Recovery from self-injurious behaviours (self-harm and anorexia): Can it ever really happen?

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I apologise if this is difficult to read or triggering for anyone. Just to be clear, I am going to be talking about eating disorders and physical self-harm here. If you think that this might upset you or compromise your recovery, please don’t read it.

From personal experience, I know that if I am feeling on shaky ground with regard to looking after myself often reading someone else’s story can get right inside my head. Rather than encouraging me to keep eating or avoid harming because I see the damage it causes for others it somehow does the exact opposite. When I am in a good place, however, I am not impacted in that way. I’m trusting that you’ll make the right decision for you. (Hmmm, looks like my teacher persona wrote that last bit doesn’t it?!)

I have been wondering about something a lot this week in amongst all the other crap that takes up space in my brain and that is: is it possible to make a full recovery from an eating disorder and to stop wanting to use physical self-harm to cope long-term? Do the attacking thoughts and drives to harm oneself ever truly disappear or is the best you can hope for the strength to be able to ignore the voice that tries to persuade you to starve yourself or harm yourself? Can you really silence the Inner Critic for good?

I haven’t really got my thoughts together on it so this is really just thinking out loud.

To be honest, I am not in a great place emotionally/mentally at the moment and so I guess this is why this question has been circling in my head this week especially. The last few months have been hard for me. I have been opening up more and more in my therapy sessions and getting closer and closer to the core wound. Sometimes I have been staring it right in the face and it is total agony. At the same time, it has felt, week on week, as though I have been gradually edging my way closer and closer to a precipice.

This week I feel like I’ve finally reached the drop off and am peering down into the deep, dark, watery abyss where my old companions anorexia and physical self-harm reside. I’ve banished the pair of them to this place many times over the years at those times when I’ve managed to free myself from their shackle-like grips. There have been so many occasions over the years when I have found the inner strength to run screaming as far away from that place as my legs and mind will carry me. I’ve sought solace in activity, distraction, and the thought of ‘please let me make a proper recovery this time. I am going to change’ and managed a period of time where I function almost normally… BUT there is always something that draws me back to them and to this place. No matter how resolved I am to move away from this hellish spot I always seem to find my way here, as though on autopilot.

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As I said, this week it’s felt as though I’ve been metaphorically standing on the edge of the precipice and have seriously been contemplating diving down into the darkness again to join my terrible friends because frankly, what I am running from in my head feels too painful, too hard, too devastating. I need to escape from it all. I can’t cope with how bad things feel. I can’t just ‘sit with it’ and wait for these feelings to pass because it is all-consuming and it’s been going on for months and months now. My sense of inner strength and desire to keep fighting has been totally eroded. I just can’t do it anymore.

I am stuck, frozen, between two terrible choices – which damaging, crap friends do I hang out with now? Ahead lie Anorexia and Self-Harm. They’re more than ready to welcome me into their shitty mind games. Behind me lies Attachment Trauma. The question now, is which option hurts less? Attachment trauma is steadily destroying me. Right now I feel like I have been left. I feel so sad and little and lost. I am screaming out for holding and containment and yet no matter how loudly I yell or how many different ways I say it there is no one coming. No one cares about that little girl. There is no one who cares enough to scoop her up and tell her that it’s all going to be ok, that she is safe and loved and that it’s all over now, that she doesn’t have to hurt herself anymore.

I have tried to do that for myself time and time again over the years, but my adult is so overwhelmed by the intensity of these feelings that are coming up again that l am scared stiff and not sure I can keep going down this path, facing that demon, and essentially feeling increasingly anxious and traumatised. I just cannot continue feeling like this and so what lives in the depths of that black void is familiar and, in some sick way, comforting. Given the choice right now, I’d rather spend time sitting with anorexia or self-harm than be caught in the grips of abandonment trauma.

I developed an eating disorder when I was 16 and began physically self-harming (cutting and burning myself) at 17 and so, tragically, it appears that I have spent more than half my life (on and off) attacking my body in one way or another. I’ve never got my BMI up over 17 apart from when I was pregnant and feel very uncomfortable weighing any more than 46kg. In my head the magic sustainable in control place is 45kg and a BMI of 16.1. Yep. Fucking insane. But it’s the borderline weight where I feel ok and yet still able to conceal how unwell I really am. I don’t draw too much unwanted attention or concern as I can hide at this weight – or at least that’s what I have convinced myself. I’m not sure it’s really the case.

The one thing I know and hate about eating disorders is how skewed your mind gets. I hate the secretive, weird place I inhabit when I start focusing on my body in an extreme way. Everyone who ever tries to demonstrate care or concern becomes the enemy and I resent them commenting on my body or what I am or am not eating. I think it’s probably because so few people truly understand that it’s not really about food – eating cake won’t fix things. The eating disorder is a really shit coping strategy. For me it always starts off as trying to control something at a time where I feel like I have no control/am out of control.

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And yes, in some ways for me it is about my body image too. I am critical of my body and when I am really unwell I just cannot see how skeletal I get – how grey, tired, and just poorly I really am. The thing is, when I am caught up in full-blown starvation mode it’s a focus, a distraction from other terrible painful issues.

I know that starving myself or cutting/burning my skin doesn’t take away what is tormenting me and that’s why I know that jumping off the edge and into anorexia or self-harm isn’t a good option (really, I do know that!) because whatever I choose to do attachment trauma will only jump in after me.

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This, then, is not a good proposition because then the three of them will gang up on me and I will end up drowning again. I know I am literally only a few steps away from a complete breakdown and I need to try hard to back away from all this. I need to find a better way to cope. I just don’t know what that is. Therapy doesn’t seem to be helping much right now, in fact it’s just created the melting pot for all this stuff to truly emerge.

Recently, I threw out the scales in a bid to stop that part of me that gets obsessed with numbers. It was just starting to get bonkers inside my head. So, I have no idea what I weigh right now but I think it must be about 47kg because I feel fat and people tell me I ‘look healthy’ … yeah, that one! It’s insane that being told you look well is a frigging trigger isn’t it? Ugh.IMG_1474

I should be pleased with myself really as I have actually been working hard to pull myself back into a better place lately – this is largely through eating large tubs of Hagen Dazs each night and sharing bags of Galaxy Counters. Which, I suppose isn’t especially normal! But it has resulted in a stable body weight for a good few months. It’s not binge eating. It is systematic feeding of high calorie foods whilst being distracted by TV. I hate it.

My brain has the most brilliant inbuilt mental calorie counter. Several of my newish friends (those that have no idea of my history) are doing weight loss programmes at the moment and when they talk about it to me and I am able to launch into some detailed conversation about the nutritional value of something or the calorific content I think they must think I am strange. I often get the ‘you’re so lucky to have that kind of body that doesn’t put on weight. I only have to look at a cake and put on a stone. You eat whatever you like and you’re so slim’. Little do they know that I am fighting my own body battle, telling myself ‘I must eat the cake, the ice-cream, the fattening stuff so that I don’t fall into the place where I eat pretty much nothing and spiral downwards’.

Another reason that I have had to try and maintain a reasonably sensible weight is because (and here’s where I should be writing that I value my health, care about myself enough to look after myself, and that I am not plagued by negative voices) part of my follow up cancer care is that I see the consultant every three months and part of that check is getting weighed (rapid weight loss is a marker of active Lymphoma).

Last October I went in for my check and there was a flurry of concerned questions from the nurses as I stood on the scales because I had lost 6kg in the three months between appointments. I knew that the weight loss wasn’t down cancer but I also couldn’t tell them what mess I had got myself into with not eating and over-exercising. So since then I have tried to get myself off their radar and creep back to a more acceptable, if still too low, weight.

Over the years I have crawled back up out of the abyss more times than I can remember. I’ve sort of joined the rest of the world masquerading as someone who is ‘fine’ and has it all together. But I won’t lie, even when I am ‘well’ or as well as I ever get, the voice inside my head that tells me I am not good enough, that my body is disgusting, and that the only way to feel better about myself is to not eat and self-harm myself is always there. The only thing that changes is my response to that voice. Sometimes I have the strength of mind to say, ‘fuck you! Leave me alone. I am not listening to your shit anymore’ but then other times it just doesn’t happen and that’s where I am at today.

I have to be especially careful with exercise when I am in this head space. For me exercise is a double-edged sword. I have always been fit and active, sporty, and competitive. I really like to get out and run or cycle. It gives me an escape from being my head. I zone out. It feels good. When I am ‘well’ exercise is fine but it can quickly turn into something negative and self-destructive, like it did in the summer: I got back into my running in the Spring having not really done any since finishing my cancer treatment. I was determined that I was going to get my fitness back (despite the consultant telling me that I would struggle because of the radiation to my chest and weakness in my lungs).

My exercise plan started off as a healthy twice weekly thing: a quick 5km run. But it wasn’t long before I threw in a 40km bike ride, then upped my running distance to 15km each time. By the middle of the summer I was up to running 15km on alternate days of the week, cycling 40km on the other days, and walking my dogs 8km most days. Oh, and let’s not forget to mention the 30 day arms, abs, and plank challenge app that I would do in the evening. It’s literally all or nothing with me.

I liked getting out. I liked feeling super fit again. I enjoyed knowing that my speed and stamina were improving and that my friends, who have always been healthy and active, were posting significantly slower times than me. It’s so addictive watching your times on the Strava app…but then it soon became something to beat myself with, always needing to go faster. The only positive at this point, was that despite the ridiculous amount of exertion I was sensible enough to keep eating properly. I was attacking myself with exercise but I wasn’t attacking my body by not eating which is what I would have done in the past.

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Then one day it changed, just as it always does. Big sigh. I had started skipping meals again. I rarely have breakfast anyway, but on this day I hadn’t eaten at all. I decided to go on my 15km hill run. It was a hot, humid evening – 23 degrees according to the car thermometer – and I pushed myself hard. It had been a stressful day and I need to run away. I posted my quickest time by miles. I felt pleased with myself. The voice inside my head that berates me incessantly was silenced briefly. But by the time I got home and walked in the door I was dizzy and sick. I blacked out in the hallway. I had a bath and the room began spinning in the way it used to after drinking too much alcohol at Uni. I was so unwell that I had to ask my wife to help me up the stairs and put me to bed. I felt awful.

I really scared myself and since that day in May I have only done one short 8km run. Part of me wants to go out and run hard and fast and push myself but there is another protective part that is telling me ‘NOOOOOOOOOO’. I feel stir crazy and lethargic not moving and I have too much time to think but it’s the only way I can think of to keep myself relatively safe and right now that’s the best I can do.

So that’s the anorexia covered, what about self-harm, then? At Easter things were feeling particularly precarious with regard to wanting to self-harm again. I had self-harmed straight after the Christmas therapy break having not done so in several months. The break had stirred up a lot stuff: it’s when I started to become more aware of the different parts of me and how much the little ones were impacted by the separation from my therapist. I didn’t feel able to tell her about any of it at that point and so took to hurting myself instead.

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As the Easter break approached I could feel myself getting stressed and anxious about not seeing my therapist and I that’s when I decided that I would make a commitment to myself that I wouldn’t cut or burn myself again no matter how bad things felt. Tall order, I know! I decided to book in for some tattoos on my wrist, forearm, and ribs – the places I would generally hurt myself. I was going to get something symbolic in place of scars. There was three month wait for the artist I wanted and so in this time I knew I couldn’t damage my skin because it would affect the tattoo and tbh I didn’t want the artist seeing new cuts or scars either.

So for three months I didn’t hurt myself at all (even though I wanted to at times) and since having the tattoos I haven’t cut or burned myself either. Instead I have meaningful reminders that I can survive and that this is not the end: Lotus flowers, unalome, semi colon, root chakra etc. So, these tattoos have worked as a symbolic protector. I haven’t self-harmed but it hasn’t meant I haven’t wanted to. And that’s what I am pondering in the title of this post; will that desire, need, whatever it is, to harm ever disappear fully? Will there be a time where I feel anxious or depressed and my brain won’t take me to this place? It won’t cross my mind to cope in a negative way? I don’t know. I hope so.

So for now, today, at least, I am digging my heels in as much as I can and leaning away from the edge.

At the start of this I wondered if it was possible to ever really recover from an eating disorder and the desire to self-harm?

Perhaps the real question is: will I ever feel good enough? – because I guess underneath it all, that’s what it’s all about.

I guess maybe it’s time to bring this to therapy…again.

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Alanis Morrisette’s, ‘That I would be good’ has been stuck on an almost constant loop in my head since Wednesday. It’s another of those songs that I haven’t heard in years but I guess is a reminder of having been in this place before, in my teens, and so it’s come up again now.

Why I hate therapy breaks: part 2

When I started the last post Why I hate therapy breaks: part 1 I knew that I had plenty to say about breaks from therapy and how hard they are to navigate, particularly when you aren’t one of those blessed souls that is ‘securely attached’. But getting down to writing this second part has been proving really hard. It’s like I’m having some kind of mental block on it.

I think I kind of know what’s happened. It’s what always happens at some point in a therapy break – the littlest parts of me have become fully activated, are overwhelmed and terrified, they are screaming and I can no longer pretend that they’re not there because the noise they are generating inside can’t be drowned out. They are sure that she (therapist) is gone and isn’t coming back, and are basically having a full on meltdown about it.

The rational adult part of me that was holding the fort, just about hanging it together, and doing my best to soothe those parts is struggling to contain all the fear and anxiety that’s bubbling inside. It just feels too much. The break feels too long. I hate it.

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This is how it feels today.

 

It’s really difficult carrying on with the normal day-to-day of being a wife and mother with adult responsibilities when there is a significant part of me that feels like a distraught baby crying out for an absent mother who isn’t ever going to come. It’s really quite strange carrying that and still going about the daily routine and all that entails.

Yesterday saw an early morning shoe fitting for both my kids in order to be ready for the return to school and preschool next week; sorting out paperwork; going to the bank; a quick run round the supermarket; getting sports kit washed and ironed ready for classes this morning; a playdate; mowing the lawn and walking the dogs– all totally mundane tasks and not stressful in the least, but they are definitely ‘adult’ tasks. The day’s chores felt more demanding than they really were because not only do I have my real small children to manage, I also have a fair few internal ones playing up!

When I woke up yesterday morning all I really felt capable of was hiding under the duvet with a teddy and having a good cry about how much I miss my therapist. It couldn’t happen, 1) because the kids couldn’t get their shoes by themselves and 2) I don’t cry….but that’s another post altogether!

This level of inner conflict, turmoil, distress, call it what you will is hard to manage. I think perhaps the reason it gets worse towards the end of break (as ridiculous as that sounds) is because it takes a massive amount of energy (both emotional and physical) to contain the feelings that rise up during a break. It’s almost as though when the finish line is in sight I start to stumble because I am utterly fatigued from trying to keep going for so long. I don’t know if that makes sense? I feel a bit mentally cloudy today.

In the early days of therapy I used to feel a bit ‘out of sorts’ and miss my therapist when we were on a break, but recently I became aware of the different parts of myself: Little Me, Four, Seven, Eleven, The Teenager, and The Critic.  And since then breaks have become a whole new level of hell and torment. I’ve noticed that my mind shifts through cycles of different emotions and I have come to associate these varying emotions with the different parts of myself. I’ve noticed that there’s a negative pattern that takes place and when I go back to therapy I really need to make it a priority task to try and work out why it happens and how to avoid it/manage it.

I tend to start a break in my Adult: ‘It’ll be fine. Sure I’ll miss her, but it’s ok, she’ll be back in x amount of time and in the meantime I’ll be kind to myself’. I wish I could sustain that but before very long the little ones start to get noisy. Little Me doesn’t really have words yet but I can clearly see her in my mind’s eye standing in a vast empty space with tears streaming down her face, screaming ‘Mummy, come back’. That’s hard. It comes from a place of real loss and abandonment in my childhood where from the age of four til eleven my mum would be away from Sunday afternoon to Friday evening.

Once you throw in Four and Seven into the mix it starts to get really upsetting. Eleven stands silently on the side lines. She’s been here before. She knows the score. She’s learnt that crying doesn’t get her anywhere so she just doesn’t express any emotion anymore. No one is coming for her. No one knows how much she is hurting. She needs to take care of herself. So she’s quite a little grown up. It’s sad, really.

There’s only so long this level of pain can continue before The Teenager rocks up. Fuck. She is so angry! She’s angry at everyone. She hates the world. She hates that my therapist has done this to the little ones again. How dare she leave them and her to cope alone? She hates that she has to babysit but she always steps in to protect the child parts as though her life depends on it. She shuts everything down. She’s great at the silent treatment and she has cost me quite a lot of money in silent, angry therapy sessions! She is deeply hurt too but she copes by not eating, or self-harming, or listening to music.

The Teenager secretly likes my therapist but she is so frustrated by her feelings about her and also the lack of availability of my therapist between sessions that often her anger and frustration makes her think that the whole therapy thing is ‘just a pile of shit’. She essentially reaches the place where she says ‘I am done with it. Therapy makes me feel rubbish. I like her but it’s not a real relationship. She doesn’t really care about me’ and so on.

It really is crap being in my head sometimes! It’s a disaster zone when these feelings are kicking about in my mind and it’s a break. This sort of emotional spiral happens from week to week in the normal run of things but generally I can repair once I am back in session. There’s just about enough consistency and contact to manage it. What am I meant to do when on a break, though?!

There’ve been so many occasions lately where I have wanted to reach for my phone and fire off some raging text message and terminate therapy. I did send a completely outrageous message a few months back which in itself should be a blog post, but generally I don’t message her because I can’t be doing with ‘the boundaries’ talk when I go back in to session. I also can’t bear the thought that I would tell her that I am terminating and she would just accept it. You all know I don’t really want to terminate, I need therapy (clearly!), but sometimes it’s just so painful being in the therapeutic relationship.

So, The Teenager is a protector of sorts, but the thing is, there’s a force that is stronger than her and that’s The Critic. The Critic isn’t embodied in the normal sense or gendered. It’s huge. It’s loud. It’s persuasive. It’s soul destroying. All I can liken it to is the Dementors in Harry Potter. The Critic is a force so strong and powerful that it can suck everything good out of me. It batters my self-esteem. It feels like an almighty boiling, sinister voice in my head. A standard line of attack runs something like this:

‘You know you want to hurt yourself. Just do it. You will feel so much better. Just cut yourself. Don’t tell her (therapist) anything. She won’t understand. I promise you’ll feel better if you run further/more often/without eating. Why are you eating that? Seriously, can’t you see what you look like? There’s no point in telling her about me. I’m stronger than she is. I’ll make sure she disappears. Or you will by being such a needy loser. She can’t help you. She doesn’t care, anyway. She doesn’t want to know about those damaged children. Don’t ignore me! You are an embarrassment. You’re pathetic. You are so weak. What makes you think she’s different, anyway? You must be a complete idiot. She will hurt you in the end and then you’ll be back. Haven’t I always looked after you? You need me. Trust me.’

It’s not pleasant for sure! But I have told my therapist about it and she says it needs a lot of attention just like the little ones. We need to work out what has made it so mean. I know it’s basically a shit load of internalised anger that I’ve never expressed and instead turned in on myself….but even so, it’s not easy when it’s going for it.

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So, it’s really only three days until I return to therapy and yet it sometimes feels like time is going backwards rather than forwards. I’m not angry right now. I’m still very much stuck with the little ones, I know it’ll change, it always does, but rather them then that mean bastard above!

 

The backstory- or how I met my therapist.

This is long and in no way an essential read. It’s just the backstory of how I find myself here.

I’ve always struggled with my mental health. Anxiety and depression have been almost constant companions since my teens, albeit to varying degrees: sometimes barely noticeable and at other times totally debilitating. I’ve seen various counsellors over the years but never really got anywhere with them.

After spectacularly falling apart following a bereavement I was allocated a year of psychotherapy in the NHS. I was told there was quite a waiting list (turned out to be 2.5 years!) so in the intervening period between being put on the waiting list and actually getting therapy I saw a nice ‘tea and sympathy’ counsellor, privately, who quickly told me that she ‘didn’t have the skills’ to really help with my issues (that did wonders for my self-esteem I can tell you!).

I kept going for a year anyway because I needed to talk to someone even if I couldn’t work through the deeper issues with her. She helped me with my feelings of loss about my dad which enabled me to get back on with my life to an extent.

When I finally got the letter to see my current therapist, I’d just about patched myself together with my trusty rubber bands and chewing gum. I was functioning ‘fairly’ well: I’d moved house, gone back to work after 17 months off sick, got pregnant with my first child, indeed I’d pretty much forgotten that I was waiting for therapy as I was caught up in all that life, work, and pregnancy brings!

How could it take over two years to see a trained psychotherapist anyway? I guess if I had have shown my doctor, the psychiatrist, and the community mental health teams how bad it really was for me when I was at my lowest then things may have moved more rapidly, but I was terrified of being sectioned or something. I played everything down at the time and just picked myself up like I always had done in the past, not really dealing with anything and just running away from my issues. Idiot!

I’d sort of resigned myself to continue living this sort of half-existence – accepting that I would suffer regular periods of depression and anxiety; that not feeling good enough and like there was something fundamentally wrong with me was just my personality type; that I would never really be happy and I would continue to use restriction of food, too much exercise, and self-harm to cope. I guess I felt that I would have to carry on with the show in the way I always had done and accept that this is how it is for people like me and maybe this is what life is really like. I doubted if anyone could really help me with what seemed like a lifetime of cumulative traumas and crap coping strategies.

I’ve always been a private, reserved, and introverted character and even during my breakdown nobody knew about any of these feelings I carry inside because what I had always presented to the world was a confident, in control, high-functioning adult. It’s served me well, to an extent, but it’s taken a ridiculous amount of energy.

When I first met my therapist in 2012 I liked her instantly although I doubt she would have known because I was really resistant and guarded. I spent the first 9 months of therapy weighing her up and not really talking to her. Sure I spoke, but not about the real issues, not my well-guarded secrets. I didn’t even mention the eating disorder I have had for half my life, or the fact I self-harm until three sessions before the end of the therapy!

Trust is a huge issue for those of us with attachment wounds. Although there was certainly part of me that wanted to get better and heal, I just couldn’t risk really letting her in. I didn’t want to show my vulnerability. I didn’t want her to know how messy it was underneath my cool exterior. I didn’t want her to confirm to me that I was ‘beyond help’. I didn’t want to identify with all my broken parts or admit that they were even there. I essentially sabotaged the therapy – not because I was being difficult, but because there is a part of me that is so battle ready that it serves to protect me against any intrusion. It used to ward off the enemies but somewhere along the line it also got caught up holding off the allies too.

But, as is so often the case with therapy, one day I was blind-sided, something massive shifted, and my defences crumbled. I didn’t see it coming. I don’t know if it was the realisation that time was running out, or what, but suddenly I felt like I couldn’t survive without this woman. I needed her like I needed air to breathe. She really mattered to me. I missed her between sessions in a way that made my stomach ache. I had become deeply attached to my therapist.

This should have signalled the start of something good, right? A flood of positive and connected feelings? Well, it didn’t because my brain doesn’t work like that, unfortunately. Feeling dependant and needy triggered a huge amount of anxiety. It re-activated some really deep-rooted fears that I must have buried somewhere back along the line. All of a sudden I became aware that she was going to leave me right at the time I needed her most. She would be gone. I wouldn’t see her anymore. It was beyond overwhelming.

Now that I wanted to tell her what I had been holding in my entire life there wasn’t time. I felt like I was going to disintegrate. I was also really embarrassed that I had somehow got so emotionally reliant on a professional (ugh!), someone who could never be what I suddenly felt I lacked. I’d spent my whole life avoiding getting close to people in order to not get hurt and here I was fixated on a therapist. I wasn’t just fond of her in a ‘we work well together’ kind of way, it was as though some really primitive, young emotions had surfaced, I loved her, and I just didn’t know what to do about it.

How do you explain to someone that you feel like you are empty inside and have a bottomless pit of need that only they can fill? That you need/want them to hold you like a small child and soothe you even though are a fully grown adult? How can you express that when you know there is no chance of it ever happening? How do you cope with the huge sense of rejection and abandonment if you ever manage to pluck up the courage to ask for that and then get a refusal even though it is just protocol not to touch/hold?

It’s beyond painful because it is a child’s needs that are coming up and the inner child that feels the massive hurt and rejection. The likelihood is that this is all replaying something that happened in the past: not being held, contained, seen –essentially being emotionally abandoned. I didn’t know anything about transference back then and so struggled against my feelings, too ashamed and embarrassed to talk about them.

I still find it all a nightmare but at least I sort of know what’s going on and that I’m not completely mental for having these intense feelings towards my therapist. I also know now that these issues are the very things I need to bring into session and work through! It’s easier said than done sometimes and part of me wants the ground to open up and swallow me when I start to talk about how I feel about her. I wish my adult censor would leave the room sometimes to allow the little ones space to talk.

Anyway, back to the first episode of therapy… She realised how difficult things had become for me as I started to share my story, though I never told her how I felt about her which was really what was hurting me the most at the time. Somehow she managed to extend the therapy for a further three months but even that wasn’t enough time. This kind of deep-rooted trauma and all the coping strategies you build up to survive don’t just repair in a few sessions, in fact maybe not even a few years. It takes a huge amount of commitment from both client and therapist to do this kind of work and it’s not easy. In fact this is probably the hardest work I have ever done.

Time was ticking away and before my final session I had sent her a rather long email. It was like I had taken a dose of truth serum and let a lot out on the screen. It was weird, the whole time I had been in therapy it had never occurred to me to Google her or try and discover anything about her. It was almost like she only existed in that room. I think it’s a bit like when I was a teacher and kids I taught would see me in the real world and do a sort of double take.

Desperation had kicked in as the end of therapy drew near and that’s when I searched for her online. It turned out that she also worked privately and that’s how I got her email and asked if she would see me in private practice. She agreed but said there would have to be a three month break between the NHS setting and her private setting. Argh.

Even though I planned to meet in three months, I was absolutely devastated leaving my final session. I didn’t show it. I’d sort of shut down and put on my ‘it’s fine’ face in order to cope. I just walked away and didn’t look back. I’m not sure if I even said thank you. I’ve never been good at endings. I’d rather pretend that they’re not happening.

The idea of a three month break was just too much. I’m rubbish at therapy breaks! (more on that later!) I started having really graphic, distressing nightmares and sunk into a pit of depression. The nightmares lasted a couple of months and then abruptly stopped following a dream. I was in a lake, swimming in the dark, about to give up and drown myself when my therapist pulled me from the water onto a boat, wrapped her arms around me and held me tightly cuddled up in a blanket. She told me that I didn’t have to do this anymore and that I was safe.

My partner was not supportive of me having more therapy and it caused a huge row. ‘How much therapy does one person need?’ I was just oversensitive and needed to move on and be thankful for what I had now. The past was in the past. I knew then that I wasn’t going to be able to see my therapist again, no matter how bad I felt. I would have to just carry on as I always had, only knowing now that help was possible and that I couldn’t access it.

Life moved on again, things were ok, good even, but as always the good times were punctuated by periods of anxiety and depression, not eating, over-exercising, and occasionally self-harming. And then when my new baby was 6 months old I got diagnosed with cancer having been misdiagnosed for the previous two years with other conditions. I was too young for cancer, apparently! I had an enormous tumour and my life turned upside down.

I spent 9 months battling the cancer with chemotherapy and radiotherapy. I lost my hair but I was one of the lucky ones and kept my life. It was the most terrifying experience to be faced with the reality that I could die and leave my children without a parent before they’d even started school. A couple of months after completing treatment I fell apart. I just couldn’t manage anymore. Cancer was the straw that broke the camel’s back and my partner told me then that I needed therapy. PRAISE BE! So that’s what I did. I was back with my therapist within two weeks. What a relief.

 

If you’ve made it to the end of this, well done. I’ll try and be brief in the future.