been at the time when I was recounting the story, and Em asked me what my daughter would do: run to me crying and seek assistance. There was no doubt in my mind that that is exactly what she’d do. That’s the natural reaction, right?
So, what stopped me as a little girl? Why was I already so terrified of the consequences of being told off for doing something I had been told not to do, doing something ‘wrong’? It didn’t take much to join the dots, but I can infer that I must’ve at least once before got into trouble for something and the reaction been bad enough for me to go into hiding rather than risk a similar response from my mum.
My children do stuff I tell them not to ALL THE TIME but they ALWAYS come and seek help and support if they hurt themselves, even if they’ve hurt themselves after I’ve warned them not to do something. How does all this stuff link into the ED you might be wondering? Like come on RBCG get to the point! Well, I think from the very beginning my needs have not been met, both emotionally and physically, and I think early on I detached from my needs.
As I child I remember being hungry a lot of the time. I was the kid that never had a snack at breaktime at school. It wasn’t that there wasn’t money for it, there just was never anything in the house to take and I genuinely don’t think it occurred to my parents that breaktime was a time when kids had something to eat. Or maybe they were just consumed in their own busy lives and didn’t keep me, or my need in mind…(sigh)… And so, I used to watch while other children tucked into bags of crisps and chocolate biscuits. Again, I never went home and asked for these things to be bought. I didn’t feel like I was worthy of it, I guess.
I used to go to childminders before and after school at when I was at primary school and the childminder used to feed both her children a snack after school but would never offer me anything. My dad didn’t collect me until almost seven most nights so most days I would have just my school dinner which given how crap things are now for kids in the UK with 1/3 in poverty I feel stupid for moaning because I was at least fed and when I got home, too. But what I am trying to say is that for years I was hungry, my stomach would physically hurt, and yet there was no way of getting rid of that feeling and it was horrid.
I guess I got used to it in the end and something switched off, I no longer ‘felt’ hungry although I guess I must have been. I didn’t feel much of anything at all, actually. And it was the same with the emotional stuff. When my mum would come home at the weekends it was horrible most of the time. She’d argue with my dad, sometimes be violent, and generally make me feel like I was in the way and an inconvenience. For years the shouting and the violence scared me and then I learnt to feel nothing.
Everything was numb.
And so fast forward through to my teenage years, my parents had separated again so at least the yelling had stopped. I lived with my mum during the week, and she was stressed and unavailable or vile. By now I had become so self-reliant that I don’t think you’d know I existed in the house. I washed my own clothes, made my own lunches, cleaned the house, and stayed in my room doing my schoolwork. I was no trouble at all. My reports were outstanding. My grades were top. There was nothing you could moan at me about.
Only she did.
Over and over.
Eroding my self-esteem bit by bit over and over for years and years, “I wish you’d never been born”, “You think you’re so perfect”, “You’re so boring”, “You’re just like your dad”, “Who the hell do you think you are?”…on and on and on…
And then when I was about fourteen, I started to realise I was gay and this neatly coincided with the “Don’t hold my hand, people will think we’re lesbians” from my mum one day when we were out and crossing the road. I have no idea why I reached for her hand that day. I guess maybe it was an unconscious throwback to a time where she would keep me safe as a child. I don’t know. But her reaction was nuts. The laugh is we never really touched anyway, there were no hugs, no kisses, no physical signs of affection and certainly no verbal expressions of love or care…so this was the final nail in that coffin for our relationship in lots of ways. It sits in the same pain zone as Em’s ‘tick’ analogy, another complete and utter rejection of me and my ‘self’.
As I’ve said, my mum was rejecting so much of the time, and I’d felt physically abandoned when she was away through primary school, but that sound bite also felt so loaded for future ‘gay’ me. Being gay clearly was ‘bad’, and now something to be hidden, and so I did… but that was yet another burden, another secret, another thing to feel ashamed about.
I fell head over feet in love with an older woman when I was 15 too (big eye roll now I know all about my attachment stuff and mummy issues!) but that felt awful, too. I wasn’t out the closet, she wasn’t gay, and I couldn’t tell her how I felt for fear of being rejected. As I’ve already said, it was the late nineties and things weren’t as they are now (that’s not to say LGBTQ+ kids have it easy, now – they don’t) but there was no space for kids like me particularly in the part of the country I was growing up in. There were no role models. There wasn’t even mention of same sex relationships in Sex Ed for goodness sake … I felt thoroughly alone…weird…an outlier. It was hard. And then the GCSE years really got going and as a perfectionist who was expected to get straight A’s I crumbled under the weight of it all.
The first time I didn’t eat was a day during a school holiday. There was ‘gifted and talented’ evening trip to the Opera that had been arranged by the Head of English and me and a couple of friends had been chosen to go. I don’t know why I didn’t eat that day, but I didn’t (probably no food in the house). I can clearly remember after the interval feeling, sitting in the dark, waiting for the singers to take the stage, and feeling lightheaded and stars going round in my vision. I felt kind of out of myself too (dissociated) and, honestly, it felt such a welcome relief from the usual agony in my solar plexus and feeling on the verge of a breakdown and suffering with that horrible sense of ‘unrequited love’ (ahhh which is not dissimilar to the mother wound) and being thoroughly miserable at home.
I’d never been someone who had eaten breakfast or snacked (that bedded in young!) but I was definitely a solid ‘pasty, chips, and beans with a can of apple Tango for lunch at high school’ kind of a girl. But then I stopped that in year 11. I would maybe have something small or skip lunch altogether by going and working in the school library ‘revising’ (sitting alone with my head in a book trying to not fall apart). It was about this time that I’d started self-harming too. It was getting bad. And yet what could I do? I couldn’t speak to my parents. There was no school counsellor. There wasn’t anyone. And of course I was an ‘outstanding’ student so teachers had worry about me.
Things got worse and worse and one day I made myself a GP appointment in the middle of my GCSE exams and went to see the doctor because surely this would be someone to help. I felt so nervous going into the consulting room. I’d never been to the GP without a parent, and I was about to tell a complete stranger about my secret destructive behaviours. I thought I was going to be sick, but I knew I couldn’t carry on as things were. I was miserable and destroying myself. I trusted that a ‘professional’ would offer me the support I so badly required. So, I told the doctor how I was feeling and what I was doing to myself…and…he dismissed my issues saying, “It’s a phase” and that “everyone gets stressed round exams” and that my self-harm scars were “superficial” and he sent me on my way.
Again, I look back at that memory and I have so much sadness and compassion for that brave sixteen-year-old girl who was going through so much and was left unsupported, not ill enough to warrant support and instead left feeling like a time waster and a hypochondriac. I kept quiet after that, but things got worse and worse.
By the time I started A Levels things had really escalated. My mum had taken to being absolutely vile all the time. I was a substitute emotional punching bag now that my dad wasn’t there. And how did I cope? Well, I didn’t eat breakfast or lunch and would purge after all my evening meal which was in the region of 500 calories. I exercised ALL the time, weighed myself daily, and self-harmed at least twice a week. The cuts weren’t superficial anymore and my weight had plummeted. It was absolutely awful. It was completely exhausting, I was completely exhausted and the ED felt like a full time job occupying so much of my headspace…but thankfully it pushed the other horrible stuff – feeling unlovable, untouchable, and not good enough to one side – albeit temporarily.
One day I went to visit ‘the older woman’ who now lived a couple of hundred miles away from me. She took one look at me and cornered me about my eating disorder when we were sitting watching a movie. The dramatic change in my appearance in the 18 months since I’d seen her was unmissable. I was honest about what was going on (for the first time). She asked why I had never told her when I spoke to her on the phone (twice a week). What could I say? It’s not easy to tell someone that you’re not eating, puking every time you eat…and the reason for it… you hate yourself and have unmanageable feelings for the person you’re speaking to!
I felt like I had taken a big step towards H that weekend and then when I got home, and we next spoke on the phone it was like the tide had turned. (The irony is not lost on me with how much this reflects what happened with Em all those years later when I finally told her how bad things were). H delivered me an ultimatum: tell your parents or I will. I begged her to give me time and she agreed. But when she pressed me the next week and I told her I couldn’t she cut me off, told me that she was wrong to get involved, and I could call her in three months but she needed space…
I came out the next day and was in bits and things continued to get worse.
My mental health got so bad that I stopped attending college regularly in the second year of A levels (after a patchy first year) and think clocked up an impressive 30% attendance overall. I was told I shouldn’t sit my A levels as there’s no way I could pass them and to come back and redo the final year. The idea of this felt unbearable – another year at home and no escape to university? I begged my tutor to allow me to at least try the exams and they conceded. Fortunately, I came out with AAAB and it meant I had the grades to move forward.
Essentially, though I spent the years between 16-18 feeling thoroughly depressed and hopeless. How I passed those A Levels I’ll never know, but I am just lucky I guess, to have been academic enough to not need to go to lessons or try too hard. I know that sounds big headed – it’s not meant to be- I am just so aware that had I have flunked my A Levels rather than getting a string of A’s and B’s life would have been considerably more difficult for me because it was getting away to university that allowed me to escape the worst of what I was going through.
My eating disorder was a crutch, a coping mechanism. Anorexia was something I was good at, too. It took the focus off all the shit I couldn’t deal with – didn’t know how to deal with. I could escape from my mother, from my sexuality, from exam pressure and watch the scale go down and down. As, I said, I learnt not to feel hungry and enjoyed the feeling of being almost delirious. I likened the heightened anorexic state as like being up a mountain above the clouds, one day. to Em. Like it can be swirling shitstorm down below and somehow not eating enough for long enough takes you up to where the air is clear, and the sun is shining. Or at least that’s what my calorie deprived brain believed. Coming out the other side I can see how fucked up that is, but anorexia really messes with your body and brain chemistry.
I think my eating disorder went some way to shutting down the Inner Critic, or appeasing it a bit…only you can never really please that sadistic fucker and so really it was just a vicious cycle. I’d go through phases of my life where the ED would be in the background, subdued – usually when things were going well, I was ‘happy’ with friends or in a relationship and life wasn’t too trying but then there were other times where it would rise up and take over. The irony is, what I needed when things felt overwhelming was care and support and what I delivered to myself was abuse. The world outside felt threatening and too much and I had no sense that what I should be doing was ‘self-caring’ and not ‘self-harming’. I sort of thought that’s how it would always be. I never felt like I deserved love or care from anyone, and certainly not from myself. I literally had no idea how to care for me.
(I am so glad this has shifted!)
I’ve always been body conscious; I could never look in the mirror and be ‘ok’ with what I saw but there were stretches of time when I wasn’t actively restricting or purging which felt like a kind of progress. I just ate once day….which I guess is still restricting because there’s no way on earth I could not eat until the evening now. I get to about 10am and breakfast has to happen…I can tune into my body and respond to it, but it’s taken a lifetime to get here after years of dissociation.
It’s weird, I look back now at photos and can really ‘see’ that I wasn’t well but at the time would have sworn blind there was nothing wrong. In fact, the ED mindset can be so dismissive, defensive, and angry that it makes you almost delusional. The number of arguments I have had with my wife over the years when she’s expressed legitimate concerns to me is staggering. The denial that I built around myself and the eating disorder was insane but after so many years it was like I was brainwashed, or brain-damaged. I genuinely couldn’t see the issue anymore and other people’s concern was an intrusion. How dare they suggest anything was wrong? But also, why would I admit it when doing so might mean I get rejected again?
Again, I just feel so sad that I have spent more than half a lifetime attacking myself – and why? …because the self-image I’d had placed on and in me was so wrong in the first place. I find it so depressing that I bought into the idea of being unworthy of love and care and the only way of coping with it was to make myself smaller, to disappear, to dissociate my needs away. But those needs were still there, lying dormant because look where I am now in my therapy: #1 Neediest Client In The World!
I read somewhere once that ‘we are only as needy as our unmet needs’ and basically this rings so true…does anyone else relate?! Unfortunately for me, A, and K there are quite a number of unmet needs!
Anyway, back to the story and the early naughties: I’d got through my degree, my MA and my PGCE just about in one piece (I do wonder how!). I started teaching and I’d get through the day on a can of coke and then go home and eat a meal. Again, I can see this isn’t ‘normal’ but it was the most normal I had even been in my life to date. I was painfully thin, but I wasn’t deep in the throes of the eating disorder either. I guess what I would say is that my eating disorder would go through phases- never fully gone, but not always massively active either. At this point I could eat and not gag when I put my toothbrush in my mouth so that’s a win.
Then of course, my dad died suddenly and there it was again, my trusty friend ready to help me. My coping mechanism was back front and centre. I got very ill when that happened. My BMI was 14 and I was like a walking skeleton. Only I couldn’t see it. And yet again, despite having medical input for my mental health and weekly weigh ins with the GP I was able to deflect and distract from it. Having been told at 16 that there was nothing wrong with me I had basically learnt that health professionals don’t believe me and that I am not worthy of care and so never told them how bad things were. What was the point? I ran rings around anyone that tried to come near.
I clearly remember one day my GP telling me that “Happy people don’t have eating disorders” and “was there anything I wanted to tell her?” I wished so badly in that moment to be able to share even a tenth of what I was carrying but what can you do in a ten-minute appointment? And how do you hold your hands up as a 26-year-old professional person that you are still stuck in your ‘teenage coping strategies’? Eating disorders are so often framed as a ‘young person’s issue’ because that’s when they often begin, but there are thousands and thousands of people who have continued to struggle well into their adulthood… and so, I said nothing. I was ashamed and embarrassed.
And on and on it went for another few months until she referred me into eating disorder services. The initial appointment with the assessor was a farce. She asked me a series of questions about my eating habits and body image and the part that was fronting that day answered in way that meant I wouldn’t get help, “Do you think you are fat?” – “No” etc. The part that so badly needed help was gagged and bound. I was so deeply in the denial zone at that point that really the person just needed to use her eyes to see that I was FAR from ok but of course she didn’t. It was another example of my being intelligent and articulate enough to be escape the system. I don’t know why I was so terrified of ‘getting help’ but the idea of being made to eat and go to day patient just felt like a huge no. I didn’t want to be scrutinised. I didn’t want to lose control. I didn’t know any other way of coping with what I was feeling and having my ED taken away…well, I needed it to survive.
Still, none of that ever happened because I never got specific ED help but I was put on the waiting list for psychotherapy after writing a letter to my GP and her calling me in to say she thought I was suffering with PTSD! Three years later and I finally got to the top of the waiting list and was working with Em… and the ED kicked in AGAIN about three months away from when we were meant to end, just as the realisation that I would have to stop seeing her became really real and the attachment stuff had become massive. I had genuinely thought I was over my ED by this point, I’d had a baby and things were going well in my ‘adult’ life. So, what the hell was going on? Ahhh the young parts were activating but I had no idea about any of it at this point, I just felt like I was losing my mind.
So, there I was again, sitting with a BMI of 16.5 and not eating ‘normally’ but also ‘normally enough’ to not draw any attention. I was exercising away my ‘baby weight’ (overdoing it to attack myself and escape the emotional pain). I couldn’t tell Em then what was going on. I was too ashamed and embarrassed that the thing that had triggered me trying to ‘cope’ was approaching the end of our time limited therapy on the NHS and the reality of losing her – and besides, there was no time left. It was all the stuff about being alone, left, abandoned, rejected, not being worthy of love or care…it was the mother wound. It totally fucked me up for a long time and I was so distressed for months after that ending but didn’t really understand why.
Yet again, it was a relational ‘injury’ triggering the eating disorder. Yet again it was feeling emotionally out of control and not good enough that sent me into the pattern of trying to gain control – of what I put into my body and what I did to my body, and over my emotions. The older I got the easier it was to spin my anorexia as a ‘health kick’. I’d buy new trainers and sports kit and RUN AND RUN AND RUN away from all that was upsetting me and eat salads and drink smoothies when, really, I wanted cake and chocolate and roast dinner.
I simply wasn’t able to sit with my feelings of pain and loss and all that’s associated with the mother wound because, as I said, I didn’t fully understand it. I just knew that the thought of losing Em felt unsurvivable because of course that is what it felt like to the young parts who were being triggered. It felt like annihilation. Ugh. And how do you tell anyone about this? It’s embarrassing and loaded with feelings of shame. You’re meant to get ‘better’ after sixteen months of therapy not worse…and yet here I was feeling desperate and heartbroken…
And so that therapy ended, and I bumbled along for six months feeling untethered, having nightmares, and not eating and trying to shift my focus away from the pain I felt inside. Time ticked on, then I got pregnant again and sorted myself out, put on a stone, had my son…it was all settled and going well…and then I got diagnosed with cancer…and had a year of treatment. Steroids saw me balloon, but I didn’t care at that point. I was fighting for my life not my size six and the steroid weight soon fell off when I had finished treatment.
The wheels came off after I finished the chemotherapy and radiotherapy– the PTSD response to the cancer treatment being lumped onto so many other previous traumas meant that I knew I needed to seek support – and I made it back to Em privately…and OMG…as you all know…the mother wound got triggered in the most massive way AGAIN. I thought going back to her would ease some of that ache that I’d felt in the three years since I had seen her, but it didn’t. It ignited again in a flash. Seeing her, as I have said so many times, was perpetually like being a kid stood peering through the window of a sweetshop- I could see what I wanted, smell it, almost taste it – but I couldn’t have it. It was so painful.
Working with Em meant that I became fully aware of my inner dynamics, my attachment style, the dissociation ALL OF IT. And whilst this information was really useful in helping me understand myself better, it didn’t help with the endless triggering of my little selves in the relationship with Em. Her being so emotionally and physically withholding just exacerbated the situation. And then there were the breaks that triggered the abandonment stuff- and my go to coping strategies- when I needed some kind of relational holding with her and it wasn’t forthcoming – think Pebblegate! Oh man!!!!!!
Some of you that have been here for the long haul will recall the Easter break where the shit hit the fan a few years back and I just didn’t cope AT ALL and fell into a really severe period of not eating and over-exercising. I took a leap of faith and told Em what was going on when we got back from the break – all of it, from the beginning, like the stuff in this post and I genuinely felt like I had taken a huge leap forward in being honest and maybe, finally, would be able to get support with this ED that had been plaguing me for years. Only those of you who have read for a while might also remember that it was straight after this that Em delivered me an ultimatum “Go to your GP or we’ll have to work towards an ending.”
I still feel physically sick when I think back to how that was handled. It had taken such a lot of bravery and a leap of faith to trust Em with this vulnerable and sensitive secret and everything I had worried about – being rejected or abandoned because of it- was panning out. It really was a replay of the GP at 16, and H at 17, but in a different way. I never really spoke to Em about my ED again and I genuinely feel like a massive opportunity was missed there.
Flash forward again…the ending with Em two years ago. Another relational injury and back to my trusty friend the ED. The Inner Critic loves the ED, it makes it feel strong, and powerful, and in control, and it likes to punish all the parts of me that suffer. Thankfully, I wasn’t alone when it all went wrong with Em. K was incredible at this time, so holding and caring, and UNDERSTANDING which zapped some of the shame away from the situation. I also met Anita just before it all went catastrophically wrong with Em, and from the get-go I was able to tell her all of the ‘stuff’.
The great thing about starting with a new therapist is you have a window of time before any of the attachment shit really kicks in in the relationship with them, and you can map out all the issues without the fear of judgement or lots of parts being involved. I started working with Anita in January 2020 and it wasn’t until June/July time that my littles switched allegiances to Anita and the attachment stuff felt really live with her. You’d have thought that the need for A becoming live would also trigger the ED, because the fear of rejection and abandonment would come alive and so I’d have gone into hiding and repeated the pattern…
However, the big change this time was that I was able to tell Anita how I felt outright, rather than skirt round the edges and be living in a vat of shame like with Em. Anita has always handled my feelings with such care and sensitivity that I’ve been able to tolerate feelings that I have never been able to before. It’s always felt like Anita is holding my hand – both literally and metaphorically and so I have felt much safer in the relationship even when big things crop up or a rupture happens. I have enough faith, trust, and confidence in what we have built together that I can experience difficult feelings without the need to go and attack myself.
As you guys know. This therapy hasn’t been plain sailing and ‘nicey nicey’- my god – Anita and I hit rupture territory regularly enough! But what is sooooo different is the speed at which we repair the ruptures. I don’t sit for weeks and months on end ‘building up’ to telling her I’m hurt, wondering whether she’ll flat out reject me, or terminate me, for feeling upset or dissatisfied…for wanting to be close. Of course, my fears of rejection and abandonment get triggered a lot but how Anita handles this is transformational and I do think this relational healing has gone a long way towards me moving away from the ED.
The level of love and care that I feel with both Anita and K is massive and it’s building an inner resource that is supportive. I realise now that I do have needs, that my needs are valid, that there is nothing wrong with me having feelings and that I do not need to punish myself for experiencing BIG emotions or having relational needs. I do want to be loved and cared for – and that’s normal. And it’s normal to hurt when that hasn’t adequately happened growing up.
I don’t need to feel shame or embarrassment for having young parts that need Anita (of course I still do, a lot!) and I know that Anita has invested a lot of time and energy in building a strong therapeutic relationship with me, as has K. More and more I can internalise their love and care which means I am more and more able to tolerate my difficult feelings as I have these steady, consistent compassionate voices telling me I am loved and good enough both in real life and in my head. Those voice counteract the Inner Critic somewhat. I know why the Inner Critic and other protectors have been so vocal – they do not want me to get hurt. But I also understand that their way of ‘protecting’ me has hurt and isolated me at times.
Basically, these last couple of years working with Anita and K have changed my life. Because I now feel compassion for myself and all my parts because I have had it modelled to me by them I want to nurture myself now rather than punish myself. For the longest time I have looked for a home in other people and now, through being loved and cared for I am starting to find a home in myself. I know there’s still a load of work to do, the young parts still need what they need from Anita, but I do feel optimistic that I am a lot closer to a healthy state than I have ever been before. More and more frequently I can find the resources within myself to start to soothe the young parts that are so upset and lost.
The end of the ED (if there is ever a truly an end) has been a steady, slow, barely perceptible bit by bit change in me and how I think about myself. The body work with K has made me so conscious of my body’s reactions and nervous system that I simply can’t not eat at least three meals a day. I register my hunger and I feed myself where before I didn’t ‘feel’ hungry and then if I did feel it, I’d resist it. Over time I have learnt to tune into my body, and I give it what it wants- sometimes that’s a load of fruit and other times it lots of cake…I just intuitively eat what I fancy when I fancy it. I also realise that I am nurturing my adult body, but in taking care of the basic needs to eat I am nourishing that hungry baby and the other small children inside, too.
And this doesn’t just extend to food. I am now, more than ever in tune with what I need emotionally, and I do what I can to meet those needs. I wrote recently about taking a day off to try and regroup, sometimes I don’t try and force ‘adult me’ into carrying on, and if there’s time, I might grab a teddy and watch a kids’ movie when the young parts are massively activated…there’s all kinds of things I do. What I guess I am trying to say is that I don’t run from myself anymore, I try and look at what’s going on and figure out what the need behind it is and if possible, do something to meet it.
But back to the eating disorder stuff – or the food and body bit. Of course, stopping unhealthy eating habits – or lack of eating habits, has resulted in a significant weight gain. I no longer fit into the clothes I’ve had since I was eighteen, and I am not a size six or eight anymore but then I am nearly 40 and have had two kids so that’s perfectly reasonable! Perhaps the hardest thing about moving on from the ED was ‘growing out’ of clothes. I can’t wedge my arse into my wardrobe anymore and that was a bit triggering but it wasn’t enough for me to want to ‘do’ anything about it. Instead of slimming down, I bought some size ten clothes instead and they fit comfortably. Eating what I want when I want has led to my body sitting at a solid 54kg for months – which for my height 5ft 7 is perfect for me. I never thought this could happen. I used to live in fear of 48kg and now…here I am.
Omg this is massive. If you’ve made it to the end with me – kudos to you. As I said at the beginning this was more of me needing to close the book than write a new chapter…and I think I have done that. It’s taken a long time, it’s been a massive struggle, but I am so fucking proud of myself to be where I am today. And I hope, if anyone reading this is experiencing a similar struggle that they can see that it doesn’t have to remain the same and things can change.
When I received that final text from Em on Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago, the initial reaction was one of panic, like the rug had been pulled out from under my feet but then I went numb almost immediately afterwards. In the moment, I knew that I couldn’t let myself feel the full weight of what was in the message, not when my family were outside waiting for me to come back to join them and be ‘Fun Mummy’.
Somehow, I managed to keep my mask on for the duration of the afternoon but it was difficult, and I could feel the young parts inside screaming, ‘She’s really gone GONE. Why doesn’t she care? What’s wrong with me?’ Everything was disintegrating on the inside so how I held it together on the outside I have no idea – years of practise, I guess.
However, by the evening I was really struggling. When I am tired, I find that my younger parts are much closer to the surface anyway, so given what had pinged on my phone earlier in the day I decided that the only viable option was to take myself off to bed early, wrap myself up in my weighted blanket, and grab my teddy (yes, totally trying to soothe the inner child parts).
Once I had attended to the young parts that were falling through the abyss, I somehow had the presence of mind to try and get some support put in place because I knew I was on a downward spiral.
Had I not taken myself up to bed and put myself in a ‘safe place’ I would almost certainly have opted to self-harm in the bathroom… and I promised myself that I would NEVER go back down that route no matter what happens. No matter how bad things feel (and they felt desperate) I refuse to physically hurt myself anymore. The eating side of things is still up for debate because I find it harder to not restrict food when things feel bad but I seem to be doing ok not with cutting and burning myself which is… a…MIRACLE!!
My daughter asked about a scar on my wrist, the other day, when I was reading her a story – I’ve got quite a lockdown tan going on and so it is more noticeable than usual. The scar came from a ‘not entirely accidental’ episode with a boiling hot baking tray a couple years ago when I was in a terrible place with the attachment stuff. I told her it had been an accident and that I had got burned when I was getting something out the oven and that you have to be really careful with hot things. I felt shit lying – not that I was going to tell an eight-year-old the reality- but I don’t want to do this to myself anymore and I know there are better options for me now.
I am clearer than ever in my mind that self-harm is not going to be my go-to coping strategy and I will not let what has happened with Em make me harm myself. It doesn’t solve anything – not really. The Inner Critic might think that it’s the only sensible option, after all, I am a worthless loser who has brought this whole situation on myself. A paid for therapist can’t even tolerate me and is so repulsed by my parasitic behaviour that she’s shut the door on any further communication, so why bother believing that I am deserving of love and care?
There is another voice in there, she’s quiet but she’s definitely there and it’s a little girl, it’s Eleven I think, saying, ‘Please stop hurting us’. And because I seem to have a slightly more strengthened Adult Self now, I feel a bit more compassionate towards myself and all those little ones inside who I was repelled by.
I couldn’t get far enough away from their need for the longest time, the shame and embarrassment were big but there was also some disgust in there. I couldn’t bear to go near the pain, to have to really acknowledge it as my own felt like it would break me.
Then it changed a bit, and I wanted Em to look after those young part and love them, to help me carry the burden of it, but she was insistent that I had to do it myself. But I couldn’t, not at that point.
In recent months, both A and K have demonstrated time and again, care and compassion for those parts, they’ve modelled a kind of mothering that I’ve never experienced, and it’s like my brain has gone, ‘ Wait! What? Hang on. These parts aren’t scary, disgusting and too much after all? And actually, two people that I respect and value a lot, care for me not despite them, but because of them?? – whoa – revelation? Maybe I can take a better look at these parts and look maybe take a step towards them too?’ And it’s a bit tentative but it’s something.
Because a real sense of love and compassion has been extended towards those needy younger parts recently, I have instantly felt a settling in my system. I’m starting to see that I should not punish myself for these difficult feelings but try and channel whatever it is that A and K do for myself. I guess I am trying really hard to internalise their care. It’s not easy, though, it’s like accidentally sticking your car in reverse when you’re hurtling along in top gear at 80mph but I think with time I’ll get there.
I don’t need to attack myself for reacting so strongly to something that really isn’t my fault. My young parts were too much for Em but that doesn’t mean that I am too much for everyone and that’s a game changer. Not getting clouded by the negative experience in that relationship (even if it does replicate the original mother wound) and seeing it as ‘everyone’ when it was just ‘her’ is important. It’s a move a bit from the child’s experience of feeling responsible for everything that happens because it is too unbearable to think that parents might actually just be a bit fucking shit. Therefore, if we blame ourselves for the situation it somehow makes it more palatable because we can mould and change ourselves because we can’t change the other. It’s a survival strategy it’s just not fit for purpose now.
So, whilst I am not completely out of the woods – not by a long way – I can keep going and take life minute by minute and hour by hour until the pain recedes a little bit. I can commit to doing that even when things feel impossible. And my god, something that’s starting to trickle down into my consciousness is that self-care is not selfish! About Friggin’ time!! Maybe, just maybe, I am worth a bit of TLC and maybe it’s not being self-indulgent to listen to my inner voice and try and meet some of my needs! Feeding my body and nurturing myself is reasonable…honestly, I know it’s like ‘well duh’ but I really have struggled to self-care because I haven’t felt worthy of care and I haven’t had it modelled to me…and yet now, with K and A who are modelling it, I’m like ‘ahhh that’s how you do it!’
Anyway, that was a long ramble but basically what self-care looked like in that moment on Sunday evening was reaching out to Anita and asking for a longer session!…
I have therapy with Anita on Monday and Friday and so, fortunately, I knew my session was coming up the next morning. I just needed to sleep and survive the next few hours of internal chaos and pain. If I’d been beating around the bush a bit for the previous few weeks then I knew that there was no choice but to upfront and direct about exactly what had happened with Em and how it was making me feel. I was going to have to shelve the shame and embarrassment and let her see the mess I had created for myself.
Sessions with Anita are an hour long and I can’t explain how much better that has felt to me than the 50 minutes I used to have with Em. Part of it, of course, will be that I don’t lose half a session being dysregulated and dissociating but, equally, I feel like I have a good block of time with Anita which automatically sets me off on a much better footing. A 50-minute session always felt like there was a rush against the clock. It always took ages to settle down and get into the work and I could mentally feel the time ticking away which would panic the young parts who so desperately needed to be seen but took so long to come out.
It was usually 11 o clock (half an hour in) or even 11:10 (only ten minutes left of the session) before I might really talk about what was bothering me because it took that long to connect and feel anywhere close to safe enough to let stuff out. Sometimes, though, that sense of running out of time would mean I never even got started and that would then mean utter carnage in the time between sessions. It was crap!
Having a full hour means I start the session feeling calmer because I know I have time and so not only do I get to the work sooner because I am more settled to begin with, but if I do have a long and meandering ramble before I start to really open up there’s often still half an hour or more left of the session which means there’s always time to dig into the work. I don’t think I could go back to a 50-minute session now. I knew I needed more than an hour to deal with the fallout of Em’s message though!!
The nice thing about reaching out to Anita for this kind of thing is that I don’t get that instant rush of shame or fear the moment I hit send on a message. I know she will look at my text and I know that it’s ok to have contacted her and if she can accommodate me, she will.
I didn’t elaborate on why I was asking for more time, just asked if we might do a longer session, and she replied later in the evening and said that I’m the first client of the day and although she has a client after me we could start earlier in the morning if I wanted and asked how when I wanted to start. I decided to ask for an extra half an hour to make it a 90-minute session because I had walked into a fiery hell again and she said that was fine and said that she was sorry to hear that I was in such a horrible place.
I like how responsive she is and how genuine she feels. Like she said early on, she has to be her most authentic self in the therapy with people like me because we see through any bullshit. That’s not to say she is big on self-disclosure or anything, it’s just that she is aware that it’s hard for people like me to trust and so she has to be especially present and connected. I think she said something about relational depth, actually. And I can feel it. I can feel her in the room with me (when we are in the room!) – basically I don’t feel left or abandoned which means I feel safe enough to talk.
I struggled to sleep on Sunday night, turning over EVERYTHING that had happened between Em and I with the termination but was glad, at least, that I had someone safe to talk to the next day. In the morning I woke up and knew that it was going to be hard to get going with what I really needed to say to Anita. How do you start a session with, ‘I’ve exchanged messages with Em and she’s basically broken my heart again and I feel like a fucking idiot’… actually, I suppose that would be one way in!
About half an hour before the session I decided that I would give Anita the heads up so that she was armed with info if for whatever reason I couldn’t talk, or shut down, or dissociated or whatever.
I sent this:
So, this is why today needs to be longer. You know how it all disintegrated inside after finally writing about the hell that happened at Christmas/New Year and linking it to The Velveteen Rabbit on my blog a couple of weeks ago? Well, because I am a moron, that doesn’t ever learn, last Sunday I sent the link to it to Em and asked if she might read it because I felt like I needed her to know about it and hear just how brutal what happened has felt. Part of me felt relief that I had sent it and part of me felt like I’d opened myself up to being hurt because she’d likely ignore it.
By Friday everything that had been stirred up in the week had settled and I felt pretty ok. And then she responded that afternoon telling me she’d read the blog and that she understood how painful the ending had been. It threw me through a loop. I asked if we could talk – not to resume the therapy but just to put this to bed properly because the way it all ended was so awful. And then yesterday this came through which in part is fine but then in part is totally not.
I then forwarded the text from Em and waited for my session.
I was nervous as I waited for the video call but felt at least that Anita knew what was coming. When the screen went live I could see straight away that she was trying really hard to use her expression and body language to feel open and warm. She asked me how I was and I basically said I felt shit and she said she could really see why and that she was sorry. I moaned on about the message and wondered whether I was overreacting. She emphatically told me that I wasn’t and that what has happened has been utterly horrific and I deserved better from someone who is meant to care.
The session was really helpful and connecting. I used the whole 90 minutes and it was brilliant. I really dived into this stuff. No holding back. And it was great. I mean it was fucking painful and hard but great because I really feel like Anita is holding my hand through this, she challenges me when I attack myself and really reframes things for me. We spoke a lot about my mum and drew lots of parallels between my relationship with my mum and what it’s been like with Em. I said it feels like a bit of a cruel irony that I landed up in the consulting room of someone that is more emotionally withholding than my own mother! But that it makes sense that I stayed as long as I did because it was familiar and part of me felt like that’s all I deserved.
The other thing that has really settled me is that Anita doesn’t bat an eyelid when I say how I feel about Em. She is not freaked out by what I say. She doesn’t appear to be thinking, ‘oh fuck I have a complete disaster sitting in front of me’ and she says she can work with this – me. Rather than pathologizing my feelings she normalises them and contextualises them and that somehow makes it all feel more palatable and manageable. When the session finished, she asked me how I was, I said ‘fine, but tired’ and she agreed it had been a big session. She told me to take care and that if I needed her in the week then to reach out.
I had a pretty good week, settled, but then on the Thursday the fog moved in from the horizon again. I had a bad dream about Em… and then I was going through my notebooks from last year (whyyyy???) and came across the picture of me and Em I had drawn where she is tangled in barbed wire. I had said something about it to Anita when we first started working together, saying that I felt like I couldn’t get close to Em. I text A this:
The ‘everything is ok’ and ‘I know it’s not me’ and ‘I’m angry rather than blaming myself’ thing has come crashing down again to be replaced by the ‘I’m untouchable, unlovable, and forgettable’ narrative. I’m so over this feeling of being cut off and isolated because of Coronavirus. I think it’s such a big problem largely because it’s tapping into that feeling of being untouchable and unlovable (feeling contaminated/toxic in some way) – and whilst I get it’s the same for everyone (the social distancing) – I’m not sure everyone has this core wound so maybe the manage it a bit better. They don’t feel like there’s something wrong with them that makes people stay away. It’s not just feeling lonely but actually it feels like abandonment and rejection. I did this drawing last year – perhaps we can look at it together tomorrow?
A few minutes later she text me back this – (she’s dyslexic so look past the errors!):
What a contrast to the interaction with Em. After years of sterile texts or being totally ignored getting a short but warm message back feels really holding. I really feel like she gets how to communicate with people with C-PTSD and understands that we’re not cut from quite the same cloth as other people and need a slightly different kind of interaction. Reassurance doesn’t feed an insatiable addiction – it really settles the system and I can go about my day. I feel like I can hold her in mind and like something is slowly starting to shift.
Another thing I really like about Anita, and it’s going to sound daft, is that she often uses emojis in her messages. For some reason, seeing a smiley face, a laughing face or a sad face or whatever it might be really feels connecting. I don’t know if it’s something about her seeming more human and less like a robot, or whether it somehow connects with the young parts who understand pictures better than words, but I really appreciate it. But that emoji on the text was… perfect… I feel like she gets it, sees me, and can interact with me in a way that my parts need right now… and it feels so healing.
I genuinely think I have found a therapist who is a good fit for me, who will be able to help me deal with the deep rooted stuff. As she said in our very first session – ‘if you imagine yourself and being like an egg, you have your shell which you show the outside world, you let Em in and you’ve been working in the white rationalising and understanding your story and trauma, but you know you need to really get into the yolk where all the pain is and it needs healing on a deeper level, on a felt level and it requires care and love and a deeper kind of relationship to do that…
The fact that I am fragmented and have parts is not new news to me or my therapist, or, I guess, anyone that reads this blog. I noticed/became aware of distinct parts of myself split into different ages in the Christmas therapy break of 2016. As we all know by now, I don’t do especially well with therapy breaks and basically the system came online for me then as the feelings of attachment were activated and simultaneously the ache of feeling abandoned and sort of rejected sent me over the edge. Fun times!
All the young parts suffered massive separation anxiety and had a huge meltdown that holiday because they couldn’t see my therapist (shudder, the shame!). My teen part really struggled and after a couple of weeks of little ones literally screaming in her ear (that’s what happens, I can hear the screaming of a small child inside) and at the same time the ageless dementing mother-fucker the Inner Critic systematically sucking anything good from her and replacing it with fear and feelings of inadequacy, she had asked for a double session with Em when the break ended.
We learnt, then, that Em doesn’t do double sessions and that was enough to tip my teen part over the edge. She has asked for help from professionals before and been sent away, her pain not taken seriously, and this ‘no’ from someone who she was just about feeling like she could trust was enough to send her into hiding and instead resort to her well-worn paths and coping strategies: cutting and burning herself and not eating.
It was a really difficult break for sure and confusing as hell for me. I felt fully bonkers. Like, really, WTAF is all this about?!
I returned from the break feeling shattered and scared. It took a few weeks to talk to my therapist about anything much and there was A LOT of silence before I could begin to trust her again and let her in. I realise now, but didn’t then, that it takes time for the various parts to feel safe enough to talk to her and sometimes if one is holding out, often the teen, who is under duress from the Inner Critic to ‘keep quiet you fucking loser, she doesn’t care and you’re embarrassing yourself’ or words to that effect it can shut the whole system down.
I have written quite bit over the last few months about how regularly I dissociate both in and out of my therapy sessions. It’s been a big, not problem exactly, but issue in the last year or so. I’ve felt frustrated and sad that my mind and body so readily do a runner from my feelings and my therapist when big emotions start coming up.
My friend and I joke about our letterbox sized ‘windows of tolerance’ in therapy. Sometimes I’m ok for a bit when my adult turns up and can talk, catch up on the day-to-day stuff and then once I settle down into the space and the young parts come to the front lately it has felt like a switch flicks inside and off I go, sucked into a vacuum, dark tunnel, huge grey space…the list goes on and on.
Anyway, I think I have written about it a bit before but can’t remember, which is kind of ironic because this next bit is actually talking about memory – or rather amnesia. I have noticed that recently there are periods in my sessions where I cannot even remember what I have just said. I have to check in with my therapist and frequently say things like ‘did I just say that a minute ago?’ to which she responds no and has to give me a brief recap of where we have got to because I literally haven’t got a fucking clue about what’s been going on! It’s not great!
My therapist commented the other day about how it feels like we almost have to start afresh every session and build up trust and safety – it doesn’t seem to carry over from session to session. I’ve said this before, that sometimes it feels like I lose all the good stuff during the week and have to work out if she is safe over and over again. It’s not really surprising, there’s some massively hypervigilant parts inside and an epic gatekeeper that needing convincing that she’s safe, but it’s more than that, it’s almost like I can’t remember that she even knows me, that I have shared big stuff with her, that I have told her about the parts, that I have told her that I love her….you know all that embarrassing stuff. So every time a young part comes online there is a fear of being rejected….they don’t remember that she’s never yet shamed me and she knows who they are!
It’s bloody hard work, for us both. She earns her money, for sure!
So, anyway, it goes without saying that there has been a bit of a block for the last few months in sessions. I have been struggling. It’s been frustrating. I have even considered leaving therapy and starting again with a new therapist. I haven’t wanted to and I am glad I haven’t given up. I am glad that I am a doggedly persistent person. I know that a lot of what has kept me going back to session week in week out to often only come away feeling like shit and then struggling all week is my very strong attachment to my therapist – the love basically. I am glad that there has been enough of a belief that things can and will improve and that whatever has been happening is ‘part of the work’. I am pleased that I didn’t cut and run because things have massively freed up and the therapy feels energised if not a little fucking terrifying again. Basically the block and stagnation has finally shifted and we are back in the zone.
Vulnerability is on and eeek…
What has caused this shift? I don’t know. Things always shift in the end, I suppose given enough time. We’ve been working together for such a long time now that I have confidence that these things blow out in the end. There was something though, that made a difference the other day. I’ve mentioned that I haven’t had much time to blog lately. I am so busy all the time that I just don’t get time to write (hence this 6am writing now) but the other night I wanted to write and got out the laptop. I’ve been having problems with WordPress lately and so rather than typing into the page direct I decided I would type the post in my old Word document where I used to write a kind of journal after my therapy sessions and then copy and paste what I had written into here.
I was really tired and soon realised that I didn’t have the energy to write anything but something caught my eye on the page: 246 pages – 171804 words. …. fuck… my therapy journal was long. I decided to scroll back to the top and start reading. Oh my fucking god. CRINGE. It was basically an unfiltered version of this kind of stuff but written as though I was talking to my therapist. Oh god!
As I was reading I couldn’t actually believe what was there. So much stuff. SO MANY FEELINGS…and not only that SO MUCH STUFF THAT I HAVE TAKEN TO THERAPY AND READ OUT!!! I hadn’t forgotten….but I kind of had. Like, shit a brick, this woman knows all this about me. FUUCCCKKK. She’s been with me through all kinds of embarrassing stuff – why can’t I remember that???
It’s not like I haven’t been vulnerable, written stuff, shared it or whatever more recently – I’ve sent a fair few emails and pictures this year (!). But this old stuff was a bit different. It had a different quality to it. I think part of it, the change from then to now was that I was feeling all these things and it was killing me outside session, and I was bringing it to session, but kind of going ‘look this is what’s happening for me’ from my adult state but not able to talk properly about it. I could tell her what was going on but I couldn’t allow myself to feel it in the room and unpick it. I guess it was a bit like giving a presentation but not then answering any questions from the floor afterwards.
What’s been happening more lately is I haven’t had the words, the sign posts, the content but I have been feeling everything in the room with her. I’ve let the emotion in. I have got in touch with my body: the shaking, the numbness, the dizziness, the buzzing, the fear, the ache, the nausea, the headaches…all of that stuff. I’ve let her see me without armour even if the words haven’t been there to help (or deflect). There, in a weird way, has been more trust and connection in allowing her to see me like that than by taking in 2000 words of pain on the page to simply show her.
Anyway, having read all this stuff last weekend, I went into session on Monday and felt incredibly exposed. It was as though the lights had gone on in the room and I felt naked. Obviously from her side, nothing at all had changed but for me, well, I wanted to hide. I eventually managed to tell Em how I felt and how utterly mortified I felt remembering that she knows as much as she does.
She was incredibly validating and caring. She spoke about the parts, to the parts, and how she sees things and how she feels like it’s probably time to work explicitly with the parts more again and keep them front of mind – that they all have a place in therapy. That she has felt the shift into something different too and that all this takes time. That when you have had trauma from day one it’s not surprising that it takes a long time to heal.
I love her.
Anyway, there is lots more to write about this week in therapy, but for now, I am going to attach below one part of what I read last weekend that sent me over the edge…a time I brought more explicitly the parts to therapy in a massive letter.
How on earth had I forgotten this??!! Hyperventilate:
I’ve been feeling really anxious these last few days. I’ve been struggling with sleep (although when I do manage to sleep I am having really vivid dreams). I can’t concentrate, I’m cold, and my body aches. I feel so sad, insecure and overwhelmed. This emotional and physical response following the session on Monday has really surprised me – I didn’t expect to feel this way at all.
Given how hard I struggle with therapy breaks (you do know about that right?!), I think it would be natural to assume that being told I didn’t have to manage another one right off the back of the break we’ve just had would be positive. Little Me was absolutely delighted to hear that we would get to see you again in a week rather than two and I think, in the moment, The Teen was probably happy too, although she would never let on if she was. So to feel so unsettled right now is confusing for me.
This coming bank holiday session was an unexpected gift and Adult Me naïvely assumed, therefore, that this week was going to be a breeze. I thought that the younger parts of myself that so often get disruptive between sessions and on breaks would feel secureenough to simply shut the fuck up and give me some peace for a bit because, frankly, I have enough on my mind without them acting out at the moment! I believed that things would be easier to manage and time would fly by in comparison to how the last month has been. How wrong I was! All of my preparations and coping strategies for the breaks over April and May haven’t held firm at all, they have completely disintegrated, even just a few days into this ‘normal’ week.
I don’t know exactly what’s happening right now. I’m still trying to get my head round it properly as I begin to come out of the fog of feeling like the only safe place to be is under the duvet. I suppose the one thing I have always been conscious of, and the thing that often gets in the way of the therapy, is feeling distanced and disconnected from you and me shutting down as a result. I have really wanted to change that but it’s meant a complete shift in my approach and attitude. It felt risky and was hugely anxiety-provoking to bring the card into session and start to talk about how I felt about the break and our relationship last week. It was a risk that paid off, though, because it turned out to be largely positive session and went a great deal better than I had imagined.
Being honest and vulnerable with you last Monday provided an opportunity for a far more connecting experience than I could have anticipated. This is good, a definite step in the right direction, but it’s also thrown in a curve ball. I guess because I feel more connected, what’s happened is that I miss you more- or rather Little Me. does. The Teen is sulking somewhere because she thinks it’s all too good to be true. Adult Me doesn’t really know how I feel yet.
Since the dream in February (which I still haven’t talked about but I suppose we ought to at some point) The Teen had steadily been unpicking threads from the rope that we’ve been making together in session. Whatever positive work we had done since that dream, and there was plenty, was not actually adding any additional strength to the rope because she had been dismantling it when we weren’t looking. Note to self: it’s a really really bad idea to sabotage your own rope when there is a good chance that you might be left hanging off a ledge and need it to hold you.
Before last week’s session I had been worried. I really thought that it would take weeks and weeks to repair the damage that I’d done to my sense of connection and trust in you in the weeks leading into, and during, the break. I wasn’t even really sure that I wanted to make repairs – there were certainly occasions over Easter where I was pretty convinced that I was done with therapy or, at least, The Teen was shouting loudly enough to have some impact.
The relief I felt seeing you on Monday and how good it felt to reconnect after the break has, unfortunately, triggered a massive sense of panic (rather than security) in those younger parts of me. Each one is reacting very differently to the situation and so there is a huge amount of inner conflict going on right now. Little Me is inconsolable and screaming: ‘Please please PLEASE come back – please don’t leave me again – where are you? I miss you. I love you. I am frightened’. Well, she would be saying that if she could actually speak, but she is so little that she doesn’t have the words yet. I know that is what she feels, though, and the anxiety about how she feels is locked in her body. She is terrified that you’ve gone for good this time and have left her because she was finally too much for you.
Adult Me keeps telling Little Me that it’s not long until Monday and that it’s going to be ok (although I know I am not convincing, or in any way reassuring, because I am not sure I really believe what I am saying). She is so sad. She won’t listen to me. She doesn’t believe that you are coming back or that you’d ever want to return now. Part of the problem is that she doesn’t understand time: one week might as well be a year as far as she is concerned. All she knows is you’re not here. If she can’t see you then you don’t exist other than to fuel her feelings of loss and abandonment. I don’t know how to prove you’re not gone when you aren’t around but I need to figure out something because it’s really hard navigating this.
Little Me absolutely wants to be close to you. She doesn’t understand why she can’t hug you or why you won’t hold her when she is in so much distress. I keep explaining that therapy doesn’t work like that and it doesn’t mean that you don’t care or recognise how hard things are for her. The thing is, she’s only little and all she sees is another mother who won’t touch her. She can’t work out what she keeps doing that makes people reject her. She thinks that the therapeutic relationship confirms that there is something wrong with her and that she is ultimately untouchable, unlovable, and forgettable. That hurts her- all of us – and is a theme that keeps coming into my dreams.
The Teen, on the other hand, is furious at what I did last week. I think she likes you, but is still really wary of you. She hates feeling things because her experience is that feelings lead to pain that she can’t cope with. She is absolutely raging that I have let my guard down with you because she thinks by opening up I am not protecting her anymore and have abandoned her.
Apparently, somewhere along the line, I promised her that I would never put her in a position where she could be hurt again. She is pissed off with me because I might have done something that will eventually devastate her. She is absolutely adamant that it’s all going to blow up in our face and so her contribution to this week is voicing an incredibly strong urge to self-harm. She really wants to punish me. Fortunately, for once, I recognise that this is not coming from Adult Me. I absolutely don’t want to injure myself and am currently just about holding onto the fact that I have a choice about whether or not I allow myself to be dictated to by The Teen.
Sometimes The Teen hates Little Me because she is so needy and vocal about how she feels and takes my attention a lot of the time. I think deep down she knows that it’s not really Little Me’s fault because she’s only very small. The Teenager despises Adult Me, though, because I can’t seem to soothe Little Me and The Teen remembers what it was like to be Little Me. before she learned to shut everything off. She knows exactly how lost and sad Little Me feels when she is crying out for someone to love her and there is no one there to hear her.
I am meant to be the adult now, the parent in all of this and make it better for both of them but I don’t seem to have a clue how to parent either one of them. The Teenager feels let down. She feels like I don’t look after her or try hard enough to understand her, and she thinks it’s only when I run out of energy and patience that she gets heard. What she doesn’t realise though, is that she is always present in me just in the way that Little Me. is. I do understand her but she is so damaging that sometimes I just don’t want to listen.
Adult Me is really tired, fed up, and overwhelmed right now. I just wish, for once, that things would be a bit easier and that I didn’t have to be so strong all the time – or at least ‘pretend’ that I am strong. I am beginning to feel a bit more compassionate towards Little Me and The Teenager – or maybe I realise they just aren’t going to go away unless I do something. So perhaps now is the time to let them out in therapy rather than disowning them both.
I think part of the reason the weeks are so tough between sessions is – because I am mental – because these parts of myself are frequently incensed because they know I have been silencing them and denying their existence when actually it is their ‘stuff’ that has caused most of the problems, their ‘stuff’ that needs to be heard and worked through. I’m not completely sure what all their ‘stuff’ is but I suppose I won’t really find out if I don’t ask them.
Please know that I feel a huge amount of anxiety as I consciously bring these other parts of me, that for so long I have gagged, into therapy now. I’m pretty sure that Little Me and The Teenager have been sitting on my shoulders in full view (at least from where you are sitting) for a long time, but I was convinced they were hidden away. Adult Me is making the choice to let you in now against the desperate pleas of The Teenager to reconsider, because I think it’s time to try something new.
So – that’s really how it feels at the moment and as embarrassing MORTIFYING as it is, I think it’s good to have properly connected with some of those feelings and where/who exactly they are coming from. I guess the challenge now is to feel the feelings when they come up rather than ignore or intellectualise them.
I woke up today and realised that there was another part of me waiting for me to acknowledge her. It was Eleven. ‘Why have you forgotten to tell her about me?’ she asked quietly. I didn’t know what to say but I felt bad that I had neglected to mention her here. Eleven is easy to forget, though, I suppose because she is such a good girl and she doesn’t cause me any real trouble. I think she is essentially the foundation of my core operating system and so maybe it’s not so much that she is forgotten but that she is so big a part of me that I don’t even notice her anymore. Sometimes she feels completely invisible.
Eleven is exactly that, she is eleven years old and she has been through lots of changes. Eleven spent a long time silently watching events unfold, trying to not get in the way, not to cause any bother to anyone, to be helpful- all in the hope that if she was good and tried hard enough then maybe everything would be ok, things would settle down and the fighting would stop. She doesn’t understand that no matter how brilliantly she behaves, or how well she does at school, she can’t change what’s going on with her parents. She loves them, though, so she keeps trying to be the best she can be because maybe that’ll be enough to hold everyone together.
Eleven hates conflict. It scares her and so she avoids it at all costs. She spends a lot of time hiding under her bed in the dark being very quiet and hoping that the fighting will stop soon. Sometimes she finds she can’t avoid conflict and that she’s stuck right in the firing line. One day everything got too much for her. She couldn’t bear the screaming and the violence any longer. She was frightened, really terrified when mum starting physically attacking dad in the car while he was driving home from a day out. She’d been screaming at him for a good while first before she started hitting him. She broke his tooth that day. Had mum forgotten she was there too? Dad kept begging her to stop. Eleven felt trapped and powerless. The moment the car stopped she got out and she ran away as fast as she could. Dad tried to chase after her but she was quick and disappeared. That’s the day everything changed. Dad finally left mum. He wasn’t prepared to keep hurting Eleven or himself any longer.
Eleven moved lots that year: three houses with dad and two with mum. She was literally all over the place but kept going as if nothing significant had happened. Kids are resilient, or at least that’s what people say. I think they are wrong. I think they bury things until they have the tools to be able to cope – and maybe that day never comes. Eleven had to leave all her friends and moved school twice. No one knew how disrupted she was because she always manages so well. She never showed that she was sad about that fact that her family had fallen apart, and that everything was changing, partly because she didn’t really feel in touch with emotions anymore, which was fine by her. She hated feeling sick all the time but at least there was no more shouting, for a while, until it got re-directed at her later – but then I don’t suppose that was aimed at Eleven, that was where The Teenager came in.
Life for Eleven was just something that ‘happened to her’, she didn’t really have a choice in what happened or where she was from one day to the next and just accepted it. I think that’s where I finally lost sight of what my own needs were and lost touch with my emotions – of course this disconnect didn’t happen overnight, it had been steadily happening for years. It seemed that what was important to be able function effectively was to create as little resistance as possible. It was being a perfectionist and doing everything well whilst at the same time staying under the radar at home and trying to keep everyone else happy.
Fortunately,bright and does really well in school without very much effort (she puts a lot of pressure on herself though and never feels good enough), she is athletic and is on every sports team, people seem to really like her and she is popular. There’s a problem, though, she’s beginning to feel like an outsider, and doesn’t know why. From other people’s perspective she is a confident little girl who is ‘so grown up for her age – like a little adult’. She is self-reliant, amenable, and really easy to be around.
I don’t know really how Eleven feels about you. I think she is probably less concerned about how she feels about you and more concerned about how you see her, that is if you even see her at all, because as I said, she feels invisible most of the time and has merged with Adult Me.
*Sunday morning dream. Feels relevant after what I wrote yesterday.
I (Adult Me) am in Eleven’s bedroom in [place], sitting on the floor in the dark, hiding under the bed in the space between the wall and the wardrobe (It is a cabin bed). I feel ill, my heart is pounding and my chest is fluttering. My body is shaking, I can’t breathe and I feel like I am going to pass out. It feels like I am dying but maybe it’s a panic attack. I don’t know what to do. I feel like I can’t move from where I am. I decide to call you on the phone. When you answer you sound different. Distant. Annoyed, maybe. You ask me if I am ok and I say, ‘no, not really’. You ask me what’s wrong and I can’t speak. There is a long, awkward silence. Then you start talking but I can’t follow anything that you are saying because I am so overwhelmed by what is going on with my body. I am crying but you don’t know that. I hear you say that you’ll see me on Monday. I start to talk to you. I can’t remember anything that I was saying – but it felt significant. I expect you to say something when I finish but there is silence. I realise that you have actually already put the phone down and haven’t heard anything I’ve said. I’m not sure what to do and so I just stay under the bed crying and shaking with my knees curled into my chest.
* So yeah! That happened last year after Easter break. Since then there’s been a bunch more little ones/parts come up but I am still staggered that this is ‘out there’ and I didn’t ‘know’ until last weekend.
So after two days of barely holding it together with rubber bands and chewing gum (I had no idea this blog name would end up being so apt!) today, at 11am, I found myself lying face down in my bed holding a pillow over my head convulsively crying about… yeah…you guessed it…feeling like my therapist doesn’t care about me after a pretty rubbish Skype session on Monday and a complete failure to acknowledge a message I have sent her since.
Believe me, there is a part of me that is seriously rolling my eyes and sighing in exasperation right now as if to say ‘for goodness sake, not this AGAIN’ as I type this. Like really, this cannot be happening again can it? But it really is. And you’ve probably noticed by now – I tell it how it is…even if ‘how it is’ is fucking ridiculous and embarrassing. I tell it how it is in the here and now, as I experience it, even if in two weeks (or possibly even two days) I feel differently and can see things through an alternative, more rational lens.
I’m very aware that right now my left brain is offline and my right brain (where all the emotions are) is lit up like Piccadilly Circus. It’s probably not a great time to write a blog post but it’s either put it on the page here or start firing off upset/angry/needy messages to my therapist and that’s not a very good idea is it?
And so here I am again, trying to find a way through the difficult feelings in order that I don’t completely fall apart over the next two weeks. Does anyone have any glue to hold all my pieces together?… I am worried that the bands and gum aren’t up to the job this time around and am in danger of smashing into a million pieces.
I wrote recently about shame having just then started reading Patricia A. DeYoung’s book ‘Understanding And Treating Chronic Shame’. I’m no stranger to shame and having now read the whole thing, I have to say, the book is fantastic. I highly recommend it. There’s heaps of really useful and interesting stuff in it and I plan to take it to my therapist and go ‘Here! Look at this. This is what’s happening!!’ (that is, of course, if one of the other parts doesn’t go to town with the text messages!)
Young suggests that shame is essentially caused by being ‘a self disintegrating in relation to a dysregulating other’. I mentioned in that post that I was concerned that I had somehow got caught up in a dynamic where my therapist was taking on the role of ‘dysregulating other’.
And. Yep. Skype session proved that point on Monday! More on that in a bit.
Basically, when a child is in distress it looks for connection and containment from the other to help regulate the distress. If all goes well the interaction soothes the child and the distress ebbs away. However, if the interaction between the child and other in some way misses the mark, is not attuned, a child is left feeling uncontained and out of control. It tries to place meaning on what is going on. Basically, the child ends up blaming itself for the failure of the other to contain and connect.
It makes sense that when we need something really badly from an important person and they fail to meet that need often enough that we start to feel like there’s something wrong with us. Instead of blaming them we find fault in ourselves. It must be something we are doing wrong. Our need is too much. Feelings are bad. And so the shame cycle begins. We see need as ‘bad’ and try and hide it.
So, we amble through life pretty successfully – well, you know, smoke and mirrors and all that! To most people I seem like a highly self-sufficient, high achiever, who ‘doesn’t need anyone or anything’ and if you’d asked me before therapy ‘I can do everything on my own and by myself. In fact other people are a pain and I prefer to be alone’. But now I see that actually I am not made of Teflon so far as emotions go and scarily: I have needs.
Unfortunately, I seem hard-wired to feel bad about having feelings or needs and so in therapy it’s become a complete disaster zone because I have some very strong feelings towards my therapist and needs that I wish she could (although frustratingly know she can’t/won’t) meet.
I’ve noticed for a while now that I can go from ‘fairly normal’ to ‘away with the dissociative fairies’ in a matter of seconds in my therapy sessions. My therapist keeps asking for us to think about the process and notice what happens to make me dissociate and hide. For a long time I haven’t been really conscious of it, all I know is someone young comes online and then I am gone.
It’s like a switch gets flipped.
Because it’s been happening more and more lately I have been consciously trying to pay attention to the feelings that crop up and then what happens when I retreat inside myself. It probably won’t come as any surprise to you when I say it has its roots in shame. It happens so quickly and I am trying to work out how to stop it happening or how to get back from that dissociated, lonely space when it does.
Monday’s session was a complete shit pile but it kind of gave me some answers.
I am not stupid, I know that sessions after breaks are often hard. It takes time to reconnect (I’ve been here before. I know what I’m like!). We’d not seen each other for three weeks. It wasn’t face to face it was Skype. And following the virtual stepping stone in the river crossing (therapy break) there is now another two weeks until a face to face. It was always going to be a challenge to connect with my therapist. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to but I have so many defences… ugh.
I know that I was certainly trying to keep buoyant and surface level because I knew I would be on my own again for two more weeks the moment the call was over and I couldn’t face the possibility of falling headfirst in the pit of attachment pain for the next few weeks if I let her see the vulnerable stuff and it not go well. Ironically, yet again I failed to notice that if I don’t let her in I feel shit too!!!
Part of me didn’t want her to know how much I have missed her and wanted to shut her out a bit. But of course it didn’t last because as the session went on, surface level chatting, I could feel things stirring. I could feel that time was ticking away and I desperately wanted to connect, or at least part of me did.
I asked my therapist what the time was and it was 11am. I thought ‘oh that’s ok time to talk‘ and then the moment the thought went through my mind I realised I didn’t know how to get what I needed from her. It didn’t feel like she was receptive or attuned to me. I desperately wanted her to come closer to me, to hold my hand, hug me, and tell me that it’s all ok…but that will never happen.
The need feels huge.
The young parts screamed inside, burst into tears, realising that she was there but couldn’t see them and that we were going to be left until September…
…and then I was gone…
The shame of having those needy feelings and the pain that shame generates is utterly unbearable and that’s when I dissociate. I can’t cope with the overwhelming sense of longing and need for connection and feeling like I can’t get it, that I am not worthy of it, that she doesn’t want to connect. I feel like there is something wrong with me.
Like I say this whole process happens in a matter of seconds.
The rest of the session was hard. I think I just sat there making the odd ‘uh huh’ ‘yeah’ ‘no’ as she continued to talk to me about what I had initially started talking about (filler!). I felt like we were on completely different pages and was kind of glad when I hung up the call – not because I wanted to be in the throes of a further two week break- because it was so fucking excruciating feeling the minutes tick away and feeling like I didn’t know the person sitting opposite me. She probably felt the same way.
I felt awful the moment the screen went black and took myself straight into the kitchen to cut myself. That’s how bad it felt in that moment. Sheer desperation. I didn’t self-harm, though. I took a minute and thought about why I wanted to hurt myself. It was the need, the shame, the feeling unseen…and also very clearly having a sense of ‘what’s going on’ when it goes to shit in a session.
So instead of cutting I made this:
and then sent it to my therapist as a text along with a note to ‘File under ‘unread’. The teen part was feeling sarcastic. Like, ‘fuck it, I’m sending you stuff to try and help me and you won’t read it just like everything else, so shove it why don’t you?!’
Clearly, she hasn’t replied…and I feel rubbish about it. Not just because she hasn’t replied but because I feel so utterly overwhelmed by where I am in therapy and the therapeutic relationship and the break.
It just all feels kind of futile right now.
I don’t feel like I am moving forward. I just feel like I am stuck in trauma.
The teen parts are definitely wounded and feel like texting my therapist to tell her ‘we’re done, because what’s the fucking point in all this if almost every time we interact I am left feeling inadequate and like what I want/need from you is too much. I feel physically sick when I think about how much I care for you and contrast that with how easy it is for you to leave me/ignore me when I am struggling’.
[Ok. So that’s the work isn’t? it]
I have no idea how the next couple of weeks is going to go. I know I will cycle through heaps of emotional states. I expect I will go to my session on the 3rd because the young parts are so desperate and attached that they’d have me swim through shark-infested waters to see her. But, ugh, I don’t know. I don’t know how much longer I can keep putting myself through this.
I don’t know why I am so surprised that the Inner Critic has decided that now is a good time to show up and get super vocal in my head. I mean, let’s face it, the Easter therapy break starts on Monday and any time there is some kind of emotional upset or disruption on the cards it never fails to jump in quick and take control in the only way it knows how: by attacking me. It’s not as though this hasn’t happened before; it’s an established pattern. Sigh.
So maybe ‘surprised’ isn’t quite the right word to describe how I feel about the rapid return to power of my least favourite part. Maybe ‘disappointed’ is a more accurate reflection of how it feels to have that nagging voice taking over my brain again. Don’t get me wrong, the Inner Critic never truly goes away; it’s always there inside me waiting, as if on standby, for whenever things feel difficult. It’s just, lately, I’ve felt as though the adult has been able to manage the taunts from the angry one a little better, and so it’s unfortunate that the centre won’t hold now.
The Critic sees itself as a protector, the best, and feels it does a smashing job in its role; only I recognise, these days, that it feels less and less protective and more and more destructive… and that’s why I am disappointed. I am so aware of my coping strategies now; not only do I have awareness of them, importantly I know what triggers a descent into not eating and/or self harm.
I have tried really hard to keep in my adult head and talk with the critical voice, listen to what it has to say, and try and accept it. I try and tell it that whilst I understand what it’s saying, I’ve got this, and we don’t need to go on the attack anymore. That’s all well and good most of the time. If things are reasonably settled for me (ha! Remind when that was again?!), the Critic keeps a reasonably low profile. Rather than running the show full time, like it used to, these days it just takes on some consultancy work here and there – generally when the big shit starts to fly!
What constitutes ‘big shit’?: anything that feeds the attachment trauma stuff – so right now that is the therapy break; anything that makes me doubt myself and my ability – recently it was returning to tutoring; anything that leaves me feeling negatively judged – ummm not sure about this; oh, and CONFLICT, let’s not forget conflict!
So here’s the pattern that is repeating itself AGAIN now- it’s all about the therapy break and insecurity in the therapeutic relationship:
The Child parts feel anxious and scared. They fear a real abandonment and annihilation as my therapist is about to go away. They scream and scream incessantly and it feels difficult. For a period of time adult me can cope with this because it’s not a lot different to how it is between sessions. It takes a shit tonne of energy and I feel powerless to make things better for the little ones as the reality of a protracted amount of time without therapy hits home. I can make it through a week but I can’t do four weeks on my own.
The Adult reaches saturation point and a thick fog of depression sets in making day-to-day living incredibly difficult. It’s barely functioning, bare minimum, and totally draining. Basically it’s hell in my head. I feel hopeless. I feel pathetic that after so much therapy that I can’t find more resources to cope with things in a helpful way. I want to contain the child parts but they just don’t want me. They don’t even know who I am.
TheInner Critic is alerted to what’s happening. It knows that I can’t wallow in self pity forever; I have to get on with life. I have to function. So it wades in. It will not allow a return to the needy child state because that will only result in more depression and repeating the cycle. It threatens them and tries to shut them down.
So the Critic, in its infinite wisdom takes charge and here’s how:
The Inner Critic is bit like one of those army boot camp guys you see on TV. It has a fixed plan and it’ll shout at me to ‘motivate’ me to do what it wants. I think the intention is good: ‘you need to get up and start participating’; it is a protector part, after all. The problem lies in how the ‘participation’ is achieved. It’s not good. The Critic whilst well-meaning at the start has become a bit of a sadist:
‘Look at you! For god’s sake, it’s pathetic. It’s no wonder you always get left. Needy. Whining. Woe is me! No one is interested in that. Grow up. For fuck’s sake! I go away for a few months and look at you! What did you do? Eat the entire McDonald’s menu every day? Fuck. It’s disgusting. How can you let yourself get like that? Don’t you ever learn?…’
Essentially it gives me a right bollocking, tells me I am worthless, and bullies me into action. That action isn’t simply ‘get up and do your best’ or ‘be gentle with yourself. It’s tough now but you’ve got this. Breathe and take it minute by minute’. If only it were that simple! Oh no. The price I pay to be able to function, to find the necessary energy to get on with life, is by attacking my body in various ways.
Yep. It’s mental. I won’t lie. It fills me with shame and embarrassment.
I really don’t feel good sitting here typing about this when I am now 35 years old. (I’ve written before about whether it is actually possible to really recover from self-harming behaviours). Sure, in my late teens and early twenties it wasn’t great, either, but it felt marginally more acceptable to be in the throes of an eating disorder and battling against the desire self-harm back then. Somehow it feels way less acceptable to be a proper adult with kids and still dealing (or not dealing) with this bullshit. I should, surely, by now have found a way out. And that’s the thing. I feel shit and then I beat myself up for it over and over. It’s a vicious cycle.
In my last post I said how I was in stuck in a depressed state and also suffering with being ill. I have a stinking cold and feel rotten – even now. The sensible thing to do would have been to go back to bed after dropping the kids at preschool and school on Thursday. It would have been a good idea to try and rest and recharge a bit. Recover!- you know, do some of that self-care business that I am utterly pants at.
The thing is, when my head is in that horrid, bleak, depressed place I just want to get away from it. I feel so utterly awful and defeated that I can’t bear it. Lying in bed trying to rest with panicked thoughts about the month that lies ahead as well as feeling the pressure to have ‘a good connecting last therapy session on Monday’ would’ve only sent me into an anxiety attack and I really didn’t want that to happen again after what happened at Christmas. I am so conscious of not having some huge meltdown and then creating some disaster (rupture) with my therapist as we head into the break.
So I didn’t sleep or relax on Thursday, instead I allowed (did I? doesn’t feel like ‘allowing’), ok, maybe succumbed to the demands of the Critic in exchange for some functionality – some energy – an escape.
I had looked in the mirror in the morning- as you do- and had seen nothing but faults. Everything was wrong. I felt fat. And fat is not something I handle well especially when I am going to be in a swimsuit on holiday in two months time. Stupidly, I proceeded to get on the scales (whhhhyyyy???) and as suspected I have put on weight in the last week (birthday cake and chocolates hasn’t helped!)- I already knew this. I can feel it when I put my clothes on. I can see the cover of fat over my tummy that is never usually there.
There it was on the scales, confirmation that I’d ‘properly let myself go’: 47.6kg. Not acceptable (in my mind at least). I am 168cm which is neither short nor tall – it’s just average and so I really shouldn’t be concerned about my weight at all yet… but anyone with a history like mine knows what feels ok and what doesn’t. I am in the ‘what doesn’t’ bit now. Whilst the BMI calculator tells me I should be aiming for a weight somewhere between 52.2kg-70.8kg (70.8kg Really?!) I know that it’s never going to happen. I freak out at 48kg…ok, I clearly freak out at 47.6kg too.
The sad thing is, I can eat well, normally even, for quite a period of time, I dare to believe that I am over the eating disorder… but before long a switch flips in my head and I stop eating right. I can’t sustain it – especially when I feel emotionally on the brink. On Thursday, despite the streaming cold, I got on my treadmill to tackle my body. Yeah, I know…
I haven’t done any running since that pigging chest infection took hold last September (finally gone!) – but despite that severe break in exercise it didn’t stop me hitting a straight 50 minutes work out – oh and on an empty stomach. I was doing intervals of 8 minutes running, then walking for 4, and repeating – not really very much when I have previously been used to solid running outdoors for 10km+ every other day but it’s clearly not sensible when poorly. I (adult) know this but I wasn’t available yesterday morning. I was gagged and bound in the corner along with all the vulnerable parts.
My friend and I were chatting on Whatsapp whilst I was on the run – and in the end she refused to talk to me until I got off the treadmill. She could see the Critic was front and centre – and she doesn’t like it (neither do I)! I did stop running in the end and had a shower but had it not been for my friend coaching me through what was going on I would’ve stayed there another hour, easily.
Unsurprisingly, my body crashed shortly after and I spent an hour lying on my bed. Idiot. I’m not sure where I am going with this really. It’s so hard to think about it when I am caught up in it. I know that not eating and over exercising is not a good combination. I know that under-nutrition ends up negatively effecting my mental health. I know I become obsessive. I withdraw. I feel suicidal. I get it. I have been here a million times before.
I know, too, that this is all a reaction to the upcoming therapy break. I feel mortified that that is the case. I hate that I can’t handle my emotions better than this. I can’t stand the overwhelming feelings that come up around therapy breaks. I mean it’s pretty dire in the week between sessions but compared with how it feels right now that separation anxiety is just about manageable. But when there’s a break it feels like I am thrown slap bang back in the thick of the trauma of childhood: I am always left. I don’t want to be left. No one is there. No one cares. I am alone. I am scared. I need an adult and no one ever comes. …. and that’s how it feels.
Don’t get me wrong. I do totally understand I am a grown up now. I am not that child anymore. I have resources and a level of resilience that little girl didn’t have. I need to work harder at remembering that and keying into my strengths… but I do try. I try hard every day to keep on keeping on. I don’t know what the hell else to do now. And despite having a high-functioning adult, the little girl is still there inside me. For her having the new attachment figure disappear activates all the feelings that she suppressed back then when mum disappeared in the week.
I really want to be able accept those feelings and nurture that little girl but sometimes her fear and emotional pain feel too much and so because I can’t settle or soothe her, I suppress her in the only way I know how. It’s the only way I know how to survive.
In addition to this, having had my dad go abroad on a month long holiday and die there when I was 25, there’s a very real adult anxiety operating simultaneously around breaks. Sure my mum would go away in the week when I was a kid and it would feel like an impossibly long amount of time between Sunday and Friday; but my dad went on holiday and he came back as a box of ashes alongside his backpack and diving gear. I can’t even begin to explain what that is like. I am terrified that my therapist will go away and never come back.
Not eating, exercising to the extreme, and self-harming are not the answer to this problem, I know that, but right now it’s all I’ve got.
I guess I need to really talk to my therapist on Monday about this stuff. We’ve been discussing these kind of behaviours in the last month or so but I haven’t told her that it’s an active thing – because it hasn’t been until now. It was a problem at Christmas but once we repaired the rupture it’s been largely ok. I’ve had the odd couple of days here and there where I have restricted what I eat when I’ve felt stressed but generally it’s been pretty good – although of course I am not the right ‘healthy’ weight so I guess you could say it’s not all that good.
I find it much easier to tell her about not eating and self-harming when I am not engaged in it. When I’m not eating and being self-destructive in the here and now I hide and I push her away. That’s the Critic’s input. It’s all about secrecy and keeping people out. But I need to reach out of this place, don’t I? I know that my therapist can’t fix this for me. She won’t be able to make it stop. But I hope that if I can find the courage to expose this, and let her see me when I am actually suffering, she might at least be able to make me feel less alone with it and maybe reassure me that she will come back.
I hope that on Monday we will be able to talk to all the parts that are struggling, the Critic included, and find some way of helping me get through the next four weeks because right now I can’t see how it’s going to happen.
I’ve just read your diary. Please don’t be mad. Wait and hear me out a minute. I know how angry you were when you woke up to find dad reading your diary on holiday in Mexico and how violated you felt back then; but please know that I am not deliberately prying into your private life or being nosy. I’m just trying to understand you better. And honestly, I am good at keeping secrets, in fact I’ve been holding onto yours for the last seventeen years of my life. I’m not here to judge you and I promise that you can trust me.
We haven’t met before. Well, I know all about you (more than you realise) but I don’t think you are aware that I even exist. I’ve been watching you stuck in your own private hell for a long, long time now. It’s like Groundhog Day for you in the year 2000 isn’t it?
Too often I have turned away from you when I should have reached out to you. I have ignored your pain and your suffering because I haven’t known how to help you. Sometimes I have wondered if you even want to be helped.
I don’t know if you know it, but sometimes you take over my body in the present (which, by the way, is 2018 and means you’re often roaming around a stretch-marked 34 year old bod’ – yeah I know, it’s not great – and to think you hate your body now is incredible!) and react to my current day issues as though you are being hurt again in the way that Mum and H hurt you. It’s like my life triggers flashbacks from your life and you (and I) are reliving the pain over and over again.
I can feel your anxiety and fear coursing through my veins. I can’t speak and I go numb. I shake. I feel your frustration. I haven’t know what to do and neither have you. I’ll admit that I have felt overwhelmed by your feelings. I know you have things to say but I also know that you are very very frightened. I understand how desperately alone you feel. It broke my heart reading your account of the pain you feel inside. I know how hard it is. I remember it well.
You feel like you have no one to listen to you and that no one cares. It feels so difficult to trust anyone. You fear getting close to people and letting them in because you think you’re going to be rejected or abandoned or ridiculed – and you don’t think you can survive it again. This year has been the hardest one yet, for you, and I am not at all surprised that you just want to run away from everything and anyone that might hurt you.
So you isolate yourself in order to avoid being hurt but you can’t be alone forever. In your heart, deep in your soul you know you need love and connection. We all do. I know it feels risky seeking that out. I know you fear annihilation. I get how scary it feels to consider opening up again after what’s happened. You are still heartbroken but the only way your heart is going to mend is through letting someone heal it with you; currently you have a handful of shattered pieces and no glue.
There is no shame in wanting to be loved. You needn’t be embarrassed for feeling love either.
You probably won’t believe me (who can blame you after all you’ve been through); but if you can find a way to trust me, I think that I am the person that you have been waiting for. I can help you, listen to you, and love you…if you’ll let me. I really want to make things better for you – for both of us- because right now your pain is my pain and it’s crippling the pair of us.
I’m so sorry, so very sorry that circumstances have made you feel like you are not worthy of love and care. How things have been with mum are not a reflection on you. None of how she has been with you is your fault. You are not unlovable or untouchable even if that’s how you’ve been made to feel over the years.
How things have been for you growing up isn’t normal. I think you know that but really acknowledging that is devastating. You have suffered emotional abuse and neglect at the hands of the person that should have loved you and protected you the most. I assure you that there is absolutely nothing you could have done that would have changed how things have been for you.
I know that’s hard to hear, but I think you need to hear it and try and take this in. You carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. You feel responsible for everything. And darling, some things are simply beyond your control. No matter how good you are or how much you achieve, there are some things you cannot change or control. You can only be responsible for you and not for the actions of anyone else.
What I will say, though, is this: it won’t be long until you are able to start getting away from some of the horrid stuff. Next year you will leave home and go to university, you’ll fall in love (really!), and things will start to get better. I promise you it won’t always feel this bleak. Until then, though, I’m afraid you’re just going to have to hold on tight and keep putting one foot in front of the other like you always have. I know it feels impossible sometimes.
Despite everything that has happened you are still here. You are a fighter. I know there have times when you have been very close to the edge. I know there are days you have thought about driving your car into a wall or overdosing or paddling your surfboard out to sea and never coming back. I felt the pain of each cut you made, and every burn on your skin. I know how you starve yourself. I see how regularly you purge everything from your system. You are punishing yourself over and over again for something that is simply not your fault. I don’t hate you. Why do you hate yourself?
You’ve lost sense of your value – or maybe, more accurately, you have never felt valued or loved. You feel worthless. Don’t get me wrong, I know why you feel this way. Steady and systematic emotional abuse does this to people. Now you feel like you are acting your way through life. You have little idea of who you are because you’ve spent so long trying to be what everyone else wants you to be that you really don’t know how to be yourself. You’ve struggled so hard against yourself for the last couple of years not wanting to disappoint anyone but inside you were dying.
I am so unbelievably proud of you. Coming out was massive. I know right now it feels like the worst thing you’ve ever done and you feel more lonely than ever; but those people that walked away from you, called you names, and bullied you were not your friends. I am telling you that even though it was scary and is still having a huge impact on your day-to-day you have made a huge leap forward into living authentically as who you really are. I know it takes a huge amount of courage to stand up and speak your truth but six months from now, you’ll be surrounded by people who love and accept you for exactly who you are and those people will become lifelong friends – chosen family.
I also want to say thank you. What for? For looking after the little ones. You are a force to be reckoned with, for sure! They are very lucky to have you as a protector. I know it’s difficult living your life when you continually have distraught children demanding your attention. It is not your job to hold them. It was never your job to look after them, but in the absence of an adult to care for them, you’ve done a brilliant job.
I have children (a boy and a girl). I see a lot of you in them because I remember you as a child, too. You were innocent and vibrant and full of life. You had so much love to give and then something happened and you started holding everything inside and that light you exuded steadily faded until it is now barely a flickering flame inside you. I know right now you feel bereft because, to you, coming out equates to you never having children and you so desperately want to be a mum. I’m not a time traveller but I am telling you this – children are going to be part of your future and that flame will burn brightly again in the love you have for your babies.
You are incredibly strong and I recognise just how much effort you put in to surviving. Sometimes the best you can hope for is just to keep on keeping on. You’ve done amazingly. Don’t roll your eyes! I mean it. The fact that in the face of so much pain you have still somehow held it together, passed your exams, can drive, and are alive is testament to your spirit. You are so driven and this is a good thing. It’ll take you a long way in life. But do you know what? You need to learn to relax too.
You need to let your hair down every now and again and have fun. You are so serious – so grown up- because you’ve had to be. As I said earlier, I am here now, for you and for the little ones – if you want me to be. So I am giving you permission – please relax and start to heal. The adult you all need/ed is here now. I’m not super woman but I promise you that if I can be there for you when it starts to feel scary then I am going to be there – and I am not going anywhere.
Things aren’t going to feel better overnight, I think we both know that. If things are to improve then we are going to need to work together on this. And so there’s something I need to ask you to do for me. I know you know about the therapist that I see each week because sometimes you hijack my session and stamp your feet a bit; or sometimes sit there silently raging and planning how you’re going to hurt yourself when you get the chance. Between you and the little ones there’s not a great deal of space for me in the sessions. I am, in no way, complaining about this, but I was wondering something.
I know you really like therapist but it feels risky to have feelings for her. You are attached to her just like the young ones are, ok perhaps in a slightly different way, but you do love her. And that’s ok. You want to be known by her. The idea of her really seeing you is both appealing and terrifying. Sometimes you let her see you, the real you, and other times you shut her out. When you feel close to her the alarm bells ring and you instantly back away.
Look, I’ve known this woman for six years now and I’ve been in therapy with her for three. I trust her but it’s not me that needs to talk. I’m ok. Do you think that maybe you might tell her how things are for you? Or if you can’t, do you think maybe I could tell her for you?
You’ve been holding onto this pain for such a long time, and I have been sitting on your secrets for as long as you’ve been alive and I think it’s time for us to move on.
I really didn’t expect to be blogging about a rupture in therapy here today. I thought I’d be saying something about almost surviving the therapy break and being nervous about my session on Monday, but also being amazingly glad I’d be seeing my therapist in person soon. That was the plan, anyway. But that isn’t going to happen because, as things stand right now, I will not be going to therapy on Monday, or possibly to my current therapist ever again.
I know. Spare the drama, right? I’m sure some people read that and think ‘put your toys back in the pram and get over it’ but I also know that there a few of you, especially those that have issues with attachment and feelings about abandonment and rejection, who will read this post and wince.
This isn’t going to be a neat, well-constructed post because right now my brain is scrambled and the various younger parts of me are in meltdown…actually, the adult part is devastated too. I literally feel like I have been annihilated and that’s not an exaggeration. God I wish it was!
In fairness now is probably not a good time to write, I haven’t had chance to process what’s happened yet, I feel raw and activated, but actually right now my options are: sit here and type or do something horrible to myself – and so this surely has to be the better option.
My last post talked a lot about how I had been feeling depressed and generally not quite right. I have been struggling really hard this week to keep my head above water. I’ve been plagued by therapy dreams where my therapist has rejected me in one way or another, or simply not cared about me and I have woken up feeling heartbroken.
Yes, I know. They are dreams not reality, but the dreams I’m having tap into the insecurities I feel in the therapeutic relationship and end up intensifying the worry and anxiety I feel when I am awake.
I can’t count how many times I have said this now, but I really struggle when I am away from my therapist. No matter how I try I can’t maintain a sense of connection with her when I can’t see her it seems almost impossible. It is bad managing from week to week but it is always really very challenging during breaks.
All the fears I have about being left or abandoned come up, but equally there is a real anxiety that something bad has happened to her. I can’t seem to get my head to a place that can accept that she is out there, safe, and that the connection is still there. It is weird because this isn’t a problem that I experience in other relationships.
I don’t freak out if I don’t see or hear from my friends for months at a time…but then I guess this might be because I don’t have this kind of complicated attachment to other people in my life and therefore the triggers that I have from being a child don’t play out anywhere else because the child parts of me aren’t active with friends. I don’t know.
Those of you that follow this blog will know that we’ve talked about trying to create some kind of transitional object (pebbles/note) but not got anywhere with it…and now I understand why. I know, too, that I ought to trust my intuition. I see now that my reluctance to engage getting a message written on the pebbles because I was scared that she actually wouldn’t be willing to write anything that would soothe me is right. She isn’t willing to say anything to confirm that there is a connection in the relationship or that it is any way important.
These last few days my anxiety about the therapeutic relationship reached a whole new level of hell. I felt so ill that I couldn’t function. When I say it took me three hours to load and reload the dishwasher and that I didn’t shower or get dressed until two in the afternoon on Tuesday (and that was only because I had to run an errand) because I just couldn’t face doing anything it might give an impression of just how debilitated I felt. I felt utterly crippled with anxiety.
I felt sick to my core, at times was physically shaking, and felt like a little boat of a very choppy sea. No matter what I did to try and ground myself or channel myself into a place where things felt better I just couldn’t succeed. I knew on Tuesday when I was standing in the kitchen with a massive knife against my wrist that something had to give. I knew that not eating wasn’t doing me any good and that I needed to get out of this headspace. I needed to try and get the adult back online, settle the child parts, and power down the critic.
So after three days of debating with myself what I should do: reach out to my therapist or continue down the path of self-destruction, I thought the most sensible option was to simply tell her how it was, ask for reassurance and then hopefully just settle this sick feeling down and then go discuss it all on Monday and try and work out why it has felt so terrible this break.
I know that we don’t text or email generally unless there is something about scheduling. Most of the time that feels ok-ish but sometimes it feels really persecutory. When I feel like I have reached crisis point (which actually isn’t very often) the no between session contact thing is really difficult for me. Because there is this boundary in place, it means that I can’t just reach out when I need to and ask to get a need met, instead I spend a great deal of time beating myself up for having the need for reassurance which makes it all much worse. I’ve always struggled to ask for help when I need it and so this feels impossible.
I beat myself up for breaking her rules. I beat myself up for not being able to manage on my own. I beat myself up because I know that it’s annoying her. I basically drive myself mad and all the while the anxieties I have about making contact exacerbate the concerns and worries I already have: i.e she really doesn’t care or want to know when things are bad and that I am an inconvenience, and whist she can’t openly say it that frankly she wishes I would just go away.
So, if I do pluck up the courage to reach out I end up feeling sick and guilty that I have done it. It feels utterly impossible no matter what I do. I don’t know why it should feel so bad to express a need for someone but it does.
When I was writing my text yesterday, I had debated sending the link to my post Why do I always dream about my therapist when we are on a therapy break? in my message as this is where the spiralling into anxiety began, but in the end I decided against that in favour of taking it in and talking about it on Monday. I didn’t want to do a big mind dump on her, I simply wanted to check in and re-establish the sense of connection in order to settle myself down until Monday’s session.
Or at least I thought it would be.
Only things don’t seem to work like that.
In the past if have reached out I haven’t always been clear about what my need is and so when she doesn’t respond part of me feels upset but part of me thinks that maybe I am expecting too much of her to read between the lines of something fairly innocuous. So I endeavoured to be straightforward this time. Tell it like it is but don’t drone on!
I didn’t want to go on about the self-harm, or the slip into anorexia, how much I missed her, or how very bad it has felt recently because I didn’t want to make the text about trying to do the therapy outside the room. I get why it’s important to do the work in the room. I just wanted a sticking plaster in order that the wound didn’t get any deeper or infected before our face-to-face session next week.
So at 11am I sent this:
‘I started having vivid dreams about therapy on Boxing Day. I wrote about it when it started happening because I thought it would help, but the dreams are happening every time I sleep and I just feel completely overwhelmed now. No amount of deep breathing, visualisation, distraction, or sitting with it is helping. It’s escalated to a crippling level of anxiety now and it’s making me not even want to come back on Monday. The critical part of me is delighting in how bad it feels. It’s taken three days of battling with myself to send this:
Please can you tell me that things are still ok.’
I forwarded the message to a friend, because having sent the text I immediately felt sick and started shaking. I was worrying about whether it was too much and too needy, and she assured me that it was fine and that she’d sent similar messages in the past to her therapist and all that would probably happen would be that she’d reply to say, ‘she’s there and you’re both ok and it will feel better’, which is exactly what I had hoped for.
So after anxiously checking my phone for an hour I left it upstairs and went and tried to get on with the things I needed to do. In that time I was thinking about what it might feel like if she didn’t reply to me, which is what I expected, and how that feeling of rejection would probably make me rage. I went upstairs at 2pm and there was a message from my therapist:
‘From my understanding of what you are saying, I think that it is very common for people to have dreams about therapy and for people to have strong feelings about such dreams and I hope that you will be able to continue with the therapy and come to your session on Monday.’
I won’t lie. I was a bit taken aback by the message. Perhaps it’s just me but it felt so distant and cold. I sat with it for an hour because I thought maybe on rereading it later my feelings would change I’d be able to find some kind of sense of connection in there and sense that she actually cared…
I messaged my friend this because I was still trying to look on the bright side:
I wondered then whether what I had sent was too much about the dreams and not enough about stating that I needed a sense of her being there and things being ok. Perhaps it’d got lost in text? So after some thought I sent this at 3:15pm:
Yeah. I get therapy dreams are normal and can evoke strong feelings. What I’m trying to say is I feel like you are gone and that there is no connection, and now this is being reinforced every time I sleep which is just horrendous. What I wanted was for you to tell me that it is just anxiety, not based in reality, and that actually things are ok still and that you’re still there.
I felt a bit eeeeeeek sending it but thought, if I don’t clearly communicate my needs then there’s no chance of getting them met. I thought she probably wouldn’t reply to the text but a message did come in:
‘Thanks for clarifying. See you on Monday.’
And that’s where I felt like I had been annihilated. Even just typing that I feel a kind of shock in my body and utter confusion in my brain.
I mean what the hell am I meant to feel about that response?
Well. First was utter devastation and then that was quickly followed by:
My gut reaction was to fire off something like ‘Seriously? Fuck it. I’m done’ but I didn’t. Again I waited for a while to see if my initial feelings would settle down or whether I’d go back to the message and read it differently.
At 5:15pm I sent this:
‘Honestly don’t know whether to laugh or cry about that message. I’ll let you know about Monday but right now it just isn’t going to happen. I know you need 48 hours so I’ll let you know by Friday.’
And that’s where it’s been left.
I don’t even really know what to say to her now. I mean where do I go from here? I want to feel like I am overreacting or something because that in some way makes those messages seem less, err, what? Abandoning? I dunno. But I am not entirely sure that I can convince myself that I am making more of it than there is.
It’s not like my therapist isn’t acutely aware of my issues with disorganised attachment, being unable to maintain a sense connection, and the problems that therapy breaks cause especially for the most vulnerable child parts of me- and to not be willing to offer up the most basic amount of reassurance when I reach out feels pretty cruel actually.
I don’t know if I can come back from this.
I’ve spoken to a couple of friends about what’s happened, both are staggered by the exchange, and one suggested that maybe now is the time to find another therapist because repeatedly not getting my needs met or even validated is hurting me A LOT.
The rigid nature of the therapeutic frame doesn’t seem to be helping and there appears to be no flexibility in it. I had just about come to terms with the fact that touch was out of bounds but actually not even getting the most basic level of reassurance when things are about as bad as they get…well, what do I do with that?
I don’t know.
I feel like I was trying to find a better way of coping with difficult feelings. I was trying to get help. It backfired and now I am back to square one. Maybe there’s a reason that blades and starving myself have been so long part of my existence. Maybe deep down what I have always felt to be true is true: I am not worthy of care and I do not matter. On the plus side, I don’t have to worry about the Christmas weight gain now. Stress of the last two days and 2kg has just dropped away. I shouldn’t be pleased about it, but fuck it. I am done.
So, the ‘holding in therapy’ conversation sort of came up on Monday. It was only a matter of time before it made it into the room wasn’t it?
Spoiler alert!: hugs aren’t going to happen in my therapy.
Part of me is like, ‘meh, this is old news! I already knew this, even if we hadn’t actually discussed it’ and another part, actually, several of the little parts of me are so devastated that they think they may die of grief.
Sounds melodramatic doesn’t it? – but it’s how it is. I’m not going to dress it up or downplay how this feels because I just need to let it out in whatever form it comes….which is probably going to be messy just like my mind.
I’ve now had a chance to sleep on all that happened in Monday’s therapy session twice, and to be honest my brain is still all over the place about it.
I wanted to post something yesterday but found I couldn’t write. As I so often say in therapy, ‘I don’t really know what to say’… but there’s also something about not knowing how to formulate my thoughts clearly on the page when I am still trying to work it out.
I’m hoping that today, writing will help process it all a bit.
Anyway, I’ll start at the beginning and work my way up to the end…
Before I even arrived I knew that my session was going to be difficult (again). I have totally come out of the breezy, rational, coping, adult state I have been in for the last couple of weeks and have landed back in ‘shit has hit the fan, child parts running loose’ state. I guess the emotional bit of me is back in the driver’s seat and the rational bit has done a runner. It’s quite scary really because the current drivers are way too young to hold a licence yet and so it really feels like a bumpy ride right now.
As soon as I sat down in the room I was super aware of my body. It felt like a strong electric current was passing through it. I felt shaky and buzzing. It was horrendous. It’s so unnerving walking into such a calm, quiet space only to be fully confronted with my body’s reality: it was neither calm nor quiet.
I am always really aware of the physical sensations of my body when I am in the therapy room. I guess part of it is because, for so long, my therapist has directed my attention towards how my body is feeling in session. I wish I could say, ‘it’s fine, calm, and settled’ rather than the usual, ‘anxious, buzzing, and jumpy’ response.
There were a few problems with the session for me from the outset. Firstly, I had decided that having not really ‘talked’ for a few weeks about anything that was really bugging me, I’d take in my laptop to go through the last blog post I wrote. There was plenty of content to work through and I needed to get some stuff off my chest – or try to, at least.
I didn’t end up taking the blog post into session. Something had happened with my computer in the car and it meant I couldn’t access my blog offline. I wasn’t too phased, I thought it’d be a good opportunity to try and talk and bring that content into session. I could tell her what I was worrying about rather than showing it to her on a screen.
Obviously this sounds straightforward. It should be, shouldn’t it? Talk about the fear of her being gone and how terrifying it all is? Speak about feeling uncontained and being unable to be there fully with her. It would be easy to discuss those things had my brain not emptied the moment I sat down rendering me mute. It happens all the time. Whenever I need to speak about the therapeutic relationship I lose myself and my words go….I dissociate.
This partly why I resorted to taking my writing into sessions around this time last year. I would sit not really talking and feel incredibly frustrated when I knew how much I had to say and how affected by what was happening in therapy I was. I know how ridiculous it sounds, but honestly, my mind loses its ability to speak, the words go. I get caught up in all the feelings I have but I cannot talk about them and vacate the space. It’s kind of a bummer!
My therapist has recognised that part of the problem is that it is my emotional brain that is most dominant when I am like this and not my rational one (where the words reside). She often makes reference to what’s gone on with me as a ‘very early injury’ and so those young parts actually don’t necessarily have the vocabulary to talk it through in the way I would want. When she acknowledges these vulnerable parts of me I seem to disappear. It’s too much. I can’t stay.
For that part of me, being seen is incredibly uncomfortable. It feels so exposed and scared that I just can’t stay with it and with my therapist. And yet, at the same time, those young parts want more than anything to be seen, held, and contained because they never have been before. I didn’t get enough physical or emotional containment as a child but I know I need/ed it. I know that’s where this fucking huge hole in me has come from. It’s agonising, really. I desperately want to feel safe and secure and yet, at the same time, allowing someone close enough to me to be able to feel contained TERRIFIES ME.
She commented on the fact that I have told her, in the past, that she sometimes reminds me of my mum. I agreed but said that it didn’t feel positive and that actually sometimes I feel frightened of her. I loved (note the deliberate past tense) my mum more than anything but she scared me as a child. She was so volatile that I never had a clue when things might kick off. I was always desperate for her care, love and attention and yet so often things would erupt at home that I could never feel relaxed of safe with her.
This is what happens in therapy: I long for closeness and yet am always on guard waiting for something negative to happen because part of me feels it is inevitable. In therapy I fear my therapist’s judgement, mockery, rejection, and abandonment even though she’s never given me real cause to think she would be anything other than kind and empathic.
It is so difficult to have such conflicting feelings. Part of me wants to run to my therapist and part of me wants to run far far away from her. We spoke about how I struggled to trust that I was safe with her, and how it was alien for me to feel and trust in the fact that someone might care or want to know what’s going on for me. She said something about the nervous system and how the brain is wired and that it’s difficult because the body is involved not just the brain. It’s hard to calm my system down.
She spoke about how I have been with my kids and how I try and hold and contain them in order for them to feel secure but that repeatedly hitting the contrast between how I am as a parent vs what I received growing up is incredibly painful and it’s something we are aware of.
And then it happened, the holding and boundaries talk came out of nowhere (well that’s how it felt!). It went something like this:
‘If we can understand it and know that that bit needs to feel contained and held here…and I know that, here, it’s not about physical holding. I know that you are clear about the boundaries, but it has come up in your dreams. You want to be held. It’s understandable because it’s what you needed and it wasn’t around enough back then. It’s ok to feel like that in therapy. You know I have this boundary and won’t cross it, but it’s still the idea about needing to feel a bit safer in this space, emotionally safe. It is important. It’s not the same as physical holding but it’s what we can do here bit by bit and that might feel quite frightening because it’s so alien’
I was a silent for quite some time after that.
As she was speaking I could feel the little parts of me crumble on the floor. It was a sucker punch. I froze and went somewhere else. I ended up where I always go, a huge dark grey space where there is absolutely nothing at all and I am totally alone. Only it’s not me, the 34 year old adult, standing there in the emptiness, it’s a tiny two year old little girl standing there in her nightdress holding a well-loved soft toy rabbit by its ear wondering why she is alone and there is no one there to pick her up and make her feel safe.
My therapist asked me what was going on for me, but it was close to the end of the session and I knew I couldn’t say everything that had just been triggered in me. How could I articulate any of what I felt? Her bringing up ‘the boundary that will not be crossed’ (touch) has made me certain of all the things I have always felt about myself. Having shown her the real me it is clear that there is something wrong: I am unlovable, untouchable, and repellent.
My mum couldn’t bear to touch me or hold me and it’s the same with this ‘therapy mother’. I guess I sort of hoped that it was my mum’s problem and her inability to connect with me but having this conversation on Monday makes it feel like it’s me. I must do something that puts people off. My Inner Critic is having a field day:
‘Why don’t you ever listen to me? I’ve told you time and again that you are a loser. No one loves you. It is you. It’s not your mother that’s the issue. How could she ever have loved you? Just look at you! Pathetic. No one wants to be around neediness. It’s so boring. You are boring and disgusting. Why are you so shocked that your therapist can’t bear to be near you? Why on earth would she want to be? If your own mother can’t even tolerate you then why would she? Your mum was stuck with you through biology, your therapist is blessed that she has no bond to tie you to her. Give it up. I’ll promise I will look after you, as I always have, but stop reaching out for something that you will never get. You are not worthy of love and care. You are nothing.’
Rationally I know that what I have just said there is crazy but that’s what is going on in my head. It’s that voice that encourages me to self-harm or not eat. I’ve run miles every day since Monday (both literally and symbolically) and yet I can’t run away from this no matter how I try. My body aches from distance covered on pretty much zero fuel and yet my brain is no further from how it was on Monday.
I know that I’ve ignored my inner child and the pain it carries for years and years and so perhaps I need to lean into how this feels rather than run away from it? My therapy is really all about trying to deal with my childhood. It’s about trying to give space to how my inner child feels.
How does she feel?
She is devastated beyond words. She is caught up in raw, all encompassing, pain. She literally just wants to curl up and die. She feels hopeless and abandoned: all familiar feelings that I have desperately tried to avoid feeling in the therapeutic relationship. But, of course, this is where we are….it was only a matter of time wasn’t it?
The other day I commented on another blogger’s post about mother issues and said something about how I was able to accept, most of the time, that my mum would never be the mother I needed because she is not that person, but sometimes I put myself out there, hoping for her to be that holding, nurturing person I needed as a child and when she doesn’t fulfil that need (because actually she never has been able to) I am devastated. I think this is what’s playing out in therapy right now.
My adult knows that my therapist is just a therapist, is grateful for her as a therapist, and can handle the constraints and boundaries of the relationship. BUT, and it is a huge BUT, there is the little girl part of me that still holds out hope of there being a chance of mending what is broken inside me. Maybe there is one last chance to fill the hole that was forged so long ago?
The little girl in me desperately needs to be loved and held and contained and is attached to my therapist. Right now the grief I feel is not about my mum, it’s about her. I had transferred that ‘hope’ onto her which has made how I feel about my mum more manageable…but now it’s all caught up with me again and I am grieving two attachment figures at once.
The little girl doesn’t understand that the window for meeting these young needs has gone because she is still alive in me, frozen in time, trapped in this grown up body. She longs to be held both physically and emotionally by the new attachment figure. But as I said in my comment the other day in relation to my mother it takes a long time for hope (of love and holding) to die. But I think I am one step closer to that after Monday. There is no hope now – either from my biological mother or the therapy mother.
I walked out of therapy and immediately wanted to self-harm. The urge was so strong. I was lucky that there is a 45 minute drive home because had I not had that time to decompress I would be a right mess now. I didn’t self-harm but the thoughts are not far away – if I am honest those thoughts are front and centre. It is really all about trying to hang onto myself right now and not go spiralling off any deeper into that attachment pain. It’s not easy.
When all this happened I talked it all through with a friend and she, as usual, had plenty of helpful grounding comments for me. At least part of me understands that this boundary is my therapist’s and for whatever reason it’s something she sticks to. It could be her training and the type of therapy she does that makes touch a no-go area or it could be about her own issues and comfort around physical touch.
I have got to try and hang onto the fact that this is not a reflection on me and that my needs and wanting to be physically held by her aren’t the problem. It’s not like it’s one rule for me and a different one for everyone else (at least I bloody hope that’s the case!). I won’t lie though. This has really hurt me in the place that I try to keep protected.
I know that physical touch is helpful to lots of people in their therapy and so it’s hard knowing that that cannot, and will not ever, be part of my therapy. What I do know about this, though, is that emotional holding is vital in therapy. You can have all the physical holding you want in session but if you aren’t also emotionally held then you don’t cope well outside the room. Hugs are great but only in addition to emotional holding.
Ah, there’s the problem, though…because I don’t feel emotionally held either. FFS!!!! Or rather, I can’t hold onto the sense of feeling emotionally held and contained if I am not in the room with my therapist. It all falls apart and disintegrates when I leave.
I know that the goal is that I should reach a point where I can hold and contain my own emotions but that seems like a long way off right now. I keep trying, though. I had a go at the visualisation things a few times – they categorically do not work for me; I’ve listened to music to try and help feel grounded; hell, I’ve even picked those fucking pebbles from the beach to try and have a transitional type object….and yet none of this is doing anything for me right now because the emotional holding needs to come from the therapeutic relationship and not from brain training! My brain will rewire itself once it has experienced being contained.
It’s really hard because I don’t really know how to move things forward with that. Right now I can barely look at my therapist in sessions and feel like she is a million miles away. Who knew that a couple of metres could feel so huge? I feel so removed and distant from her. I guess that’s maybe why I have been so caught up in seeking physical holding. I don’t know.
I’ve sort of run out of steam here with this and I have to leave for my friend’s funeral now. I know, I could write more and post at a later date but for now, that’s all I have in me. I guess I need to come to terms with lots of loss today.
*I wrote the bulk of this post over the course of the day yesterday. I can totally see how the tone/mood of this post fluctuates as I go through it which highlights to me just how up and down my emotions are at the moment. Ugh. I’m so bored of feeling like I am on an emotional rollercoaster.
Help, I have done it again I have been here many times before Hurt myself again today And the worst part is there’s no one else to blame
Be my friend, hold me Wrap me up, unfold me I am small, I’m needy Warm me up and breathe me
Ouch, I have lost myself again Lost myself and I am nowhere to be found Yeah, I think that I might break Lost myself again and I feel unsafe
(Sia -Breathe Me)
It’s one of ‘those’ days again (although I fear this may not just be a 24 hour thing). You know how it is- you wake up physically exhausted and emotionally…fucked.
Today I feel everything and nothing all at once. Somewhere inside I am overwhelmed and terrified but externally I am NUMB. I am here but I am not here at the same time. I’m both in my body and not in it. Part of me is a spectator and part of me is long gone.
Actually, it reminds me of some of the lines in Romeo’s oxymoronic speech, where he’s out of sorts and lovesick at the beginning of Romeo and Juliet:
O heavy lightness, serious vanity,
Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms!
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health,
Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!
Opposing forces are violently clashing together creating one very uncomfortable conflicted state. I don’t really need to resort to Shakespeare to know that basically I feel like total shit today!
I’ve known it was coming, this… what is it? Depression? Probably. This feeling, place, space, whatever you want to call it, has been lingering just on the edge of my peripheral vision for a few months now, quietly stalking me. I’ve felt its presence but I have been coping, or surviving, or somehow evading it – to an extent. Something like that. I don’t know, really. My brain is so fuzzy….. and yet, oddly, strangely clear. I’m a complete contradiction today which probably won’t make for an easy read. Sorry!
Maybe today’s feeling is simply depression BUT I feel pretty low most of the time and I think ‘depressed’ is essentially my normal. It’s hard to say what this is. This ‘something’ is more, it’s deeper, more saturating somehow … it’s like I’ve been running and running and running for such a long time and today through sheer fatigue and exhaustion I’ve finally tripped and fallen. FLAT. ON. MY. FACE.
I feel like I’m face down in the mud, a thick fog has moved in along with the darkness and I am stone cold and shivering. I am so desperately lost. There’s a part of me wants to be found, picked up and held (probably the child) and a part of me just wants to lie here and give into it – stop fighting against ‘it’ and myself (the exhausted adult). I’m done.
Today it feels like I’ve finally given up hoping that there is someone to rescue me from myself…because there isn’t. There never has been. I’ve got to do it for myself and the little ones inside, but I just haven’t got the first idea how to achieve ‘recovery’ right now. Nothing I do works. I always just teeter along the edge- surviving, desperately clinging on. Part of me is losing hope. Has lost it, maybe. I just cannot do it.
Is this just capital letters DEPRESSION rather than lowercase depression? Is what I am feeling just the bigger, badder version of what I’m used to living with day to day? Is this the one that signals a proper breakdown- again? The entity I am always terrified of meeting after the last collision that sent everything so far off track I never thought I’d find the path back to the road again? I just don’t know. I literally can’t make sense of it right now. All I know is I just feel itand it is horrid. I am scared.
What am I meant to do when it’s like this? Dig even deeper? Keep going? Hang on tight? Hide? Stop? Ask for help?- who from? Who can understand this or help fix it? Who wouldn’t run in the opposite direction if they saw the reality of what I am carrying inside myself?
I know from experience that letting people see even a hint of this stuff doesn’t work out well. It doesn’t suit other people’s agendas. I am not meant to be like this. This is not who I am (apparently). I am the one with the plan. The glue that holds the pieces together. I am reliable. I am solid. I am a safe pair of hands. NOT TODAY I’M NOT.
It is inconvenient when I act like a ‘victim’ and ‘broken‘. Let’s face it, I’ve already put everyone through enough with the cancer diagnosis and treatment….we don’t need another breakdown on top that.
Surely I should be jumping up and down for joy having survived something that could very easily have killed me? Yes, of course I am. But I am so tired now. I have had enough of battling. I am strong but, fuck, I am so exhausted. I have nothing left.
Part of me just wants to reach for a razor blade and cut – to stop feeling and to feel. I will try not to act on that thought. I made a promise to myself in April but right now I ‘have lost myself again and I’m unsafe’. It’s easy to keep promises when things are ok, it’s much harder to keep them when things feel like they are falling apart.
I’ve talked about my internal soundtrack thing a few times in various posts, and about how important music is to me. Well Sia’s Breathe Me (YouTube link at the bottom of this post) is what’s inside today on loop. Strangely, I hadn’t heard it before until yesterday night – I know, I’m very late to the party on this one I think! Sometimes I hear a song and I know it’s one that’s going to stay with me for a long time, not just some passing thing on the radio.
Something about this song, the music and the lyrics, as well as her voice just really resonates with me right now. It basically is how I feel… which is both comforting and terrifying. It’s offering me a sort of outlet and yet, perhaps this is the last thing I should be repeating internally or listening to (although that’s not really how it works, there’s no choice, it just plays in my head regardless). Perhaps I need to try and find something uplifting rather than something that accurately conveys how I feel in this moment?
How the hell did I end up here again?
I had my therapy session yesterday and today is Tuesday which is usually when the therapy hangover starts or, perhaps, the therapy/therapist withdrawal symptoms begin. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised by how I feel right now given how things have been lately post-therapy session….i.e dreadful.
So, to yesterday’s session then! Because I still sound like someone with a serious smoking habit, when I sat down I spoke about how bad I have felt physically in the last week and how ‘tired’ I have been. I spoke about how last Tuesday my lungs had decided to give up and I spent the week wiped out.
My therapist asked how it’d been emotionally, ‘rubbish’ I said. She said it sounded like there’d been a ‘double-whammy’ of difficulty and acknowledged how Tuesdays can be emotionally hard for me anyway… let’s not forget to mention Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday though eh?!
I suppose in all of this dark pit of despair/nothingness/ugh/yuck I need to remember that I have been really unwell for a couple of weeks now and it’s really taken it out of me. Perhaps this emotional flat-lining is feeling so much worse because my physical stores are so depleted. I know I talked in my last post Why does physical illness always go hand in hand with a mental health crash? about how aware I was of my little ones feeling activated, distressed, terrified, emotionally unanchored and totally overcome by it all.
Maybe how I feel now is just an extension of all that that was going on last week? I don’t know. I really struggled to talk about how things had been emotionally last week, in session, yesterday. I could say how physically ill I had been but not how bad things had been in my head. I couldn’t say exactly what the problem was.
I’m guessing my therapist can probably work out that my silences or avoiding her questions have something to do with the vulnerable child parts and the feelings that come up in relation to her,and my adult feeling really exposed, ashamed, and embarrassed about the whole thing. But who knows?
I felt strangely calm in the room yesterday (even though there was a new sofa and a view change). Usually, I am agitated or anxious or some other uncomfortable mixture of feelings and we’ve spent ages trying to work out how to make me feel safe in the room in order for me to be able to talk rather than freeze -hence the visualisation stuff. Ugh.
I think part of the reason I felt more settled yesterday was because I had been down to the beach before the session and picked out some pebbles to write the ‘holding message’ we’re going to work on on. The sea was calm and still and the beach was empty. I would have liked to have stayed longer, actually.
Once I’d decided on the actual ‘therapy pebbles’, I spent some time writing some of my feelings and things I struggle to say in therapy on some other pebbles and then threw them into the sea which was quite cathartic. I’m just hoping they don’t wash back up with the tide! ha!
I guess my beach visit was, in some way, me being proactive about trying to fix the situation that I’d, yet again, found myself in during the week. I can’t go on repeatedly feeling so disconnected and rotten in the week because I can’t hold onto the sense of my therapist being there. I can’t keep hitting that place where I doubt the relationship and then steadily dismantle any sense of security and trust in her because I think she’s gone or that she is going to hurt me. Something has to change before I go completely mad and the little ones destroy me. It sounds dramatic but that is how it feels.
Because I felt ok in the moment, in session, I found it hard to connect with how bad I had felt during the week when I was actually with her in person. I was almost too removed from all that horrible, painful, aching attachment stuff to be able to talk about it…or at least that’s what I thought at the time.
It’s hard to talk about how much you miss someone when they are sitting in the same room with you because you don’t miss them then, do you? It’s also hard to talk about the child’s emotions when you are sitting in adult. I mean, really, I still cringe even writing this. Why does she matter to me so much? How can a relationship that takes up 50 minutes of my week have such a massive impact outside that time?
I feel like such an idiot for getting attached to someone who really couldn’t care less about me. It’s ironic that I have spent my whole life being on guard in order to avoid getting hurt and pouring salt in already gaping wounds, and yet somehow find myself in a situation that mirrors the relationship I have with my mum. The therapeutic relationship stirs up all that pain and anxiety all over again. I know it’s transference. Great. But what do I do with that? The feelings are real and the pain is palpable.
I hate the distance between us because I read it as lack of care, and actually worse, that there is something fundamentally wrong with me that makes my therapist keep her distance. I hate never knowing where I am. I hate feeling insecure. I hate feeling like I am not good enough and that I have no power in the relationship.
Ultimately it doesn’t matter if I fall apart in the week because outside of that 50 minutes she doesn’t want to know, and that’s fine because she is just my therapist. I know that! But in so many ways what is happening feels so damaging, so re-traumatising. I don’t feel like I am repairing I just feel like I am reliving, or re-enacting the pain of the past in the here and now. I’m stuck in it and it’s awful.
Really all I want is to feel safe and secure in the relationship between sessions and have some sense that I am not too much, but that’s not how I feel. When it’s all going off in my head I can’t find a way out of it and it just spirals into something utterly horrendous. All the fear of abandonment stuff and attachment stuff has so much power once it’s in full flow. Sometimes I can feel myself starting to wobble and all I want to do is check in, ‘are we still ok?’ or ‘I feel like you’ve gone, are you still there?’ , get some reassurance before it all gets too bad, and yet I can’t do it. Well, I could but there’s no point because she won’t reply.
I hate being this vulnerable and having that need for reassurance leaves me hating myself and feeling stupid. It’s bad enough to have that need in the first place but not having it acknowledged makes it ten times worse because it tells me that, as I have always suspected, I am too much. It feels so rejecting.
So, perhaps the real issue about not being able to talk about this is not so much about feeling safe or not, or agitated or not, perhaps I just can’t talk discuss these feelings because it’s just too excruciating. I can write about them, hint at them, but I can’t engage in a proper conversation about them because I feel so exposed. I mean it really isn’t easy to lay this stuff out and trust that the other person isn’t going to run away. It feels too much. It’s too intense.
I get that therapists are faced with this kind of thing all the time. You only have to look at the blogging community to see how widespread these issues are! Knowing this doesn’t make my therapy any easier, though! I know I have to find a way of getting this stuff out properly because maybe then it will have less power. Maybe I will feel less pathetic. Maybe things will improve.
I so desperately want to find a way of feeling secure in the therapeutic relationship because I think if I did then maybe the time between sessions wouldn’t be so emotionally fraught. The problem is that I don’t seem to have the password to access ‘secure attachment and emotional intimacy’. I don’t know who has it or how to get hold of it. It’s so frustrating. I don’t know how to make this feel better.
I understand why I feel like I do. I totally get it. I get that developmental trauma and attachment issues often come out like this in therapy. Knowing why I feel like this doesn’t ease the anxiety and hurt I feel, though.
I try so hard to cling onto that bit of me that isn’t a complete emotional wreck, who isn’t caught up in a whirlwind of emotions about someone who, in reality, I know absolutely nothing about, but it’s not always possible because that part is rarely dominant at the moment.
I know I need to help the ones that are in a blind panic and I can’t keep running away for forever but sometimes I just want to be halfway normal in session, just to prove that I am not a complete fucking loser who can’t converse. I don’t want to be needy ALL THE TIME…it’s so grating.
The child parts were absent for most of the session – probably hanging out wherever they had been in the previous week or having a nap. I seriously need to give them a memo about where they need to be on a Monday morning, though. I need to find a way to get those vulnerable parts of me to attend therapy, because essentially they’re who I am there for. I also need to have a word with the censoring Gatekeeper part and tell them to allow the little ones chance to speak when they do actually turn up rather than shutting them down and banishing them to the corner. It’s all so difficult. It all sounds so mental.
My therapist asked who was there in session yesterday. I couldn’t identify it. I still don’t know. All I know is that I was finding it really hard to connect with any of those hard feelings and was really frustrated by it. Who is that?
The child parts eventually made an appearance about 10 minutes from the end of the session (usual pattern- sigh). It was like I had been hit by a truck which is something we had been talking about in the session. I’d said how all of a sudden those overwhelming feelings come crashing in and knock me over. There is no steady slip into overwhelm – it’s WHAM, and then I am overcome and pretty much unable to speak. I get so caught up in the feelings and the images that present themselves to me that I lose sense of time and how long I have been silent for.
My therapist had asked me a question about whether I recognised when this ‘hit by a truck feeling’ happens, i.e is there a common thread that activates the emotion….all of a sudden I felt myself go. I felt completely exposed and little and as though the ground had opened up beneath me and I was in freefall. I sat there in silence…same old same old. I knew I didn’t have time to explain what had just happened.
I eventually returned to myself. I asked what the time was and if I could play a song that we’d spoken about in the previous session before I left.
Listening to the song really helped settle me and calm me down. At the end my therapist asked me what the impact of the song had had on me, i.e was it soothing? I couldn’t really articulate it at the time, but I realise now that sitting with music made me feel like me- whole in some weird way.
It was as though in that moment all the parts of myself came together and were able to just sit in the moment and that was fine. I guess I felt present. There was no need to be anything other than myself, how it was, no front – just me. That’s what music does for me, I think.
So that was yesterday. I took myself off to bed last night and couldn’t sleep. I ended up on the sofa at 1am and lay awake until 4:30am. I could feel that the little ones had moved in fully again and actually they just wanted a cuddle. Then I had this dream:
I arrived at therapy (i.e this coming Monday’s session). I sat down on the sofa and sighed a long, deep sigh and wrapped my arms tightly around myself. ‘Are you ok?’ I looked up briefly to meet my therapist’s gaze and said, ‘No, not really’ I was silent for a while and then asked, ‘Can you sit with me today?’ and then averted my eyes as a wave of nausea and embarrassment flooded my system.
To my surprise she got up out of her chair and came and sat beside me and took my hand. ‘This is really hard for you, isn’t it?’ she said. I nodded and just started sobbing. I told her about how awful the week had been and how close I had come to self-harming. She rolled up my sleeves and traced the lines of my tattoos with her finger. ‘Your protectors have worked, though’ and smiled.
I asked if I could hug her and she agreed. I held on tight and didn’t want to let go. I was still crying but I felt calmer and more contained. I sat talking about what had happened during the week and how I felt. There was a feeling of connection and safety with her and I felt my system settle down. I felt like I was going to drift off to sleep. I was so relaxed.
Suddenly, there was a commotion in the hallway and then it moved outside the house. I got up and turned around to look out the window to see what was going on. There was a private ambulance, it was black, backed onto the driveway and its doors were open.
A paramedic (dressed all in black and wearing a balaclava) was carrying a screaming child out of the house using a fireman’s lift. The child was struggling and fighting against it. The paramedic violently threw the child into the back of the ambulance and went to the front cab leaving the back doors open.
The child was all alone in the dark (it was early evening) , it was terrified and crying. I couldn’t work out what was going on and stood frozen trying to make sense of it. I didn’t know what to do.
As I looked closely at the tiny figure I realised that this child was my three year old son. That’s when I lost it! I was totally filled with rage. At that moment, the ambulance started moving away and my son fell out of the back smashing his tiny body on the metal steps of the ambulance on the way down, and then cracked his head on the drive. Everything was in slow motion.
I ran out the house as quickly as I could to get to my son. I scooped him up in my arms. His head was bleeding and he was unconscious. My therapist and her husband were standing at the front door and stared at me but said nothing. ‘What have you done to him?’ I screamed. ‘Why is he even here with you?’
My child parts are really active and feel scared and lost. Part of me desperately wants to reach out to my therapist and check in but part of me feels like I can’t trust her after that dream. It’s the usual emotional push/pull. Hmmm disorganised attachment you say?!
Is it really as simple as that? Is this really where all this deep-rooted depression stems from- just a basic lack of containment and holding throughout my life? Can it be that not having a reliable caregiver has left me unable to trust in relationships or behave in a normal way? It seems so small and insignificant when written in words but it is massive, isn’t it?
I’m not sure if any of that makes any sense at all.
Musing on counselling-related issues in the UK. I am a counsellor/psychotherapist and a client too. As the blog title suggests, my counselling journey began in the client's seat. For information about my counselling and psychotherapy practice see my website: www.erinstevens.co.uk
holding it together as I journey through therapy - a personal account of what it's like to be in long-term psychotherapy navigating the healing of C-PTSD, childhood trauma and neglect, an eating disorder, self-harming behaviours, as well as giving grief and cancer an occasional nod.