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.
Well, blimey, where did July go? Ah, yes, work, work, more work, the kids, a bit of therapy thrown in here and there…and a lot of time at the beach! #Heatwave. You’d think July would be the time for things easing off and winding down in teaching but, honestly, it was like everything went on overdrive both with my work and all the stuff I needed to organise or attend for my kids: sports days x2, residential for my daughter, end of year assembly, random parents’ evening, school taster days, and end of year parties. It was full-on and I was on my knees a couple of weeks before term finished (honestly, some days I was close to tears I was so knackered) but somehow, I got to the finish line in one piece – or a collection of pieces deftly held together with rubber bands and chewing gum!
It’s week two of the ‘holidays’, now, and this is the first day where I have actually stopped and given myself permission to do nothing – it’s the anniversary of my dad’s memorial and picking up his ashes from a driveway next to his dive gear (don’t ask!) and so I feel a little fragile. I’m a long way on from that initial grief and pain of fourteen years ago, but I still find this time of year difficult. I get plagued by nightmares and I can’t help but remember just how bloody awful that time was.
Fortunately, I have Anita to take this stuff to and so I feel pretty ok having been able to let it out. I’ve had a cry and I feel sad to think how much I’ve missed out on with my dad over the years, but I can now see things in a different light. Watching my kids enjoy the waves and share in the place that my dad and I loved so much is so special and healing after so many years away from it – I can almost feel his presence when we’re there. I am loving being back on my surfboard and in the water enjoying the coastline where my soul feels most at home.
So, even when things feel unbelievably tough (which they really have done recently – our life seemed to just get wiped-out and body-slammed all at the same time), somehow, I am finding ways to not sink altogether and also trust in the fact that the universe will deliver, eventually. It’s not always easy to do that, especially when you suffer from anxiety. It is so easy to get caught in the endless spiral of doom when things are going wrong because it’s such a felt sense of panic, it triggers the flight response (for me at least) and the associated somatic experience is just fucking awful…
I have made it through every tough part of my life so far, and frankly even though the money stuff isn’t great (I have always really needed a sense of financial security to feel safe but am learning again that safety comes from within and not only from what you have) I’ve been through worse. It’s not a sudden, unexpected death of a loved one, and it’s not critical illness and a year of cancer treatment. THOSE things were the big deals. Money makes the world go round and that sucks but currently I have my health, a partner, two great kids, wonderful friends, and a roof over my head so really, I am winning at life. My bank balance is pretty ummm…’low’ (read empty!)…but I can work more hours (might have a breakdown in October though!).
This year, unfortunately, I am working a full day each week with a student in the break (fortunately one of my home-school kids wanted lessons – phew) so it’s not quite the long holiday I had envisioned earlier this year but it’s a financial imperative after everything that’s happened with my wife’s work and so I’m making the best of it. To be honest, doing 7.5 hours once a week is way less stressful than my usual 25 (28 in Sept – eek!) hours contact time plus school runs etc so I can’t moan. The fact I only have to get up early one morning a week is a game changer and the fact I am lying on my bed in my pjs at 11am on a Thursday…well, that’s pretty good. So, yeah, all in all it’s ok. Great, in fact.
Don’t get me wrong. I have had weeks and weeks of stress and panic about our situation but there’s another part of me that’s trying to have a chat with those freaking out parts who is saying, “Look, right now, we’re still afloat. We’re doing what we can to make the situation better. The winter is going to be difficult, but we can’t change anything more right now so try and enjoy what we do have and make the most of the summer” — I don’t know who this pep talker is but right now the other parts are paying attention. I think the reality is that adult me knows I am going to be up against it in a huge way in September and I need to go into the new academic year as refreshed and recharged as possible or I don’t stand a chance.
Anyway, what else? I’ve been away from the blog for a long while. As usual I haven’t been posting because I haven’t had the time to write but I have also been thinking about the blog, too, and social media in general, lately. In recent weeks I have spent much less time on SM and I have to say I think it’s done me the world of good. Despite my best efforts to keep the majority of the SM content that I access light and uplifting (thinking Instagram here – cue astrology, spirituality, and comedy…oh and crazy animals!) I have found in recent months that my feeds across other social media platforms have been really negative. And it’s not surprising. Life is hard for so many people right now and everywhere you look there is injustice and that is playing out on the internet.
I am socially minded, and politically…what’s the word??… Appalled?! And so, I find it hard to switch off from it altogether because I don’t think we can live in a bubble. I like to know what’s going on, even if it is heart-breaking. However, I am finding places like Twitter and the comment feed on news posts really depressing. It feels like there are so many angry and disenfranchised people out there on all sides that take to social media and let it all out – but at strangers. The projection and the vitriol are really horrific. It reeks of bullying behaviour. And to be honest, I don’t think it’s doing me any good absorbing it in large quantities which is why I am spending less time online.
I think too, that what I have realised more and more is sometimes I want to respond to stuff online or defend someone or something but sometimes it just fuels a fire, and it isn’t worth it. Thankfully, I think WordPress falls into a different category where this is stuff concerned (thank goodness). In my experience over the years blogging here, it is rare to see abusive content or bullying or personal attacks. I think I can remember two or three pile-ons over the years on some accounts I follow (from people being in very bad places or who are massively triggered) but otherwise I have always found it to be a welcoming, supportive place. And I am grateful for that but I am also aware that these public platforms are open and so you’re never completely immune to someone wading in.
So yeah, I can wholeheartedly recommend a social media cleanse every now and then.
And therapy, what of that?
Well, you’ll probably be pleased to hear the Anita and I are out the other side of that epic rupture that was triggered in February when the time and contact boundaries changed. To be honest we’ve just been ticking along doing the work. It’s been ok enough. Sometimes it’s felt disconnected but that is linked to touch (or lack of it). Since the holidays started the sessions have been disrupted which has been a bit stressful, but so far I have managed to see her twice a week (Monday and Tuesday evenings). I’m not massively keen on the spacing – it feels like there’s a huge gap between the sessions after Tuesday but at the same time I am seeing her in person twice a week when I had thought I would only see her Monday. I still don’t know about next week.
It’s been so hot here that it’s caused the young parts a few problems here and there. As I said, I haven’t been hugging Anita in sessions because frankly it’s like a sauna here right now and it would just be too uncomfortable. Of course, the longer this has gone on the more the young parts have started to activate and wonder what’s wrong? Why doesn’t Anita want to be near them?…blah blah blah…which of course is not what’s going on but you know how little ones think!
Fortunately, though, it’s not been too loud and boisterous because a few weeks ago there was a slightly cooler evening and having refused the offer of a hug when I sat down (ffs RB!)) I broke my walls down for the last fifteen minutes and snuggled in and it felt lovely and deeply connected. I told Anita I had missed her, and she told me she’d missed me too. Sometimes those small interactions are everything and do so much to solidify things. The heat has definitely been the biggest driver for not asking for a hug but there is also another part underneath that is starting to retreat in preparation for the upcoming break.
Since that evening it’s been a bit of a touch drought and it’s just now starting to feel a bit eeek because Anita is off on holiday after next week for two weeks but I won’t actually see her for three weeks. This is going to be the longest I haven’t seen her I think (excluding the lockdowns – but then we were at least working online). Again, I am trying to employ the ‘don’t panic’ stuff and face it when it comes – but I know it’s going to be messy on Monday! Heat or not I think I’m just going to have to suck it up and ask for a sweaty snuggle!
I asked for stories at the end of the session on Tuesday after spending 45 minutes having a huge sweary outpouring about my mum, so the young parts are at least getting something but we need to make next Monday count. It must have seemed really incongruous, “Fuck this, fuck that, FFS…” and on and on and then…“Can we have a story?” I text Anita yesterday and acknowledged just how much I was swearing in my session and how really my anger is a body guard for sadness. I am free flowing with my ‘fucks’ in therapy but Tuesday was something else – there was more than one ‘c’ bomb and even for me I was like “whoa I am mad!!” Anita text me back this infographic and said I think there’s more than sadness under your iceberg with two hearts:
Of course, she’s right. And I knew this. And a part of me chuckled at how ‘therapisty’ that reply was.
Last Monday night as I was leaving Anita asked if she could give me a hug (thank god)…so it’s not that she’s not wanting to touch me it really is the heat and it felt good for her to reach out to me when I have retreated from it. I will be so glad when autumn comes, I can tell you!
So, the touch stuff has been a bit of an issue and then, to add insult to injury, on Tuesday my new puppy (yes, I am mental – but he’s a rescue and I couldn’t say no! especially after the heartbreak of losing our pup on Father’s Day) stole elephant and covered him in drool. You cannot even begin to imagine the internal meltdown the young parts had. I cried.
At that point I didn’t know I would see Anita that evening and though that I would only have one face-to-face session before the big break…and elephant would be stinking and untouchable because there was no time to get it washed by Anita. Mannnnnnn! It was very bad. I text K about it because she is one of the few people who really get it. She responded with such understanding that it took away any shame I was feeling but not the disappointment of having my transitional object out of action.
However, as luck would have it, Anita had a cancellation and offered me a session that evening and so elephant is now with her being washed ready for Monday and so the break …well, it’s going to be tough, but it’s a whole lot less tough when elephant is there and smells right!
Anyway, that’s about it I think. Bit of a boring, non-post but that’s sort of life right now. I’m sure to get in touch with my feelings from next Friday and then we’ll see what kind of carnage ensues!
So, the last time I was here talking about therapy– rather than how my day-to-day life is on the rocks- I wasn’t in a great place AT ALL. I had written a letter to Anita that I was debating sending it to her as a voice note outlining just how desperate it was all feeling. We were on a therapy break and everything just felt desperate and like the foundations that I thought we had built our relationship on over the last couple of years were not, in fact, rock solid but actually built on sand. It was terrifying and crazy making.
The session before the break I had walked out and it just felt like Anita wasn’t there anymore, didn’t care, you know…all the stuff??! It was bad but things had been escalating for a while. I was tying myself in ever tight knots and feeling more and more distant from A. I longed to be close to her but my protectors were on sentry duty and there was nothing I could do, or A could do, to get round them.
Tbh it’s not surprising. It had felt like Anita and I were stuck spiralling in a never ending rupture that had been triggered when I had got back from holiday in February. Things had been plodding along, I knew what was what, and then suddenly the longer sessions were off the table and outside contact felt dramatically reduced. Looking back now I think that my sense of texts being lack-lustre and not enough was driven by how terribly I took not being able to do 75-minute sessions. Anita was still responsive but the lens I viewed our less frequent interactions through was through about scarcity and abandonment and I literally could not see the wood for the trees.
All at once it felt like Anita had withdrawn – taken herself away from me, or worse, taken herself away from the young parts who need her so badly. She insisted that her need to step back was nothing to do with me and all about her life (which has shifted dramatically), and how she needed to reconfigure things to be able to give anything at all. Adult me could hear it but the child parts were devastated.
I mean to have the sense of someone being so close to you, so connected, so safe and then to be hit with that all too familiar feeling of being pushed away is hard. But it’s especially difficult for those of us with childhood trauma and attachment issues. It felt like a re-enactment, yet again here is a mum who is too busy for me, I am not ‘important enough’ to make time for, I just have to fit it with what’s available. And I get that – I am a client after all, Anita’s job, but the young parts that were affected, the parts of me that need the therapy, don’t see Anita as just a therapist, they see her as the caregiver, the attachment figure… they see her as mum and it was heartbreaking.
And so, unsurprisingly, being flung back headfirst into the motherwound I had a long long long meltdown about it. Every time I thought I was rounding a corner and getting my feet back on the ground, something would trigger me and it all went to shit again. It was like climbing up a hill, nearing the top, and then losing my footing and rolling right back down to the bottom again.
There was a lot of silence and tension. Lots of feeling like Anita ‘wasn’t there’, ‘didn’t care’, was ‘rejecting’ me and FUCK it was uncomfortable (understatement) for both of us. I felt she was pushing me away she felt I was pushing her away…it was utterly horrific. There was a lot of testing. And pushing. And withdrawal. And dissociation. Desperation. Tears. Walking out the sessions!! (ffs RB!)… Oh, look I don’t need to explain to you guys, you know the drill!!
So, when I wrote that letter it was from a place of feeling completely at sea, not waving but drowning, and like I was losing Anita…or had already lost her.
And I so hadn’t.
I so HAVEN’T.
But I just couldn’t feel it.
I couldn’t feel her. And that feeling of disconnect feels like annihilation to the young parts.
Throughout all this time, Anita has remained steady and present. I’ve just looked back over messages from this time and honestly, she really bloody dug deep and tried to show me she was there I just couldn’t see it – as I said, I couldn’t feel it, I couldn’t take her love and reassurance in because my armour was keeping her out. My teens were locking everything down and couldn’t trust or be vulnerable because they felt so hurt.
It wasn’t ideal, and I am not sure it was helpful for Anita to tell me this, but her supervisor had mentioned that with Anita’s change in schedule and how badly I was reacting to it that maybe she should refer me out to someone who could give me all of what I need. This set the cat among the pigeons in a massive way. Anita told me that she didn’t want to do that, that she hoped that she could be enough for me, that she loved me, but that if she wasn’t enough then we had to look after me and do what was best for me because this is my therapy and not about her or her needs. I remember crying and whimpering into her chest “I don’t want anyone else” and her holding me tightly and saying, “I don’t want you to have anyone else, but I don’t want you to be hurt if I can’t give you all that you need, I need to look after you.”
It probably sounds like a complete shitshow these last few months and it’s felt it!- but oh my god it has also been so fucking human, so real, and so intimate. Like we really have gone deep into the trenches – face first into the shit together – and somehow come out the other side. And dare I say it, there’s been healing in it all…but it’s been hard won.
The stuff with the supervisor really wobbled me but it was also a moment where I took stock and thought, what the actual fuck am I doing here?! (working through a lot of triggered trauma obv!) Am I really going to let Anita go because she can’t do the odd extra 15 minutes in a session every now and then and isn’t texting quite so frequently (but still very regularly) ? How many therapists out there give anything like what Anita gives me? Two sessions a week at a massively discounted rate, outside contact, touch, presents for the young parts, washing elephant so it smells right, reading stories…and ALL the other things… and I think I’d find the answer is NOONE.
When I was able to take a slight step out of the feeling of being abandoned and triggered, get a little bit of Adult online, I realised that Anita is the person I want to work through this with. It takes a long time to get to the point where the shit comes to the surface and all the mess is laid bare. I could go to another therapist and eventually these same triggers would come up again and would need working through. I don’t want that… and actually… I don’t need that. I want and need A.
During this period since February I have had a no holds barred fuck off meltdown on and off on repeat. I mean it was VERY bad. Part of me (probably the Teen) felt like I was going to be got rid of because I was reacting to the changes strongly and having a full-on wobbler even though that is not ever what Anita had said. I was so angry that the supervisor seemed to be saying that I should be moved on and not taking into account how fucking damaging this would be given what happened with Em and how much time A and I have had building trust and the relationship.
Anita totally got it and fought hard for me I think, she said that her supervisor is there to discuss thing with but can’t tell her what to do, and that after twenty years as a therapist she can make her own choices and work with what is best for the client. I told her just how awful being referred on would be and what message that would send to the young parts. Anita was very clear that she wasn’t trying to get rid of me, wanted to work with me, thinks we can do this work but that I need to do what’s right for me and if that means finding someone else then she’d support me in that. But in that moment, snuggled into her and feeling both seen and held in the pain of it all there was absolutely no way I was going anywhere.
After that emotional session where we’d finally reconnected really powerfully after weeks of distance I messaged her with a picture of a rabbit:
You have been, and will always be, my rabbit that listens. I don’t want anyone else. I don’t want to replace you – because it’s simply NOT possible to replace you! – that’s not how this works and anyone that thinks otherwise really doesn’t understand deep attachment work. I know it’s not been easy lately and it’s been really messy (total carnage!) but then relationships aren’t easy – and I think this is the work. I genuinely think we can come through this – because from my side (at least) the love is there (soooo much) and I hope we’ve done enough foundation building so far to be able to survive big earthquakes. I just need a lot of handholding whilst I learn to stand up in the wobble. A you are so important to me and the reason I have lost my shit so badly is because this relationship matters such a lot to me. I love you x
And so, we have carried on working through bits and hitting more landmines on repeat…and somehow it is nearly July!
Anita couldn’t always reach me over this long drawn out rupture, but she has really tried. And that is one of the benefits of the messages and of having recordings of the sessions. Sometimes I was so triggered and so dissociated that I really and truly believed that Anita had abandoned me in the room, that she had given up, that she was happy to let me suffer (hence the running out of the session before her break and losing my shit). But when I have listened back to the sessions – there was lots of silence (mine)- but I could hear Anita trying so hard to break through and reach me. So often she’d ask if I wanted a hug – of course I did. But I responded with a venomous ‘NO’ and refused to look at her and so returned to feeling trapped in my own misery.
Anita and I definitely need to find a strategy when things are like that because of course she has to respect my ‘no’ even if that ‘no’ is only from a protector and the rest of the rabble inside is wailing ‘yes’ and wanting to be held close but we do have these conversations – we can talk about the hard stuff. It’s such a huge contrast to sitting in agony with Em and just feeling chronically abandoned always.
So, it’s nearly 2000 words in and here we get to the bit with ‘what happened next?’ I am clearly not good with the economy of words. Lol!
After so many of you guys coming forward with supportive comments to the feelings spurge I had written, I felt so much better than I had done. Honestly, this space has been such a lifeline over the years, and you really are fab cheerleaders 😊. So, later in the week I sat down and recorded the letter as a voice note for Anita…all 27 minutes of it! The voice note is so helpful as there is no way A would get through reading that with her dyslexia and hearing it, I think, connects us in a different way. She can hear my voice and the feeling behind what I am saying.
I waited until the Friday to send the voice note as A was on holiday- not away- but not in work mode and I knew she needed time out as she’s been so stretched and . I didn’t expect A to reply before our session but she sent a holding message on the Friday and Saturday and Sunday:
I felt worried and anxious about how she might respond but she was fine. She’d really listened to the message and this was demonstrated through a reassuring message on the Sunday of a photograph she’d taken of where she had gone away for the weekend. Since then things have been much more settled. There’s been contact between sessions (probably the same as it’s been since February!) but how I am reading it is so different. I feel like Anita is there again…or… I am connected again. Whatever it is, it feels much better.
So much of what has happened has been my processing and my trauma responses flaring in a big way. Because my life has been so up in the air I’ve felt like Anita and I weren’t safe too. But we are. She has been so lovely these last couple of weeks since the puppy died and when I can let myself be present and connected with her I see that nothing is wrong, nothing has changed, and I have a rock in A.
Don’t get me wrong, I know this will all go up in flames again shortly – as we hit another trigger point but what I can see is that Anita isn’t going anywhere. She is in it for the long haul and will be there alongside me even if I won’t let her in, waiting until I can.
So I’ve come up for air and am not drowning as we speak!
I have other things to write about – I’ve experienced somewhat of a parallel process with what’s happened in my therapy and what happened with my friend ending our friendship. It’s interesting how things play out and give you a different understanding and perspective. Because of what’s just happened with my friend I feel a different level of compassion for Anita’s situation now. All the times she’s told me that she is trying hard to make it so that she can be as good a therapist as she can, but that her life has changed and that’s meant there’s some things she can’t do, have left me feeling rejected and abandoned and like she doesn’t really care.
No matter how many times she has said her feelings for me haven’t changed, it’s her situation that has changed, I have struggled against it with a voice saying “if I really mattered then she’d make the time”. But then a similar thing has happened with my friend. I am not able to be as present or available as I once was but have been trying my best with the time that I have but ultimately my family have to come first right now.
I can see that can be read as not giving adequate time and care to nourish the relationship, though. And what I can offer isn’t enough. But losing a friend when my feelings never changed, my love and care are still as strong as they ever were – well it’s gutting, really. But then I guess that is life. Relationships are complex because there are two people in them and people have different needs and expectations of what they want and need in a relationship. I decided to stay with A because even though I get ‘less’ than I perhaps used to, what I do get is so valuable to me. Other people would make different choices, I’m sure.
But losing a friend has given me a weird kind of security in my relationship with A. I know I love my friend – I always will. Even if we are not connected anymore I am grateful for the time we did have and will always hold that dear. So even though I am busy I know my feelings didn’t change and therefore I know that A loves me even though her life has changed beyond recognition. I feel it.
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.
For once – brace yourselves for this- I’m going to write primarily about my mum and the mother wound, rather than wax lyrical about my therapist! Of course, the work I do in therapy relates so much to my relationship (or lack of one) with my mother, but usually I’m here talking about what’s been triggered when I see Anita and how that works out rather than stuff in the here and now with my mum.
However, my most recent rupture with Anita was so powerful and so painful and it coincided so neatly with something that happened with my mum that it was so obvious to see that what I was bringing into the room, to Anita, was decades old hurts from another relationship altogether. Afterall, my therapist not being able to offer slightly longer sessions really should not have triggered the colossal meltdown/s that it did. I mean it’s literally been a solid two months (and still going strong!) of internal chaos and anxiety and frankly, that’s disproportionate to what the trigger actually was.
When you dig beneath the surface, though, and get curious about what the feelings in mine and Anita’s rupture were about: feeling unimportant, easy to put down, and being unworthy of Anita’s time and care, it’s not hard to see why this triggered such a big meltdown. Those feelings are so huge and so raw and yet SOOOOOOOOOOO fucking longstanding and familiar. The sense of being unlovable and inadequate has covered me like a second skin. It’s like being doused in a thick tar of shame. It’s bloody awful.
The need to feel… loved… is (still) so massive. For years and years, I felt like there was something wrong with me for needing connection and that I must be fundamentally lacking in whatever it is that makes people want to be close. No. Not people. People do love and care about, and for, me – I have great friends and a wonderful partner… what I really mean is a mum. A mum that loves me. Is proud of me. Wants to spend time with me. Is interested in me as a person. Feels protective of me. Is there. Available. Attuned. Someone whom I can be myself around. Someone who can give physical affection. Someone who is safe.
That’s a big wish list isn’t it? Perhaps as an adult, yes, but as a child, they are the basic fundamentals, surely.
But then is it really too much to expect – no, not really. I am a mother and these things come naturally. Sure, my kids wind me up and drive me fucking mad – but they are also bloody amazing, and I love them more than anything. There is absolutely nothing I would not do to ensure their happiness and felt sense of safety and being loved. My kids roll their eyes when each day I say, “Guess What?” and then reply “We know Mummy, you love us!” But I love that. I love that there is no doubt in my kids’ minds that they are loved. I love that they come to me when they are hurt or scared or just plain bored. I love the fact that they witter on for hours about boring shit but know that I’ll listen and not just send them off so I can have some time to myself. I love that they know that I will be there every single day to pick them up from school, to read a story, to put them to bed…
They probably have no concept of what this time means because it forms part of the fabric of their existence, but having not had that growing up I can say it has left a massive hole. The sense of being ‘left’ as a child has been hard. I know and understand the reasons my mum went away and her achievements have been significant, but the impact it had on the little girl who was left behind was significant too. And that’s been a big part of my therapeutic work. The coping mechanisms I put in place over the years to deal with that gaping hole inside have been huge and massively detrimental to my health. As I wrote recently, I am through the eating disorder stuff now – but it has taken the best part of 25 years. 25 fucking years. I mean hell, wtf?
As I have said before, my relationship with my mum isn’t perfect but it has been something that evolved and has worked for us both over the last decade or so since having my children. We don’t see much of her, but it’s felt like there has been a reasonable level of contact. There’s not been any drama or fallings out since I announced my first pregnancy and I have come to accept that my mum will never be a hands-on grandparent like my friend’s have. She’s not someone who will take the kids for days out, or have them for holidays or whatever but it’s been ‘good enough’…well…no…it’s been what it is. I feel sad for my children, having had a set of grandparents who were so much fun and child-orientated myself, but I give them these experiences as their parent so it’s not desperate.
Only recently, I don’t know what has happened. It feels like something has shifted and changed and I have no idea why. Like I just can’t put my finger on it. Before Christmas I mentioned that my mum seemed to have dropped off the face of the earth – and at that time I started trying to figure out what was going on. Had I said or done something to account for the radio silence? I couldn’t put my finger on anything and started dredging up things like, ‘could she somehow have found my blog and taken offence about what was in it?’ but then out of nowhere she rang me and it was as if nothing had happened. It was a total head fuck to be honest with you.
So, fast forward to now. And we’re in similar territory. I think I mentioned in one of my recent posts how she’d taken a few weeks to reply to a text but had prefaced her reply with the fact she’d had covid. I mean, she hadn’t had covid the entire time and let’s be honest, a quick message on WhatsApp doesn’t take a second but – whatever. And then it was my birthday and the thing about having not been able to get out to get a card- fine. Whatever. Whilst I was away on holiday in February, I had sent a message asking if she could have the kids for a day in July and she replied that she couldn’t as she might be doing something…nothing in the calendar yet, but you know, something might come up as a priority. This message coincided with all the stuff with Anita and the stopping longer sessions and it just really triggered the stuff about being completely unimportant and inadequate.
Anyway, I sent flowers and a card for Mother’s Day – and she sent me a message then….but that’s it since. I have sent several messages (5 if we’re keeping tabs) over the last month – and the ticks have gone blue but there’s been no response at all. It’s been the kids’ Easter holidays and in the past we’ve done Easter egg hunts in the garden and she’d bring them an egg. Not this year. No acknowledgment at all. And whilst I may or may not have done something to offend my mum (literally no clue – other than having this blog) I can’t understand why she would not want to make and effort or spend time with her grandchildren. They haven’t done anything wrong…but then neither have I.
I find myself tying myself in knots trying to second guess what’s going on. It feels so reminiscent of my teenage years, trying to make sense of a situation and work out my part in it. Like it makes no sense to stonewall someone unless they’ve done something wrong – so what is the thing I’ve done to deserve this?
Of course, there’s another part of me that feels like I need to stop trying so hard. If she doesn’t want a relationship with me or her grandchildren then that’s fine. Let her get on with it. I need to stop putting myself out there to be rejected or ignored. Every time I message her and there is no reply I am engaging in this weird dynamic. I keep knocking at a door that is locked and bolted. It’s like Em and the empty cupboard. Get the message RB – if she wanted to engage with you she would reply to you. So I need to stop, don’t I?
Some people have asked why I don’t just ring her up and call her out on this, but it doesn’t feel as easy as that. For someone who is usually really assertive and articulate, I just can’t do it when it comes to talking to my mum. I mean I’ll go head to head with her Tory Brexiteer bullshit but when it comes to, “Mum, I feel really sad that we don’t have a good relationship and I’ve really struggled over the years to understand what it is about me that makes you be so distant”… you know, why put yourself out there to be shot down in flames? Especially, if the narrative that still runs loud inside is, “You think you’re so perfect. Who do you think you are? I wish you’d never been born!”
I may not be great at ignoring the triggers or coping with the anxiety that some unreturned messages evoke but I sure as shit will not put myself out there to be hurt further. And I can see the whole thing being turned on its head, that I am somehow the aggressor, and she is the victim, “You have no idea how hard it was for me, what I sacrificed for you…” and it’ll become a character assassination. I am not here (on the blog), trying to blame her for anything – but how things were as a child has left an imprint on me (and that’s what I write about). It’s been really fucking hard, and the mother wound is painful. I’m nearly fucking forty and yet, here I am after more than a decade of therapy writing about how painful it is to be ignored by my mum, and by extension – my therapist (even though A doesn’t ignore me).
Perhaps I am deficient and too needy and am ‘mental’ and pathetic. Perhaps that’s what she sees?
But I’ve done enough work now to challenge that narrative. The Inner Critic that was forged from my mother’s voice can get back in the box. I don’t need it anymore. I have a level of self-compassion that can counteract it. I developed the critic to protect me. By being my own biggest critic and attacking myself meant that nothing anyone else could say or do to me could be worse. I had my own trump card. But now I have seen the role of the critic, and realised I don’t need it anymore. What I need to do is look at WHY it developed in the first place and look at what I was trying to get away from – the mother wound – of course.
So, what do I do now? I guess, I keep taking this stuff to therapy and working through in the safety of the room with Anita. And I stop putting myself out there with my mum. If she chooses to get in touch then great, but I am not going to keep flogging a dead horse – for want of a better expression. What would you do? It’s one of those situations where I wish I could just take the bull by the horns and ask what’s happened – because ultimately if there’s a bad reaction what am I actually losing? I can’t be any more anxious or confused than I am now. I guess, though, right now I can feel some sense of it not being ‘my fault’ and if I confront her the likelihood is the situation will be made ‘my fault’ and then I’ll start doubting myself… in some way, backing off and ‘letting it go’ is the best I can do right now.
Anyway, I’ll leave that here. I’m just off the back of a therapy break and so I’ve been grappling with that alongside this mum stuff. Unfortunately, there’s quite a few bank holidays coming up in the UK over the next few weeks and so there’s more disruption to the therapy but I’ll get through it. I always do.
Last night I was driving to therapy and Destiny’s Child’s ‘Survivor’ came on my random playlist. That album was the soundtrack to my second year of A Levels – and, man, did I turn up the volume last night and belt it out – I was 18 and it was 2001 again!…
I mean, the title of this post says it all really? Pre-warning this post ends up nearly 7000 words so you might be just as well making your own inference from the title!
It’s been a long while since I have written anything about the day-to-day of my therapy and that’s partly because I’ve been so busy with just ‘getting through’ my days that I haven’t really had time to type, and also because Anita and I are navigating the rupture from hell and I wanted to be out the other side of it before I wrote anything. The thing is, it’s been almost six weeks now, and it’s still dire and so I think I need to put something down for my own sanity as much as anything as it’s all kind of blurring into one long disaster and the chronology is skewing in my head.
It feels like there’s just been an awful chain of cumulative events that have totally derailed the therapy and I am really all over the shop right now– I couldn’t even get out the car yesterday for half an hour to go to my session because I was frozen and kept dissociating…that’s how bad it’s felt. Part of me (thank goodness) feels like things will work out in the end because the feelings haven’t changed between Anita and I, but right now I’m having a hard time navigating everything that has happened and the changes in the way we do therapy because it’s sending shockwaves through my system and the child parts are terrified.
I guess I should go back where I left off when I was on holiday. My kids had COVID just before we went away which meant some online sessions which are always tough but I had managed a face to face before I flew off on my trip. My holiday was amazing, and much needed. Anita and I had a couple of exchanges – basically I sent her some photos of the sun – and everything was pretty ok until I got home to the UK on the Friday. That’s when the longing of the young parts kicked in full force. I was sooooo ready to see A after what had felt like weeks of not being able to get what I really needed and I really just wanted to go and reconnect and have a massive cuddle. It was going to be a lumpy period of time going forward, too, because I had just one session before Anita was due to be away for a week herself and so it felt really important to have that one session and to reconnect before yet another disconnection.
I sent Anita a message on the Sunday outlining where I was at. I had this sort of sick feeling as the day went on but hoped it was just anxiety and that everything would be ok when we got to see each other in person. Unfortunately, as the universe would have it, that session didn’t go ahead. Anita was away with her partner and got a flat tyre where he lives which meant she couldn’t come back home. It was going to be challenge enough sorting the tyre and still getting across country for the ferry. I was so disappointed when I received Anita’s message but could see how annoyed she was too, and it clearly wasn’t deliberate, just one of those things, but my goodness, the disappointment I felt was massive. It was clear, too, that she had literally been coming back for me that day when she could have stayed put so part of me felt heartened by the fact she did want to come, just couldn’t.
Anyway, no surprises that the online session was a car crash. I tried really hard to stay present and adult but it just fell to pieces. I was sad and disappointed. I had given her my elephant to wash when I went on holiday so it could be ready for when I saw her and before she went away. Obviously, that didn’t happen and so my go to transitional object was not where I needed it to be and that set the child parts off even more. After that session I text Anita to apologise for giving her a hard time and said I understood what had happened, but it was just difficult and that I missed her. I rounded off the message by asking for stories and cuddles when we got back.
The week whilst she was gone led to an escalation of panic inside. The child parts felt so untethered, ungrounded and try as I might to soothe them it just didn’t really work. I was due to see A on the Tuesday as wasn’t due back on the Monday until after our session. Of course, I was more than ready to see her. She’d text me to tell me that she was looking forward to seeing me and I felt huge relief about being able to go in and just unpack how hard the last month had been. Disruption is so hard for my young parts, separation is painful…
On the Monday evening I was really aware of how bloody sore that mother wound had got. It felt like I was bleeding out tbh. I text Anita and asked if over the next couple of weeks we could do some slightly longer sessions because things felt so wobbly and I needed space and time to settle and reconnect.
Probably once or twice a month Anita I have 75 minute sessions and I have written before about how helpful these can be, especially when stuff feels shaky as it gives time to settle into the space, ground, and then let stuff out and then give it time to be repacked safely.
Anita didn’t reply.
WARNING bells started ringing but I tried to put them to one side.
I was nervous as I walked up the driveway for the session but figured if I could just get in the room and the protectors would stay offline then the child parts could get what they so badly needed and things would start to recalibrate inside.
I walked into the room and our story books and elephant were not in the room.
Instantly I froze and the protectors went live. I basically shut down. I couldn’t even look at Anita.
It felt like Anita hadn’t kept the child parts in mind and it triggered the fuck out of me. I mean it was REALLY BAD. Having had so much separation and disruption, already, it just seemed to confirm that fear that the young parts have of being forgotten about, or not kept in mind, or generally just not being very important.
The session was uncomfortable because I couldn’t really speak – I just felt so little and lost – and Anita seemed to be unable to join the dots. She reassured me that we were ok, and that nothing had changed but to be honest it felt like we were on different planets. It felt like she was phoning it in and not really ‘there’. Of course, it’s difficult to tell when I’m in that state because everything feels bad and listening back it was nowhere near a terrible as it felt. She asked me what I felt was different because from her side nothing was and that she still loves and cares about me – but when you feel little and abandoned it’s hard to say, “Where is elephant and why aren’t the books here and I missed you and I need a cuddle and and and…?” It’s so fucking cringe.
I know she offered me hugs early on, but I refused them. I so badly wanted to be able to bridge the gap, but the protectors just weren’t allowing it. About half-way through the miserable silence and Anita asked again what was up, I was able to reply, “It doesn’t feel safe.” And she asked, “What can I do to make it feel safer? What do you need?…I really am here for you no matter what…” but that was met with more silence. I just needed her to physically reach out to me which I know is impossible for her to do if I have told her I don’t want a hug. (I do want a hug!)
Later she wondered it I felt like maybe I thought she didn’t care, and asked me what gave me the impression that she didn’t care. I was so far gone and wedged into that dark pit of doom that I just couldn’t get out, I couldn’t tell her why I was so upset and the longer it went on the worse it got.
Anita said something about how she knows my system is programmed to think “it’s dangerous to have time and distance” because of what’s happened to me in the past, but that separation doesn’t have to me that everything has gone wrong. She told me, “I am here, and I really want to be closer but you’re not letting me.” After a little while a tiny voice whispered, “It feels like you’ve forgotten about me.” Anita emphatically told me she hadn’t but of course all I could see was the evidence – elephant wasn’t there, and neither were the books and so in the eyes of the child parts they were out of mind and that is AGONY.
I felt so overwhelmed that I got off the sofa and sat curled up in a ball on the floor. I couldn’t bear to be seen and just sat there trembling with my face on my knees. It was fucking awful. Anita shuffled herself across the sofa and put her hands on my back in a kind of hug and kept rubbing my back. Physical reconnection is so important after a big break to let the young parts know they are still welcome, and I really needed that touch. I just wish that we had hugged on the doorstep when I arrived because that would have gone some way to reminding the parts that she is still her and I am still me and so forgetting things doesn’t mean the love and care has gone…but then of course child parts don’t see grey. It’s black and white. And any hint of retreat on the part of the other signals imminent abandonment and rejection and so we are doomed!
I left the session feeling desperately sad and activated. In the past I would have written, got it down in words and filtered whatever was coming up through the adult but it felt really important to honour what was coming up for the young parts and so I did something different. I got out some crayons and let the young parts draw and express themselves. I used my non-dominant hand…which was weird, but actually really freeing. I am not good at art, anyway, so it really did look like a four-year-old had been let loose with the Crayola but that was the whole point, it wasn’t meant to be polished it was the actual feelings in the moment. And once I got going it all came.
I was in two minds what to do with them. Part of me wanted Anita to see them and part of me felt ashamed and embarrassed. However, I felt it was important that this ‘voice’ wasn’t hidden away because it was the true vulnerable stuff. So I sent them and WHOA NELLY the shit then hit the fucking fan – deep breaths for a RB meltdown!:
Crikey that felt so massive at the time. It felt like I triggered Anita into defensive parent, an almost “look what I do for you and it’s never enough” when actually I think what she was trying to do was reassure me and prove to me that she shows her commitment in so many ways. It was just terrible timing, though. I shared the most vulnerable stuff with her and suddenly money and time boundaries we coming into play. I felt like I had showed her how hurt I was and she was now taking stuff away. Jeez. It really set the cat amongst the pigeons.
After a lot of back-and-forth things settled but I felt like I’d been on the emotional waltzers – I bet you guys do too having seen it in all its glory!
Somehow, I regained my equilibrium after that (I have to say having K on my team has really helped buffer this stuff and give me space to process it a bit outside the immediate triggering situation) and the next session was largely adult – I talked about all sorts of things, I was settled enough, felt safe enough, and then with twenty minutes to go I leapt in and talked about what had happened that last session and how it had impacted me. Anita was really understanding and apologised for not having my stuff in the room and wanted me to know it’s not because she doesn’t care it’s just sometimes she forgets and it’s not intentional.
So what’s going on then? Why has everything just flipped on its axis? It turns out Anita is stretched to her limit and has basically had to rein everything in so that she doesn’t burn out.
Oh great. Here we go.
Timing is everything and coming off the back of a holiday and disruption the last thing I needed was a shift in the frame and boundaries.
Part of protecting herself from burnout is changing how she works…which is bad news for me. Adult me gets that people’s lives don’t stay the same and things change – I mean look at my life over the last two years – but it’s felt so fucking hard having my therapy impacted through no fault of my own. Stuff in Anita’s life has got harder and in order to manage that, it’s my therapy and time with her that suffers (well not just that, but you know what I mean). She’s told me that she’s tried really hard to not let what’s happening impact me and tried to keep things the same as I am so impacted by change but she has to make changes or she’ll be no good to anyone.
The child part keeps looping round to “What have I done wrong?” and has asked her several times because the extra time being taken off the table and the outside contact seemingly being reduced too…well it feels punishing. And no surprises it has a huge impact on how safe I feel in the relationship. Things have escalated into a total shitshow when they previously wouldn’t have because I have stopped reaching out for fear of being ‘too much’ or not getting a reply when I need it. It’s basically a recipe for disaster.
Case in point was recently I had a fucking awful dream about Anita- and usually I would have reached out at the time, and she would have responded with something caring or holding and it would have put it to rest until the next session when we could look at it together. This time, instead of letting her know about it, I held onto it, and it just festered and snowballed as the week went on. Then that same week Anita text me midweek to tell me she was having to cancel a session the following week but might be able to rearrange and would let me know the next day…but she didn’t let me know and so I felt panicked and stressed and forgotten about and abandoned….and that was another straw on the camel’s back…nearly at breaking point.
The dream was hideous, and it doesn’t take all that imagination to see what it was about:
I was due to go to my session and when I arrived Anita was already sitting in the room. She was sitting on the sofa, but it had been cut in half, and the part that I sit on had been removed from the room and instead replaced with a desk/workstation. I looked at Anita and her face had no expression (like still face experiment). It was like her body was there, but she was absent. I felt instantly sick. I said, “you’ve changed it” and she swore blind that she hadn’t and “nothing was different”. I pointed at the desk and said “you’ve made it so we can’t sit together, and I can’t be close to you anymore”. And she denied it again. I walked out crying knowing that I wouldn’t see her again.
I woke up trembling and shaking on the Monday morning and it niggled away at me for the rest of the week. By the time I arrived at the session I was done in. It never used to be like this and it’s really taking its toll.
And so we go on and on and on in this messy spiral.
I will get my head round it eventually but right now it’s like I have had the rug pulled from under my feet. I feel like I have been cast adrift. I feel like I am questioning the relationship because if I really ‘mattered’ she’d find the time for me, wouldn’t she? And then of course it all comes back round to the fact that I am work, a client, and she can switch off from me whenever she chooses, and I don’t have any power in the relationship other than to leave. It’s that kicker of a reality check that really gives the critic and protectors power. They will burn the house down.
Part of what’s really hard is that the changes in Anita and I work have not been discussed or mutually agreed, they’ve been imposed by her/done to me. And this triggers back into what it was like as a child. I either went along with what was happening or I lost out altogether. I feel desperately sad that the therapy that felt so containing and holding now feels threatening to my system. Suddenly I want more than Anita can give, but my needs haven’t changed, I am not asking for more – it’s her capacity that’s changed…and that’s really hard…I am trying to get adult on board but it’s tough when all the child parts have been triggered and trust feels wobbly.
And yet, deep down, I really do know Anita cares about me and loves me. None of what she has done is meant to hurt me. There isn’t anything fundamentally wrong between us. She isn’t pulling back because of me or because I am too much, but it’s so hard to accept that because that’s how I am experiencing it. It may not be me that’s causing her to retreat, but it is still a retreat, and I am still feeling the impact of it. And no amount of her explaining she has to rejig to be able to work safely is cutting it, because little me feels like mummy has decided that little girl is able to cope alone and that her needs don’t warrant attention anymore…ouch.
And basically, we’re right back in the thick of the mother wound where I had to be an adult too soon. And yes, I get I AM AN ADULT but this inner child work is such delicate work and I feel like it’s hit the skids in a big way. It’s no surprise that I am dreaming of careering down hills and my brakes not working. Argh.
Of course, I still have my two sessions a week. I can still text Anita and she does reply most of the time (just not in the way she used to). We still get to cuddle. She still reads stories. She is still Anita. In so many ways nothing has changed and yet internally EVERYTHING has been blown up. There feels like there is no space for me now. Like what if I need her, or an extra session? That’s not available and so that makes it feel unsafe and uncontained…even though I don’t need an extra session right now!
I am trying to tell myself and remind myself all the ways that things are still ok. How committed A is. BUT those teens and the inner critic can be so vocal can’t they? And it’s hard. Sometimes all I can do is take a step back and go…’but look how much you still get, look how much you NEVER got with Em, and do you really think there’s anyone who would go even halfway towards what Anita gives you?’ and when I do this I realise that actually I am so fucking lucky. I’m lucky that Anita is dug in deep too and can hear me losing my shit and accept it and apologise for her part in some things and keep showing up for me, like we are in the trenches but we’re not admitting defeat.
After the episode (meltdown) with the young parts’ drawings and elephant not being in the room Anita has had the books out in every session. She was so sorry that the little parts had felt disregarded and assured me that it was NEVER her intention and that there was no message or change to be read in her forgetting. So, I try and let that filter in. I do feel her authenticity and humanness – she is not perfect – and I guess this is another lesson to the littles that idealise her. Actually, she’s just like the rest of us – flawed – and she regularly says this herself. But she’s better than anything I have experienced previously, she is a better therapist than Em and she is more nurturing and available than my mum!
It was my birthday recently and she remembered, and not only remembered but bought me a present – a soft toy…a soft toy that I had sent her a picture of last year and said how much I wanted one because they are soooo soft and she wrote me a lovely card, too…unlike my mum who didn’t even send me a card.
Like this woman cares A LOT. She listens and she takes me, all of me, in. I feel it, I see it, and yet because the relationship is so deep and intimate now it touches on every sore bit I have when things shift and change. In fact, I text her after another disaster session yesterday and said, “I love you, but it would be so much easier if I didn’t.” I get that this is part of the work. It’s where I am at right now. We’re dealing with all the triggers and all the landmines, and I need to learn that change doesn’t signal disaster but my god it’s sending me through the crazy mill!
I absolutely love my squishmallow. I love Anita. And yet, hardly any time after my birthday just before Mother’s Day… I got up and walked out of a session … as you do. Talk about yo-yoing! It was another intolerable situation I found myself in. I had got myself worked up about that dream about the sofa, how I didn’t feel like Anita was ‘there for me’ anymore and then the thing about not letting me know if I could see her when she said she would had left me in a state because it felt like she just doesn’t get how impacted I am by disruption. It turned out she could reschedule but ahhhhhhh by the time I found that out it was too late – I was full blown shut down!…
AND YES I DO SEE HOW NIT-PICKY IT’S BECOME but this is what happens.
Trigger after trigger after trigger sees us going mental with the hypervigilance and every small thing becomes fucking massive. I know it, and yet, it’s so hard to step out of it when we’re so far out the window of tolerance – which in my case is painfully thin like a letterbox even at the best of times! I feel like I need some space to just settle and breathe and yet we keep hitting landmines. Yesterday Anita said, “it feels like one disaster after another with us at the moment, doesn’t it?” before enveloping me in a tight hug that was so very needed. The fact it had taken me half an hour to be able to get out the car because I felt so upset about a lack of acknowledgment about a card I had given her…well…fuckkkkkkkk.
Anyway, that ‘walk out’ session before Mother’s Day was another disaster. Another massive sense of disconnection. Another time when I couldn’t allow myself to let Anita close and in pushing her away fuelled the fire of feeling abandoned. She repeatedly asked me if I wanted a hug and I repeatedly said “NOOOOO”. I was keeping her at arm’s length, protecting myself but also, deliberately punishing her a bit, I think.
Parts of me are so hurt and so angry about what’s happened with the change to the therapy and my sense of her taking herself away, that I think there’s a bit of me that wants her to feel it and understand it. That’s new. Usually, my protective parts are all about keeping me safe and nothing about trying to have an impact on the other. But is it her, that I want to punish? No. Not really. It’s my mum. It’s my mum’s deficits and lack of care not Anita’s that are the problem. Anita isn’t my mum and yet she’s been more of a mum to me in the last two years than mine ever has been…and yet, my therapist, poor woman is bearing the brunt of someone else’s legacy. She didn’t create the injury but she’s feeling the full force of it.
In a recent session A told me that my silence and pushing her away can feel punishing sometimes and then she had started to cry. I was blown away. So often she’s said how she respects my protectors and the job they are trying to do so it was a revelation to hear that, actually, my self-protection can feel hard for her too, and that how I am impacts her. I mean I guess it must, but sometimes I think we forget our therapists are not robots (well, Em was!). I had said at the time my silence and shut down is self-protection not rejection, and she said that her having to look after herself was self-protection but I am experiencing it as rejection, too. Neither one of us is aiming to reject the other but that’s what it’s feeling like. FUCK!!! Being in relationship is hard isn’t it?!
Unfortunately, the day I walked out of session – or should I say what prompted me to do a runner was that my silence and difficulty saying whatever it was that I was feeling led the conversation round to the idea of control and Anita saying I have control and power in the relationship and that I can look after me. It felt like she was saying she was no longer prepared to look after me and set the fireworks off again. SHITTTTTT. Reader, that is not what she was saying at all, but it was enough for me to get up and leave. I couldn’t tolerate the pain of the disconnection anymore and ran out. FUCK. Man!!
I sat in my car crying for a bit and then text Anita and told her that I knew we were done and that I needed time to process it. I felt so desperate and lost and alone.
She replied an hour later with:
“If that’s your choice, I truly respect your decision. You need to do what feels best for you.”
Ouch. Ouch. OUCH!!!
That felt so much like the ending with Em. “Ok, thanks for letting me know.”
I knew Anita had a huge few days ahead, which is why we’d had to reschedule in the first place, and realised it was not the time to get into a huge back and forth. I might be triggered but I am not a complete asshole. I sensed she was not on her A game and whatever came next really could be make or break and it would be unfair to expect her to interact with me in the way I wanted when she had stuff on. I was triggered and she was elsewhere, so I decided to try and hold it for the weekend. That was not easy, I can tell you!
Weeks ago, my best friend had an idea that maybe I should catch myself in the moment when things are raw in voice notes rather than trying to write stuff down – partly because Anita is dyslexic and partly because I filter so much when I write (not here obvs!) and so a voice note means A can hear how I’m saying something and takes out that stuff where what’s written and what is seen don’t quite align.
So, I recorded a message to Anita on the Friday and sent it to her on the Sunday. She messaged me on Sunday night when I was down at the seaside. I’d been away for the weekend and trying to ‘not get bogged down in panic’ but I knew from the message she sent and that she hadn’t yet had chance to listen to it but was trying to open the door for me to come back (although it also felt defensive to me), so the next morning, when I woke up, I text and asked her to listen to it when she could and then text me when she had done it and then I’d come in – so I expected her to text at 10:20 as the message was 19 mins long!
I knew it was going to be hard to get to the session because I was drowning in shame and anxiety about how things had gone on the Thursday and how things have been since coming back from holiday. The message she had sent on Thursday felt like she’d checked out (but understandably so given what she had coming up) and I was struggling with that but also trying to tune into the Anita I know. Around 8:30am I got a message from A saying she’d listened to the message, and she ‘really hoped to see me’ and it felt like she was back and warm and basically ok! Phew!
I found the voice note was a really good way of saying what I needed to say in the moment. I was able to really hook into the issue but also let my mind go where it needed. I was able to be honest about how much losing the extra time felt, how hard I find it to ask for things in the first place, all kinds of stuff really- and it clearly landed as I hoped with A.
That session was a tough one, but massively connected/connecting. We talked through so much. Particularly about what happens in those awful states of shut down and what I need in those moments (Not to be told I can leave and have a choice!) but also when I run out or back myself into a corner I need her to give me a way back in, i.e the message she sent but with a caveat at the end “I’ll be here on Monday, I still care, and we can work through this if you want to”. There’s so much processing going on right now! Anita reiterated her commitment to the work and heard what I had to say and it felt ok…so you’d think that’d be the end of it wouldn’t you?
Hell no! We’re on the fifth round of the rollercoaster ride and everyone is nauseous! I want to get off!
Part of me is just watching this like a slow-motion car crash. I feel dizzy from how much stuff is going off. It’s like someone kicked over the dominoes! Another part is laughing and rolling their eyes. Like, I suppose it’s good that I feel safe enough to kick off and get upset and show my dissatisfaction and stamp my feet with A, where previously I’d sit with Em and be a ‘good girl’ and just dissociate instead…. and so that’s progress…but then the level of tantrum and upset is catastrophic and feels like I have been catapulted back into being a kid or a teen when I just want to be ‘normal’.
I’m trying hard not to judge myself too harshly or sink too deeply into the shame when it comes but it’s certainly not easy.
Right, so what else went wrong??!
Btw – sorry, this is so looooong – I should probably have broken it into separate posts but I would forget to schedule them and know I won’t get chance to come back to this for a while so we may as well do big rupture blog and then breathe! Not that anyone will read this anyway – but I need a record of the chaos!
So, of course a lot of this was happening around Mother’s Day…not a triggering time at all is it?! Weeks ago, before my holiday (which feels like a lifetime ago now), I saw a card in the shops for and I really wanted to give it to Anita – this was obviously way before the recent crap that’s gone off. I gave her a card last year and it was received well and so I bought it for her – it was more from the young parts than the adult so when it came closer to the time, this year, I felt scared and worried, and like she may not receive it well. I’d literally just ran out the session the previous week so I didn’t really feel I could go in a give her a card when we had been teetering on the edge of me walking away!
But, after the (latest) repair session I felt more connected and safer to express what I wanted. So I wrote out this message later in the week and took it to session on Friday just gone:
I saw this card ages ago and wanted to give it to you – and then everything went to shit recently and I didn’t because I thought you might see it as another example of me wanting more from you than you can give or me overstepping a boundary. But it’s not that. Sure, I wish I had a mum more like you and I feel sad that I don’t, but like last year I wanted to acknowledge, again, how grateful I am to you for all that you do for me and to thank you for the love and care that you show me week in, week out, year in, year out – especially at the times when I am really not deserving of it and am pushing you away.
You said on Monday that you were like a wall, that you were solid and not going anywhere and despite recent walk outs and tantrums more and more parts of me are beginning to see this – I must trust that solidity or there is no way I would feel safe enough tell you how things feel, have so many meltdowns, and generally lose my mind on loop! Things do still feel unsteady and it’s going to take time to adjust because when I wobble it’s like a full-on earthquake inside – but when I stop and take a step back and breathe, what’s left is a really huge sense of love and gratitude. I really just want to say thank you – for your patience, kindness, generosity, trying so hard to make me feel safe, all the cuddles, stories, presents, washing elephant…not giving up on me or shaming me…and giving me the best experience of mothering I have had. I love you x
And that felt really big- so vulnerable- after how it’s been the last few weeks. I gave it to Anita at the end of the session because it had taken that long to work through the catastrophe of the previous session, and she said she’d look at it over the weekend. Knowing how crap things have been lately I imagined she’d read that and go one of two ways: 1) everything is fine, she’d like the card and the sentiment or 2) it’d be too much, and she’d feel like she needs to pull away.
In the past when I have sent Anita things she would usually respond in some way whether it be a message, a gif, or sometimes a photograph of whatever it is I have given her.
Not this time.
It was radio silence all weekend. I knew she was going away because she’d told me and that had led to another complicating factor about something I had offered her that I don’t have time for now as we’re 6000 words in (SORRY!)! So because of this, I basically went into a massive panic over the weekend. Her silence seemingly confirming everything I was worrying about. Another retreat from me. I threw myself into housework and blitzed the place because I knew that if I stopped, I would fall apart. I’m absolutely knackered this week as a result but better than a complete emotional breakdown!
Because I had heard nothing from A, a big part of me was scared to go to the session on Monday. I felt like I was just going to be walking into the lion’s den of rejection. I felt so overwhelmed. I tried hard to talk myself down but my system was in bits. I could feel the internal tremor or my nervous system freaking out and it felt REALLY BAD. I arrived at Anita’s ten minutes before time and text her and told her I was struggling to get out the car.
This is the conversation that happened that day. I was so dissociated at points I don’t even know where the time went.
After half an hour I managed to get myself in a state where I could get out the car and into the house. I more or less collapsed into Anita’s arms on the doorstep and we had a massive hug. When I got into the room Anita was so kind and said she understood how hard it had been to come today. I told her I felt ill, and she moved over to me and wrapped me in a cuddle. I cried and cried and trembled and ugh it was painful. Anita thought I was upset about the other thing that’s too long winded to go into – and I was – but actually it was really the card that was the kicker. It was not knowing what she thought or felt about it.
It turned out Anita had rushed out on Friday and left her phone at home for the weekend which is why she hadn’t replied to a message I had sent on Friday and she was so sorry about it. We only had half an hour because of my inability to get into the room and with about five minutes to go I told Anita that I wasn’t all that upset about the thing she thought I was upset about. She stopped, and wondered what I was upset about.
A minute passed. And then I said, “did you read the card I gave you?” I felt Anita take in a deep breath and kind of freeze for a second. I knew instantly that it was a no. I felt such a rush of feelings: disappointment, sadness, shame. She told me she hadn’t. My system went off its tits again. I said, “Just put it in the bin, then”. Anita asked “Why?” and moodily I whispered, “Because it doesn’t matter”… when what I really felt and meant was “Because I don’t matter.” Right now everything feels like such a huge contrast to how it used to be and how it is now and I keep coming back round to the fact that I am no longer important enough to Anita to warrant her time.
I know that this isn’t the case…well part of me does…but there are so many parts struggling right now.
Anita then went onto tell me that she had opened the card and saw that there was a lot of writing in it and had put it away for later because she knew it would take her an hour to read it and make sense of it. That’s how dyslexic she is. I had no idea it was so bad. Hearing her be vulnerable and tell me how much she struggles and how much it takes out of her to write and read really hit home. If that card would be so big a challenge it made me realise how much time she must have spent trying to read stuff in the past for me. Instantly, I felt different. I then asked, “Was the voice note better?” and she said, “Yes, that was amazing because I could hear what you were saying and didn’t need to actually work out what the words are and what you mean.”
She went on to tell me that it wasn’t that she couldn’t be arsed to read my card it was because she physically hadn’t had the time over the weekend to give it the attention it needed. I felt a bit less disgruntled! She told me that none of this is about her not caring or not loving me or me having done anything wrong but that stuff in her life is making her have to really rejig and she knows people who have lost their marriages over the same thing.
Again, that isn’t easy to hear because I feel like I have lost so much lately. In therapy we can be selfish and ask for our needs to be met without considering the other too much – and yet here I am, and my therapist’s life is impacting my therapy – the boundaries have changed and the frame feels wobbly and my safe container feels like it can’t hold me how I need to be held. It’s tough, for sure.
I told Anita I could read her the card aloud if she liked, but we had run out of time by then. She told me she would find the time to read it before Friday but I am preparing myself to read it to her in the session because I know she is flat out. Before I got up to leave, I said, “It feels like you have taken yourself away from me.” Over recent weeks I have said this a lot and she’s kind of denied it or made out that nothing has changed, but finally she acknowledged it – but she reiterated that it wasn’t because of anything that I have done and her feelings haven’t changed.
So. There we are. That’s the last few weeks of chaos. And 7000 words. I think my undergraduate dissertation was only 8000! Lol.
I’ll get round to commenting on people’s blogs over the Easter break but right now I am drowning in work and this rupture! I am very aware that I haven’t actually done much thinking about this stuff here, and there’s a lot that can be said but mainly I think the thing I am trying to take away from this is that people change, lives change, but it doesn’t have to mean that everything is doomed even if it feels like it. At least, that’s what I am hoping. I think falling headlong into my trigger zone has been unfortunate, but it will and has opened up a lot of conversation about my early years and relationships with caregivers. If anything, this unfiltered shit show is giving Anita a deeper insight into the damage and hopefully we’ll find a way through.
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.
This post is massively delayed so the first part feels pretty ancient now – so if this all feels disjointed it’s because there’s a month to catch up on rather than the week I had anticipated when I began. I started writing this the day before my kids were struck down with COVID and ironically was banging on about self-care and taking time out. Life got ridiculously hectic with both kids off school and still trying to work and honestly, that two weeks floored me. I mean, really, it was as though a whole other trapdoor of fatigue opened up beneath me…and of course, there was a massive wobble due to the unscheduled therapy break, well from f2f, too… so there’s lots that’s happened but I can’t necessarily remember the order of events- apologies if there’s a bit of jumping around.
As you all know, I was having a big wobble last week (last month, now!). My energy was so low, my capacity was non-existent, and the resources I usually draw on to get by, were flashing a red warning light. I had to stop. Or rather I could no longer keep going, and so had to take the day off. There really wasn’t a choice, I simply couldn’t keep going.
I’d like to say that taking time out was massively restorative and I bounced back and was good to go again, but it’s not always like that. As I was saying in my last post self-care is often framed as bubble baths, and walks in nature, and eating healthily – simple acts of filling your cup – and it is, but what I was trying to say the other day is that sometimes self-care is none of that, too. Sometimes you don’t have the energy for ANY of that and so self-care can be temporarily stopping the stuff that is depleting you, whittling things down to the absolute essentials in an effort to function. Wednesday was me sticking a band aid over the wound so as not to bleed out.
Taking the day simply meant that I didn’t crash and burn later in the week. I didn’t replenish anything that day. I didn’t top up my internal tank at all – it just meant that I didn’t drain myself dry which meant I could limp towards the weekend instead of stalling and then completely conking out midweek. And that’s good enough. Sometimes self-care is just that, knowing your physical and emotional limitations and listening to your body and inner wisdom and trusting that you know what’s best for you and giving yourself what need.
Honestly, if I wasn’t self-employed I would have taken the week off sick, it felt that bad. There are so many upsides to being my own boss but not being able to afford to get sick is certainly not one of them! In the ideal world I’d have a savings account where I put a percentage of what I earn away into some kind of ‘sick fund’ but the reality is there’s always something that demands money: my car has just cost me a fortune and still has something wrong with it, bills keep creeping up and up, and I have kids…that need clothing and feeding! My life seems to work on the juggling act of 0% balance transfer credit cards – there simply isn’t a pot of money for off days.
Alas. Still, it could be worse. I, at least, have my health (at the minute) and that has not always been a given.
So, back to therapy. And Anita. Oh. Thanks to the universe for sending me this therapist. Because honestly, she’s just exactly the stable loving force I need in my life. I was spiralling like a tornado last week. Everything felt disastrous (and yes, I was due my period so that wasn’t helping!). As I said in my last post, I don’t think I’d really recovered my footing after the breaks in December and the anniversary of all the shit hitting the fan with Em just compounded my sense of things not being ok, not being safe.
Things were so tense in one of my sessions, recently, that Anita asked if we should go and have a walk around her garden. I was in such a protected grumpy teen space that I snarled at her, “No, it’s too cold” and then went back to my silent treatment and feeling like I had been abandoned. On reflection I wish I had taken this opportunity – sure it was cold, but to be invited into another part of Anita’s space and share that would have been nice. Still, my teen wasn’t having it that day, so that’s that.
—– 18th February…
So fast forward several weeks and here I am writing this from 36,000 feet on my way to the sun. THANK FUCK. It’s the first block of free time I have had in weeks, and I cannot tell you how delighted I am to be headed away on a holiday. Having said that, the take off in storm Eunice was….a… bit… (a lot)…HAIRY! I booked and paid for this trip in December 2019 before my wife got made redundant at the start of the pandemic and then went on and lost her next job in the February…it was booked and paid for before everything got so financially stretched and strained.
The trip has been cancelled four times over the course of the last couple of years due to COVID. Every time it’s been cancelled, I have been offered a refund by the holiday company and each time I have been so tempted to take the money and pay off some debt. Each time I have gone to therapy and discussed the situation with Anita, she has encouraged me to keep the holiday (if I can) and I have. And then it gets cancelled again and we have the same chat. For the last couple of years Anita has repeatedly voiced how badly I am in need of a holiday and honestly, she is so right, and I am so glad that we are now able to get away after the couple of years we’ve had.
Because I get a discounted rate in therapy it sometimes feels like I shouldn’t have ‘nice things’ if I am not paying Anita’s full fee. I simply couldn’t afford £120+/week to see her now, so I am really grateful that we have found a rate that works for us both. I pay a flat monthly fee and it’s the same regardless of whether we have breaks or not, or whether we have extra time. So, this month I miss three sessions because I am away and then another session just after I get back because A is away (groan!) but the cost remains the same. I know where I am at with this system, and it means that sometimes it works out better financially for Anita too.
Anyway, nice things…or lack of them! I take care of the kids’ stuff – their trainers were literally falling apart this week, so I had to get them new ones and also had to buy them some summer wear (they’ve grown since last year) but my wife and I are sporting clothes we’ve had for over a decade and topped up with the odd bit of Primani. It’s been a bit of a challenge with clothing for me lately seeing as in the last year I have gained a stone and finally kicked my 25 year ED into touch (I will write about that soon!).
My arse simply doesn’t fit into my size 6/8 clothes and for the first time in my life I am wearing a size 10 – which being 5ft 7, being nearly 40 and having birthed two kids feels right for me. Anyway, what I’m trying to say, is that taking a holiday feels extravagant right now but I am so glad we managed to hang on to it and I intend to make the most of it because, quite frankly, it’s been a really tough two years has been tough…
So, therapy…well… what can I say? The short notice move to online sessions when my kids tested positive with COVID was really hard. Fortunately, the preceding Friday session that Anita I had, had been very connecting and I left feeling really settled…which is lucky because what came next was a complete shit show. The Monday session was ‘meh’ again. False adult fronted and talked shit for an hour. I disconnected the call and felt numb. Empty. Well, that was until all the big feelings from the young parts flooded in and derailed the week.
It was awful.
I felt so disconnected from Anita and it escalated at the week went on. As I’ve said before, lack of physical proximity and working on the phone just plunges me back into my mum being away for all those years when I was a child. It’s really painful.
I text Anita the night before the session to say that things felt bad…
The morning of the session I got up, got showered, got dressed, and got stuck…or rather, frozen. I was sitting on my bed ready for the session. Anita’s name flashed up on the screen. It rang and rang and rang and yet I couldn’t answer the call. My heart was racing but I just felt paralysed. Part of me wanted to talk to Anita and another part couldn’t face the idea of another session like Monday.
I sat staring at the screen and after a few minutes text Anita – here is the exchange:
d parts were absolutely besides themselves. It was agony.
In the end Anita called in and I left the phone on the bed pointing up at the ceiling. My cat had come in for a cuddle and was purring in my arms. Anita began to read ‘The Invisible String’. It took a long time for me to be able to tune into her voice and the story but eventually the child parts felt a little more settled.
The session was over and it felt awful again. There’s so much going on internally that needs sorting through and talking about but I have found lately that I have been so strung out just getting through the weeks that I simply haven’t had the capacity or energy to dig into what’s coming up. I am hoping after this holiday I’ll be able to – once Anita returns from her break.
Fortunately, for my system I was able to go to my Monday session and see Anita f2f as both kids had tested negative and I had avoided it all together. From what I remember we had a connected, holding session but I can’t tell you what happened as I have absolutely no idea!…oh hang on…yes…we’d been talking about how hard disruption is for the young parts and then Anita told me that she was going to be away after I get back from holiday for a week. I burst into tears as I snuggled into her chest.
Poor A! All I seemed to do that session was go through various states of upset and then calm down and then cry again. This extra revelation, I think, meant that the overwhelming feelings just burst their container in a big way. Nightmare. We spent the remainder of the session regulating and containing the young parts who are so scared that something terrible will happen or things will chance when we are apart.
The sessions leading into this holiday have really been a mixed bag. There’ve been really close sessions and ones where I have completely kept my distance and pushed Anita away in anticipation of the separation. I find those sessions really painful. No matter what Anita does it feels impossible to cut through. My protectors are so powerful. And my goodness it’s soooooo exhausting.
And so, to Monday – and our last session before the break. I felt mixed feelings heading to the session. Part of me didn’t want to go and another part felt like the stakes were really high because I so needed to leave feeling settled and connected because of this latest period of disruption heading all the way into mid-March.
”Is there a medic anywhere on the flight?!!! If there’s a medic on the flight PLEASE make yourself known!
… the joys of being a nurse eh? So that’s been my wife busy for the last hour with a passenger. At least the years in acute care and crash response have been put to good use again! This is the first time in all the years I’ve been travelling this has happened. I think my wife most definitely deserves her holiday now. Still an hour until landing and I’m sure once we land, she’ll be so glad that I pushed her from her seat!
So, back to the final session. Because we were headed into a break, I asked Anita if we might start earlier. As I have said before, 75 minute sessions feel a bit more containing because it feels like there’s enough time to drop the defences (if they’re there), land in the room, connect, do the work, and pack everything back up carefully.
So, it was lucky we had more time as it turned out to be one of those sessions where what was said and what was heard don’t quite marry up – and not in a good way – or at least not for the young parts who are so quick to feel abandoned and rejected – especially around breaks. I’d sat down and downloaded the stresses of the week (too much to do, not enough time, body shakes, nervous system overwrought…blah blah blah) for about fifteen minutes and there was a natural break in the conversation. I felt myself step out of that day-to-day headspace and became quiet as what was underneath came to the surface. I felt the panic that I’d carrying all week acutely, and the memories of the nightmares I’d had came up. Ugh.
Anita wondered aloud where the young parts were at and asked whether I wanted a cuddle. I nodded and shuffled across the sofa towards her and into her familiar warm arms. My heart was racing and I was physically trembling. Anita commented on this and said I felt cold to touch and gently rubbed my back. I tried to tune into A’s heartbeat but the sound of my own heart hammering in my ears meant I couldn’t. After about fifteen minutes my heart rate finally slowed and I could hear A’s slow, steady beat. I felt my whole system settle and felt soothed and calm which was a welcome relief after how hard things had felt these last few weeks.
23rd Feb…(loving the holiday btw!)
There was quiet for a while, and I asked Anita what she was thinking. She said she was thinking about what was going on between us and about Transactional Analysis. I was so deeply in that child state that I felt panic rise through my body as she continued to talk. She said something about how for growth we are aiming for my adult and parent to be able to hold the child parts and how one day she won’t be there.
From that point everything got messy inside and I felt like I was going to actually going to have a full-blown panic attack. As all this was rising up in me and then something flicked, and I froze. Dead still. Hardly breathing. And I remained that way for a long time. I was completely out of my window of tolerance.
This was not the fucking plan for the session.
Just for clarity, what Anita was actually saying is one day I will have done enough work in therapy that I won’t need therapy in the way I do now or need her in the same way I do. But this is not what I needed to hear before a break when the child parts were so present because all they could hear in that moment was ‘She’s gonna leave me – everyone always leaves me’.
Anita said something about her acting as like a nanny or grandma who can settle the young parts when everything seems bad, until one day there will a point where my adult can take over and do it for myself. That’s what we’re aiming for. Again, nothing wrong with that, because I’m guessing that when I have worked through the early stuff, I’m unlikely to want to spend hours of my week cuddled into her but it just felt so rejecting in that particular moment in the particular young state I was in. And let’s be clear here, my child parts don’t see her as a nanny or a grandma…they see her as mum. And so, even this very warm, caring statement felt rejecting.
Anita went on to say that we are slowly trying to repair what went wrong as a child and redoing some of the stuff that was missed along the way and there’s a part of me that is glad to hear that after so long being told that, “The time for those needs to be met has passed and you need to mourn for what you didn’t get.” I guess what Anitas is saying is that what we’re doing is a kind of ‘limited reparenting’ perhaps. And I can definitely see that. From the very beginning she has been clear that it’s ok to have needs, express them, and if possible (and within reason) she’ll try and meet them. And she has. She’s been really great in the two years (TWO YEARS) since we met.
As I was lying cuddled into her with my elephant (ready to be washed as there’s one session back before Anita goes away), yet frozen, A talked about how with deep wounds you can’t just put a plaster over them and hope for the best. It’s a long process and the wound has to heal from right deep down in the core. She said she’s in for the long haul and won’t abandon the young parts. She’s there for the journey, but of course the original sound bite that was drowning out everything was “I won’t be able to do this forever” and so lots of the different parts were freaking out, ‘What if she leaves before we have done the work?’…etc etc.
Adult me gets what she was trying to say because it was said with so much warmth and love, and I know the intention was meant to reassure the parts of me that worry about being too much about the strength of the relationship – but the child parts have hung onto this and have filled up with shame about it. I’m going to have to talk about all this on Monday because it’s hurt me and yet I know this is not Anita’s intention at all. She was so good in the session when I was quiet and crying. She asked me to tell her what I had heard and clarified what she meant over and over – and after the session I sent her a message and she reiterated her position again:
I think this episode just really goes to show how easily triggered young, vulnerable parts are. It takes such a long time to build trust in the therapeutic relationship, to let these parts be seen, and then any hint or sense that the safety of the therapy will be taken away is massively triggering. Anita has no plans to stop the therapy. My therapy will end when it feels right for me. But coming off the back of a premature ending of a long-term therapy due to the young parts being ‘adhesive’ and ‘like a tick’ to Em means that I panic if Anita hints at us ending, or her not being there, or me not needing her.
As I’ve said a million times, Adult me gets it. All of it. But man, these child parts are right in the thick of the work and such a long way off ‘not needing Anita anymore’ and as I said, on the eve of a break the last thing I needed to hear was about a future where she isn’t as she is now, when the young parts needed reassurance that nothing is going to change. (And yes she did say all that “I’ll still be here when you come home. I won’t change. We’ll still be ok. And you are not too much for me…” on loop.
I don’t know how much of this has made sense because it’s been so split.
The last session before the break wobbled me a lot – but it’s ok!
p.s Sorry I have been AWOL on your blogs. I’m hoping to get some time online over the weekend to catch you x
Happy New Year 2022 everyone…it’s been a little (looong) while since I’ve made it here to post but it’s ok, I am not dead, just hanging on by a thread. The fact I’ve not blogged since Christmas is really a reflection on just how fucking busy my life has become not about my interest in my blog or writing. I really miss this space.
I seem to be running on treadmill that’s about two (hundred) speeds too fast for me, and there just aren’t any adequate windows of time in the week to sit down and reflect in my writing (or get any other pressing things done!)…hence the fact, today, I’m sitting here at 7am on a Saturday in my dressing gown carving out some time.
There’s a bloody cruel irony here, though. Every weekday I have to be up at 6am to stand any chance of getting us all out the house and honestly, I feel like I am scraping my half dead body out of bed when the alarm goes off, yet on the weekends when I can sleep in if I want, I wake up automatically at 6:20am and my brain and body goes, “We’re good, LET’S GO!!” If I tried to go back to sleep now I couldn’t, despite the fact I have yawned four massive yawns since starting this and really need to catch up on about a decade’s worth of sleep deficit.
Might try for an afternoon nap a little bit later!
As you can see, nothing has changed with my waffling and rambling ability…get to the point RB!
It’s been an ‘interesting’ month in therapy since coming back from Christmas holiday. The lead into the holidays was a bit tumultuous after Anita had a break at the beginning of December as well as Christmas and it took a good while for me to properly find my feet…well, actually, I am not sure I fully did, I just wasn’t completely on my arse. I said at the time that there were a few sessions where I struggled to connect with her and in one didn’t hug her until I left which really felt bad for the young parts. It’s been more of the same in January. Ugh.
I haven’t been able to put my finger on what has been wrong – only that something feels off. My body is tense, I am getting pins and needles in my hands and feet during the sessions, and I feel like I am drifting away from A…or like she is far far away. Part of me knows that this isn’t the case, she’s right there, she’s present and trying, she says the right things but they seem to bounce off me, I can’t take them in a lot of the time and so it ‘feels’ like there something wrong. My brain can’t find words but my body is in panic.
It’s the child parts that are struggling. Adult, or sometime False Adult, has been showing up quite a lot to cover this up – and for two successive sessions there was no touch in my sessions until walking out the room at the end which was fucking disastrous for the time between the sessions – and I think has led to this spiral of doubt and fear about the relationship.
I know that not being physically close for a couple of sessions doesn’t sound like all that big of a deal. I mean we’re on the same sofa, it’s not like she’s on Mars! In fact, there will be people who will be reading this who desperately want to hug their therapists and that not be an option to them (you know I’ve been there for 8 years with Em and I understand how painful that is), or people who only ever get a quick hug at the end of their sessions who wish they could have more will probably think I’m just moaning and not seeing how lucky I actually am to have Anita and her open season where touch is concerned. I do get it. And I also get that what’s happened in these sessions has been my doing not Anita’s. It’s not like she’s suddenly become withholding or changed the boundary on touch.
There have been sessions where I have done nothing but talk, or as Anita said the other day, “download” in the session… which is partly because my life is so fucking hectic and sooooo much is going on and I haven’t left space for the littles. I pay for it in a big way afterwards and really we need to make time for those young parts in each session, even if it’s only to acknowledge they’re there, in hiding.
The main problem that has arisen is that because there were two successive sessions of the child parts not getting seen they feel like Anita has forgotten about them. Outside the sessions it’s felt like the interactions Anita and I have had have been a bit, I dunno, just not like they used to be?! Again, this is me just being sensitive. When the child parts are really struggling, they need more and yet Anita would have no clue the child parts were there from the types of messages I’ve sent. Unless I am explicit, her responses are never going to meet the need of those little parts that feel scared and forgotten about because they don’t seem to be there communicating.
When I do send a clear message she responds as I need. I think maybe I need to tell A that even if there’s a really adult seeming message, or something very random (something about passports this week), could she please include the young ones in a reply because there’s a lot of shame around how much reassurance the young ones need at the moment. Or maybe I should just warn her that right now there’s a lot that the little ones want to say and to brace for it! I know she’s busy, though, and I don’t want to overwhelm her with, ‘I miss you, I feel like you’re far away, I want a cuddle’ every day! Sometimes, I think a quick five minute check in on the phone during the week would help as it would be a proper connection point…
Anyway, the last few of sessions have been a bit challenging. The child parts just haven’t been let out, whether that’s through endless moaning and chatter (that seems ok on the surface) or through a full on shut down where I feel like I am stuck in jail. Yesterday was a shut down. It was soooo bad. I’d felt really disconnected from Anita during the week, which is hilarious looking back as we have been in touch a lot…but as I said…it hasn’t been for the little ones, or not enough for them, and because there hasn’t been physical reassurance in the sessions (my own fucking fault!) it has led this shitstorm.
You’d think I’d bloody learn by now, wouldn’t you?
By Thursday there was a part of me that really didn’t want to go to therapy on Friday. It felt like Anita was a million miles away (even though she assures me that she is not and has repeatedly tried to reach through my walls over recent weeks). Instead of allowing myself to fester in that, I looked inside and wondered about what was happening, and actually it really boiled down to feeling like I haven’t seen Anita enough. I know that’s nuts, because of course I have seen her. But there has been a lot of disruption for the little parts that really struggle with separation on breaks.
As I said, it takes a while to bounce back from a break and December had two of them. It really destabilises the young ones. I am getting better with breaks (without doubt) but they do still have an impact. It’s so important after a break to work at the reconnection over the next few weeks and for some reason something has just not felt right since January. Often before and after breaks we have done 75-minute sessions which seem to buffer the separation a bit as it gives plenty of time to attend to the child parts who might struggle to come out knowing there’s a break and they have to go away, or after a break when they don’t know if things are still safe.
There’s something about that length of session that really works. I think for people with C-PTSD it takes us a good while to settle/ground into the space as there is so much mental checking that goes on before we ‘relax’. I’ve said lots of times about how I notice insane details, like a light switch, or a different set of fairy lights outside, or what lights are on in the room, or the other tiny things that normal people just wouldn’t see, notice, or care about.
It takes time to orientate to the room and alongside that, orientate to the therapist: is she tired? Is she in a good mood? What is she wearing? Is she sitting further away than last week? Is she listening? Am I safe here? And on and on and on… I linked a great post about this from my friend over at Girl In Therapy and I’ll put it here again because it really does highlight the journey we go on EVERY SINGLE TIME WE ENTER THE ROOM.
So, 75 minutes really takes the stress out of feeling like there ‘isn’t enough time’. In the normal run of things, sometimes half a session can disappear before I feel like I am ready to be how I need to be. And sometimes it’s longer than that. There is nothing worse than glancing at the clock and realising there is only 15 minutes left of a session but knowing now that there isn’t enough time to get what you need. That’s kind of what’s happening at the minute. I honestly don’t know how I managed 50-minute sessions. Well, I didn’t, did I?!
Sometimes, by the time the young parts feel safe enough to move towards Anita there just isn’t time. Like Monday, for example, another day where we hadn’t touched (ARGH!), she asked if I wanted a hug but also said we were nearly at time to finish. I declined because it would actually have been more painful to cuddle for a minute or two and then have to leave when I wasn’t ready to let go. It would actually be more dysregulating. I mean, I am rarely ready to let go, but it would have really hurt those little parts to feel pushed out before they were ready. And yet had that been a longer session, that time to connect would have been there and we could have had that 15 minutes of safety and holding before I left. Instead, I left feeling sad and abandoned – even though that’s not what was going on.
So, rather than run for the hills yesterday (which was what part of me was wanting to do) I decided to instead ask Anita if we could maybe do a longer session on Friday, for the reasons I have just listed. I text her on Thursday and she didn’t respond. Ugh. And, so, of course this fed back into all the stuff about her ‘being too busy’ for me now, and the young parts feeling abandoned and forgotten about and unimportant. Joy. It’s just a perfect storm situation.
I didn’t sleep well on Thursday night and woke up really upset at 4am and couldn’t drift back off. I went through the motions of getting the kids to school and then left for my session. Because Anita hadn’t responded to my message the protectors had come in…you know, the mature one first (the teen 😉) and basically all the way there was going, “Why the fuck are we going? Just turn round and go back to bed! She doesn’t care and is happy to ignore you. You’re such a fucking loser.” Adult me was trying to tell her to “Calm the fuck down” and explain that it’s not the end of the world. But y’all know how this shit plays out inside, right? In the end the teen sat with her arms folded, brooding, staring out the window, and giving me the silent treatment.
I knew this didn’t bode well for my session. When I arrived in Anita’s town, I decided to go and get a drink. (And thinking about this, now, it’s only just clicked how MUCH my teen was present yesterday!) I had time as there was no traffic on the roads and I’d got the kids to school in good time and not had to dash home to pick up stuff, or go have a shower! When I stopped the car I noticed that Anita had sent me a message:
I’m so sorry. I’ve only just seen this message ☹
Part of me completely understood and the teen just rolled her eyes.
So, the place I went to get my drink is a small chain in the area where I live. I could have gone to Costa or somewhere else closer to Anita’s but I knew there was this particular place where A lives as well as in the city where I live. I basically spent most of my A Levels in there revising or chatting with friends. These days (I mean since I’ve been at Uni which is twenty years ago!) I drink decaf skinny lattes – no sugar…. But yesterday I ordered a steamer with a hazelnut shot as if on autopilot – this is basically steamed milk with a very sweet shot of syrup. And it was autopilot…. for my seventeen-year-old self… man!! Sitting in the café I felt that familiar sense of not being good enough that pervaded that period of my life and honestly, I didn’t feel like a 38-year-old with kids!
By the time I got to Anita’s I didn’t think I felt anything much about it at all. I thought I was fine. To Adult, it is what it is. Sometimes it works out when you ask last minute for things and sometimes it doesn’t. No big deal. Only inside those young parts were scared – as they have been for a while now. Jesus.
Anyway, yesterday I got in the room, and I froze. I couldn’t take Anita is AT ALL for AGES. I know she was trying really hard to get to me. She moved closer to me on the sofa, but I must have been giving ‘fuck off’ vibes and it seemed like I wouldn’t let her close. Of course, the young parts were absolutely beside themselves inside, but I was so trapped and couldn’t reach out or let her in. I really wanted Anita to cuddle me and make things feel better – and bridge that gap that seems to be getting bigger and bigger week on week – but another part was convinced that she wanted to stay away and so I couldn’t accept her care. In these situations, it’s never that I don’t want a cuddle it’s more I feel unworthy of the care, or ashamed that I need Anita so much, and so say no.
I think maybe when this happens, we need to think of a way around it. Like, Anita might say, “Can I give you a hug? I’d like to give you a hug” and that sad, lonely, not good enough part shakes her head and pushes A away, and so Anita respects that- but it isn’t what I need in that moment. If I start crying or trembling, then Anita always shuffles over to me and wraps me in a cuddle, but it’d be better if it didn’t escalate to the point where I am so distressed that my body is having a meltdown before she realises it’s safe to come closer and is actually what I need -as it’s so hard to come back from.
I think if she said, in follow up to her question about a hug, “is there a part of you that feels like you don’t deserve to be cuddled, or that I don’t want to give you a cuddle, really?…and are the little ones inside ok? Do they need a cuddle? – because it feels like they are hidden away but we both know they are there watching.” it would go a long way to circumvent the part that is terrified of being too much, and then being abandoned and rejected.
Anyway, I could feel myself drifting away yesterday. It felt like I was in the sea and the current was pulling me further and further away from A. Somehow, I asked if we could read a story – thank god, as this is what I have needed for weeks. Anita got up and went to get the books and said she also had ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ if I wanted to read that. I instantly bristled inside and felt sick. I said I hated ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ and Anita asked me why. I didn’t have the words in the moment for all that the book now signifies. When we hadn’t connected all session and I’d been silent how could I jump into all the stuff about Em and how awful it had been when I gave her the book for Christmas?
Anita didn’t push it and asked me what I’d like to hear. “I don’t care” I replied. Honestly, I was like a brick wall, but the unexpected mention of T.V.R had rattled me. Anita read , ‘Barbara Throws A Wobbler’ and I could feel the little parts inside start to settle. I wanted to move across the sofa and snuggle into A but I couldn’t move. There was another part keeping me frozen and thinking about the stuff with Em.
When the story was finished, I asked Anita if I could read her something. I don’t know what possessed me, but I think it was starting to click that it wasn’t Anita that was the issue and it was the stuff around the anniversary of Em and I terminating. I got out my phone and found the blog post I had written on ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ and scrolled down to the part where I started talking about the book and what it felt like for me in the wake of the therapeutic relationship with Em ending.
I cuddled into Anita and read the post. I could feel myself shaking. At times I had to stop reading because I felt so upset but I persisted, all the while Anita held me tightly into her body. We didn’t have time to discuss the , but I don’t think we really need to. Just having her hear it was huge. I felt incredibly vulnerable sharing that with Anita but also it felt good to have her know about this stuff.
After the session my brain started whirring and overthinking shit – like it always does. I wish it would just rest in the moment and be content with how things are, realise that mine and A’s relationship is solid, and it doesn’t matter what she does or is like with other clients because when I am with her it’s only me and her in the room. Only it doesn’t work like that does it? There’s always that client sibling rivalry whether we like to admit it or not.
So, my mind got to wondering where ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ had come from. Had another client brought it with them to therapy? And if so, does Anita read ‘our’ story books to other clients? And, of course, that felt horrible because the young parts hate sharing Anita, as it is, without thinking that ‘our’ stories are not just special to us. And so many people have emailed me since I wrote that blog post on ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ saying how they’d bought it and taken it into their therapy that I thought it seemed fairly likely that this is why Anita has the book – it is therapy gold, after all…and whilst part of me knows this, part of me doesn’t want it confirmed because the idea that Anita is just going through the motions with me and that she has a conveyor belt of books and cuddles………..
For Fuck’s Sake RB when will you just chill out????
Anyway, I sent a message to Anita after session explaining a bit about why ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ was a trigger and she sent a lovely message back and things felt ok.
Last night I took myself up to bed and then it hit. Floods of tears out of nowhere. I was sobbing for ages. What was happening? Then the penny fully dropped about why things have been so difficult this week. The body remembers even if the brain doesn’t. I went back over my emails with Em and saw that the date for ‘tick gate’ was two years on Thursday and “Sorry I couldn’t help you, I wish you well for the future” was yesterday. I’ve been aware that this time of year, round Christmas is hard because it was when everything started to blow up with Em but the sucker punch of ‘adhesive’ and ‘like a tick’ and then being dropped like a hot potato is still so painful.
On a positive, it’s two years since I met Anita…and we got on this crazy ride. I don’t think either one of is especially fond of rollercoasters, but we haven’t got off yet!
I’ll leave this here for now. Sorry for the novel xx
So, we’re in that weird bit between Christmas and New Year again. That notorious chunk of time where I seem to flatline and become incapable of doing anything much at all after running at 1000mph into Christmas. There’s been no deviation from the long-established pattern this year: CRASH AND BURN baby! It’s like I have entered into a state of inertia…or maybe it’s just burnout…or depression…hormones…all of the above! – but whatever it is I’ve been completely out of it for the last several days – and not in a good way.
It’s not unusual not to know what day it is in this weird ‘no man’s land’ – I mean that’s everyone right? I wouldn’t say I am dissociated, either. I have a shit tonne going on in my brain but I feel paralysed and unable to do any of what’s on my list and that’s what I hate. It’s mental torture. I want to be able to relax and switch off and yet I get plagued by crap. To be fair, my tax return is like a dementor right up the last minute on January 31st so I may as well accept that that won’t be done just yet!
So, what can I say? It’s been a while since I have posted (again). I’ve been meaning to post something, the laptop has been on beside my bed for three days solid now, with the screensaver endlessly going. I keep looking at it, thinking I’ll write, seeing as I have some time (and that would be a good use of time rather than endlessly scrolling through social media on my phone and then feeling pissed at myself that I am not using my time off more effectively. Honestly, I think I need a tech detox for the next little while!…Ummm, well, WordPress excluded obviously.
There’s quite a lot of bits I could write about here, stuff to catch up on – like, perhaps I should go back to a few weeks ago and fill in from there? – well, what I can remember of it! Or perhaps I should write something thematic – I’ve been thinking a lot about the ‘senses’ in therapy – particularly smell and touch, oh an let’s not forget the x-ray vision! And then there’s Christmastime itself and all that that can bring up. Or gifts in therapy (in a good way). Or a reflection on the year (what a bloody year!). I don’t know. This will probably end up a mash up of all of it, span 4000 words and end up making no sense…so same as usual then eh?!
Maybe go get a cuppa before we begin!
And also, before I get going, I just want to say that I hope you are all hanging in there. My reader has been fairly empty of posts this last month from what I can see and I suspect that’s partly because it’s been the mad time heading into the holidays but also that people might be feeling similar to how I have been – kind of in a limbo, not feeling quite right, and not being able to reach out. If that’s the case then, I get it. Lots of us have also had that hell time of impending therapy break to manage and then the actual break too so solidarity there. And I just want you to know that those of you who have written posts that I haven’t yet commented on, I will get to it…and I do see that you are there. So, that’s a long-winded way of saying I hope you are all hanging in there and that I see you x
Right, so where to start? The last few weeks have been a bit of trial. I mean I honestly was dragging my arse towards the finish line and the end of term. Only it’s not the finish line when you have kids and a family. It’s just dropping one set of responsibilities and commitments so you can focus on the others. Somehow, we got to Christmas day in one piece and the kids had the things they wanted. To be honest though, with a partner that works in health and social care it was inevitable that Christmas was going to a fucking washout. And we were correct. There were calls to Public Health on Christmas Day to report a COVID breakout and Boxing Day was trying to spread a very thin layer of staff across an already stretched service.
My wife has been working 14-hour days and has now, today, taken a suitcase to work and will be sleeping there- there physically aren’t enough nurses and care staff around and there is no alternative.
People might think that this new COVID variant isn’t a problem, “It’s just a cold” they say – but it is a problem when it’s EVERYWHERE and staff have to isolate who have got it. The workforce is decimated. Sure, we might not be getting the COVID deaths we’ve seen previously but when you can’t care for the most vulnerable in society in the health and social care sector because we’ve allowed the virus to run wild and there are NO STAFF…well, it’s criminal.
People are not receiving the care they deserve. Hospitals are cancelling procedures. Cancers are being picked up late. People are being discharged back into the community to free up acute beds when they aren’t really safe to be discharged because there is such a pressure on beds. I could go on and on.
I honestly can’t believe the burden that has been placed on key workers and healthcare staff throughout this pandemic. People are on their knees. The system is at breaking point. And the system isn’t a system. It’s people. People like my wife. People like my colleagues in schools. I am white hot with rage, and I cannot believe our government have allowed this to happen. Only I can. A bin fire of self-serving shits are running this country and we seem powerless to do anything to hold them to account.
Anyway, this isn’t meant to be a rant about the state of things, but I just feel so fucking angry. I’m angry that the government has shafted us. I am angry that some people aren’t doing more to limit the spread of the infection by just being fucking sensible. I am angry that the people that end up suffering the consequences are the people who have sacrificed enough already. I am beyond pissed off that we are throwing the clinically vulnerable under the bus as if having ‘a pre-existing condition’ means you are collateral damage for keeping the economy moving. And apparently, I am meant to send my kids back to school on Wednesday where no mitigations other than some open windows are in place, and primary aged kids are not being offered the vaccine in the UK. I mean for the love of GOD!!!!!!
Deep Breaths RB!
So, back to therapy, which is what you are all here for, right?!…
The run in to the Christmas holiday was a bit fraught. Anita had a week’s break at the beginning of December (I think that was when I last posted) and so that set things off a bit internally knowing there was going to be so much disruption over the month. There were a few sessions between her coming back from that break and before the Christmas break – I think two weeks/four sessions. The first session back was really connecting but also really hard.
I’d asked Anita if we could start sooner that day, but she couldn’t which set some of the parts off. I was anxious that I might arrive and get derailed by the protectors who were feeling pushed away. It was the last thing I needed but always possible after a break. Fortunately, Anita and I reconnected really quickly (thank goodness!), she felt really attuned and pleased to see me and I settled quickly. I was cuddled into her and catching up when ‘out of nowhere’ (but also not out of nowhere) all the stuff about being a tick came up for the young parts and it was agony.
I guess I was panicking that after the separation we’d just had she may find my need to be close too much, like Em. Anita was incredible, really reassuring and holding, but there just wasn’t enough time to put it all back away at the end of the session. I left feeling a bit unsettled and off for the next few days. Anita and I exchanged some messages and she was really responsive and containing and it was enough to get through to Friday but I was more than ready for the session by the time it got to Friday morning. The young parts felt like they were hanging over a precipice and I just very badly needed to connect.
My best friend ‘Girl In Therapy’ wrote and published an excellent article that weekend that describes perfectly how triggering talk therapy can be for people with CPTSD – here’s the link:
– definitely worth a read if you haven’t already seen it.
The huge irony wasn’t lost on me as the next hour played out with Anita and how closely it matched the article.
I felt a sort of anticipatory dread as I walked up the drive. Something felt off. The dog started barking at the window and then I noticed her daughter’s dog was there, too. Ugh. I never have to ring the doorbell as the dog always alerts Anita that there’s someone there. That day the noise of the dogs really fucking irritated me – even though they settle once I’m there. I guess I was feeling sensitive and seeing her daughter’s dog triggered the jealousy and all that stuff about being inadequate and ‘less than’. Great.
It took a while for Anita to come to the door that day, not ages, maybe a minute or two – but that’s REALLY unusual. I started to feel myself panic. Anita finally opened the door and she had wet hair and looked absolutely done in. Basically, she didn’t look ready or in the right space for therapy which sent the parts that were already in a panic into freefall.
My need was huge that morning, I was already experiencing a vulnerability hangover from the tick stuff earlier in the week, and so it didn’t take much for me to read the evidence before me “Anita isn’t up to ‘me’ today” and go into hiding. I need Anita on her A game, not an Anita who was trying to ‘phone it in’. I’d clocked all this before I had even got into the room, and so by the time I sat down False Adult had taken over and was shielding the young parts. As children we were so good at knowing how to behave and adjusting to what was ahead of us and this hypervigilance has stuck. Sometimes I think it’s a superpower and sometimes it’s a complete bind.
Even though Anita had been so present and available and validating earlier in the week, I still feel a lot of shame about my insatiable ‘need’ and so my perception that Anita wasn’t fully there meant I could just avoid what was going on – pretend like Monday had never happened. I still feel so embarrassed that I am so affected by what happened with Em. I am terrified of Anita finally seeing me for what I am. She swears blind that what happened isn’t my fault and that Em is not fit for practice. She told me she thinks I have a very strong case for a complaint to Em’s governing body but also said that she doesn’t recommend a complaint because it’s a horrific process to go through (having raised a complaint herself).
Anyway, as the session went on, I could feel my young parts getting more and more distraught inside but the False Adult was so good, there’s no chinks in her armour, that there’d have been no way of Anita knowing. Especially as Anita was a million miles away. She had no idea what was going on. She didn’t seem curious, either… like, “RB, last session was really really hard and we left things a bit up in the air. You text me in the week and I know you feel unsettled after the break too…and you’ve spent half an hour talking about COVID and Brexit. Is there anything else going on for you that maybe we need to look at? Are the child parts ok? What do you need today?”
I could see the clock ticking down and I felt sick inside. I knew I wasn’t going to get what I needed that session and that I was going to be left holding all this over the weekend and it would be carnage. The session was over. I felt abandoned and rejected … unseen. I stood up and gave Anita a half-hug as I left. It was weird. I can’t remember the last time we didn’t touch in a session but it was setting all kinds of fireworks off inside. Mentally I was calculating that there were only two sessions now until Christmas break….AND IT ALL FELT LIKE A HUGE DISASTER.
Touch is such an important part of my therapy now. After all those years of there being ‘no touch’ and being made to feel like I was some kind of…tick…a parasite…for wanting to be close to Em I can say that the physical proximity and closeness that I usually have with Anita has done so much for moving things forward for me. I have said before that it is often when I am safely physically held that I feel able to look at the hardest, most vulnerable stuff. Anita can be so much more attuned – she can physically feel when I start to tremble, or I hold my breath, or whatever the fuck else happens that might not be evident or visible from a distance and respond accordingly. There’s just more of that co-regulation and so my nervous system can settle quicker and we can do the work.
Anyway, it sucked that day when I really needed to be seen and held both emotionally and physically and instead left feeling completely untethered and alone. It’s hard enough ‘detaching’ at the end of a ‘good’ session but never having connected in the first place is agony.
I text and called my friend when I got home – False Adult had gone offline and the Angry Teen had taken root. I was so upset, angry…all the feelings. Anita not being ‘present’ sent shockwaves through my system. There was a part that felt like I wasn’t deserving of her attention and care and so felt awful, there was another part that couldn’t work out ‘what had changed’ and another part that was furious that she wasn’t doing her ‘fucking job’! Somewhere on the outside of that was Adult who knows that A was probably tired or just a bit off, like we all are sometimes, but unfortunately all the noisy parts weren’t having it, “She’s just had a fucking holiday, she should be better than this!”
Anyway. Fortunately for both me and Anita I had to teach a double lesson that afternoon which meant no one could take to WhatsApp and let rip. Lol. After my lesson I had simmered down a bit and all that was left was a little part wondering where Anita was. What had happened? What had gone wrong?
So, I simply text:
Where were you today?
A replied that she wasn’t very well, had started to feel ill in the session, and had taken herself to bed, and was sorry that she’d felt distant.
Adult me understood it but there was another voice that couldn’t understand why she hadn’t said this during the session. If she’d have said, “RB, I’m really sorry but I don’t feel great and so I’m sorry if I don’t seem myself…” or anything really. Trying to carry on like I wouldn’t notice she ‘wasn’t there’ is daft. I could see it. The problem is, the narrative I create when she seems far away isn’t that she’s sick, it’s that she’s ‘sick of me’ and wants to be away. Ugh.
Anyway, I got through to Monday’s session which had to be an evening because my kids had broken up. And ARRRGGGHHHHHH fuckola. BAD BAD BAD. I don’t remember what happened – dissociation! Anita felt a long way away again. The distance was unbearable. Having listened back to the recording I can hear she was trying really really hard to get to me but I was totally frozen. At one point she asked if I would like a hug because she would like to hug me…and I just shook my head. I hate it when that happens. Every little part inside was screaming out and there I was frozen and unable to get out my prison.
The session ended and I felt absolutely desperately sad. I moved to put my shoes on and just fell apart, crying with my head in my hands and shaking. Anita shuffled over to me and wrapped me in her arms and I just sobbed as she held me close into her body. It was awful. I felt like the time had just slipped through our fingers again but at least I wasn’t going to leave completely disconnected.
Fortunately, my session being the last session of the evening Anita had a bit of time to run over and we had fifteen minutes where we really connected, and fixed things as she held me and I cried. She reassured me that she was still there and that we were going to be ok and that she understood that my defences were up because parts don’t feel safe and are scared. She acknowledged my fears and things felt sooooo much better.
It was time to go, though, and Anita gave me one last tight squeeze, kissed me on the top of my head, and said, “I love you, you know. I really do. You are very precious.” I got my elephant out my bag and handed it over. She took it and said she’d have it washed and ready for me for Friday ready for the break.
The week flew by as it always does at this time of year. I had to pack a lot into the week and before I knew it, it was Christmas Eve and the final session of the year. It felt nice to see Anita so close to Christmas and for the break not to be three weeks long like it used to be with Em.
I walked into the room and sitting there was my elephant and next to it, a gift bag of presents. Our stories were out on the side, too. The session was light but connected. I asked for a hug pretty close to the start of the session so there was none of that horrible feeling of space and distance. I have no idea what we spoke about but I know that it felt fine and safe. Anita said that she’d bought me some little things that were silly but had made her think of me and that I could take them away for Christmas and handed the bag to me as I left.
I gave her a big hug as I left and walked out feeling about as good as I could going into a break.
Earlier in December I had bought Anita a Christmas gift of a glass rabbit ornament with snowflake patterns on.
She always does her house nicely at Christmas and so it felt like a perfect present given our story ‘The Rabbit Listened’. She placed the bunny beside the candle lantern I had given her last year. I didn’t notice it as I was walking up the stairs and she said, “Did you see bunny? He’s sitting next to the present you gave me last year.” It doesn’t sound like a lot but actually, to have A remember what I got her last year and to put these things up in her home…well… I don’t need to explain do I?
Oh, and just an aside whilst I think about Christmas and hypervigilance…GROAN… last year I had an evening session before Christmas and got to see all Anita’s lights outside her house (in the day you don’t notice them). This year, again, I got to see them in the evening. As I walked in the door I said, “Did you change the lights on that bush?” and she said that she had as the set from last year had broken. This is how much shit my brain stores- a single evening session a year ago and remembering the type of lights on a bush in a fully lit and decorated garden…trauma anyone?!
Anyway, we’re kind of up-to-date again. This holiday has been ok. Like I said, I have been quite lacking in energy and not doing much but I haven’t been overwhelmed with that attachment slime. Last night I was struggling to sleep- after really doing nothing but sleep in the last week – I missed A (very ready for Tuesday session now) and so I grabbed my elephant and breathed in its smell – Anita – and fairly quickly the young parts settled and fell off to sleep. I felt settled because that young needy part of me was quickly transported into the safety of Anita’s arms through the smell of the elephant.
I can’t say strongly enough that it is these things, the touch, the texts, and the willingness to try and meet the needs of the young parts (within reason) that have meant I can do a better job of regulating myself outside the room and holding the young stuff for myself. And it’s because I have something tangible to tap into. There is evidence all around me of my relationship with Anita, and it’s within me, too.
I can imagine what it is to feel safe because I have felt safety with Anita. I can imagine how it is to feel held because I have been held by her. I no longer have this longing and unmet need to be held – because she’s done that for me. And whilst I might miss her and wish I could see her, it’s not the same pain of wanting but having that need unmet – deliberately withheld week in week out.
I can easily bring Anita to mind and feel grounded because I can feel her. I know she’s out there and will be back on Tuesday – which is huge because in the past she’d disappear cease to exist, and it was massively distressing. I know I have a disorganised attachment style (I mean duh!) but I do think that bit by bit A and I are working towards building an earned, secure attachment. I’m not there yet – but things are so much better than they were!
I wish I had more energy to write that out properly and explain it as I am sure there will be some people rolling their eyes – but it’s really down to infant experiences that were missed being filled (to an extent). I guess it’s a kind of limited reparenting. Parts of me are healing through Anita’s willingness to repair some of what was missing.
Some people believe that the time for those wounds to be healed and those needs to be met has passed – we, as clients are not children anymore, and so instead we need to grieve for what we didn’t have and accept that. We need to hold everything on our own. Be our own parent. That was Em’s philosophy.
No touch. No outside session contact. No transitional objects… no “colluding with that young part that wants to be held” (puke!).
I don’t think it’s as simple as that. I don’t think it’s an either or. I still have to grieve for all that never was and that should have been. I am regularly faced with the limitations of the therapeutic relationship and have to grieve what I can’t have in Anita. But that’s not to say that there isn’t a lot to celebrate, because there is a lot that I do have and there is a lot that has been soothed that was left raw and in agony before. It’s ok for there to be a level of dependency because eventually there’ll be interdependency and then independency… or at least that’s the plan.
Anyway, this is SOOOO long and I need to go and feed the kids!
I want to try and put into words something that has been weighing heavily on me the last month or so, especially. I mean, to be honest, it’s always there isn’t it – the mother wound – but I guess at the minute I just feel acutely aware how big of a deal it really is, and how heavy a burden it is to carry, particularly when I need some support and care as I struggle under the almost crippling weight of my day-to-day life.
I’ve written about the mother wound in detail before, here, but that was a long while back and maybe this, today, will have a slightly different quality to it. I know I make mention of this issue a lot on the blog because it really is the foundation that my shaky house is built upon. Today, once again, I feel the need to give it full attention because parts of me feel like I am crumbling right now.
It’s weird. When I try and look at this…this…’stuff’… the words just don’t come, or certainly not in the articulate, polished way I would like them to. There’s so much pain and shame wrapped around it like barbed razor wire, and this wounding spans so much of my life too, so it’s hard to really to find the right words to explain something that feels like it’s part of me, part of my make up.
If I listen deep inside myself, looking for the words, there’s just the overwhelming howl of a massively distressed baby and the screams of other very young children… and maybe if I listen very, very carefully, there’s a little voice whimpering and whispering, ‘Mummy’ over and over again.
It’s actually heart breaking.
Sometimes I think I struggle to write about this because the experience of this… feeling of… annihilation started before there even were words available to describe it. At other times, I just think it’s impossible to find the vocabulary to capture just how massive the sense of being ‘motherless’ is.
There is so much loss attached to what I am experiencing at the moment. Of course, I do have a mum… it’s just I need/ed a different kind of mothering, a different relational experience, and so the continual reminders of what I ‘don’t have’, even now, as an adult, is like being plunged into a vat of vinegar and, unfortunately, I don’t have any skin.
I can’t say that feeling of loss I experience is the sense that I’m now missing something that I have formerly had – rather it’s the loss of something I wish I had have had – something I very badly needed- it’s the felt sense of there having been something ‘missing’ my whole life, something that is integral to a healthy functioning.
You, know, sometimes I think it feels as if there’s a vital organ missing inside me and I’m continually aware of the cavernous void left behind. I feel this ‘empty’ space acutely in my chest – a black dark hole that seems totally unfillable. It’s the space left where a mother’s love and care should have been. I’ve spoken before about how the edges of this place feel almost ulcerated. It’s angry and burning…it’s bloody painful. No. It’s worse than that. It’s pure agony.
If you met me in-person you’d never guess I suffered with any of this. You’d probably experience me as a high functioning, self-sufficient, independent person who is always busy and keeps things going for myself and my family. In my day-to-day life I am successful, popular, and funny (omg imposter syndrome just kicked in big time there!). I don’t really lean on anyone or ask for support even though I really need it sometimes. My friends are absolutely amazing but there’s just some things they can’t do for me – like take my kids for a weekend so I can get on with jobs. And lately, I guess this is where that lack of ‘mother’ has really shown itself and had the spotlight shone on it.
I’ve spoken about my childhood many times here. How my mum would go away during the week and come back at weekends and how the legacy of that plays out even now – especially in my therapy with Anita. I hate the time between sessions and our breaks feel unbearable. I can’t stand being ‘left’ or feeling like I’ve been ‘forgotten’ and I am terrified of change when we are reunited after a break largely because I was never sure what kind of mood my mum would be in when she came back.
Lately, I’ve had a strong sense that my mum is avoiding me – or rather stonewalling me. I haven’t actually seen her since August, and she only lives 20 miles from me! I get that she may not want to see me – for whatever reason- but I really struggle with how little she engages with my children. They are great kids and what’s really sad is that they really like to spend time with her and yet…what can I say to them? She’s not in touch. She doesn’t ask after them… or at least, she hasn’t in a good while.
I sent a photo of my daughter putting decorations on the tree the other week and it wasn’t even acknowledged. I saw the blue ticks appear on WhatsApp and I saw she was online…but there has been no response… and I have no idea why. Other family members have rushed in with ‘OMG she looks just like you did at her age’ or ‘what a lovely photo’…but nothing from mum.
I try not to feel upset by it. I have said many times how my mum and I have a relationship that has reached a kind of equilibrium. It is what it is. It’s not close but it worked well enough – ’til now. But I think doing this deep attachment and trauma work with Anita has kind of lifted a bit of the scab on this stuff. Where I had convinced myself that I was ok, and things had moved on into a place that was ‘good enough’, the truth is I feel hurt that my mum seems completely uninterested in me. But the real big sense of hurt comes from the feeling that she’s rejecting my kids and by extension it’s like my inner child is experiencing that pain of abandonment all over again seeing just how ‘unimportant’ they are to her.
Recently, I had a real hard smack in the face when I was speaking with Anita. Don’t you just love the unexpected landmines you can trigger in therapy?! We were just chatting near the end of session. It was winding down and coming out of the deeper stuff and into more day-to-day. I said how I had taken my kids to a fireworks display that week and she told me how she was taking her grandchildren (her son’s kids) to the big fireworks display with her daughter the next day. It felt like being on that awful gameshow ‘Bullseye’ where when the contestants failed to win the presenter would say, “look what you could have won!” A sucker punch as they stared at speedboats and his and hers matching shellsuits. I find myself staring at a kind of mothering I just can’t have.
In that moment as I was cuddled into her, I felt so many things. Jealousy was definitely one of them and then hot on its heels – grief. Anita, of course, is involved with her kids and grandkids – it’s as it should be, but it just threw my experience with my mum into even sharper relief. It wouldn’t even occur to her to take the kids to something like this, or offer to take them for me. When the kids were very little we went on a Christmas train one year, or sometimes we’d go to see Santa, but lately there’s been nothing and I don’t know why.
Sometimes I wonder if she’s somehow come across this blog because I can’t fathom any other reason for the radio silence. I tied myself in knots for weeks trying to work out ‘what I had done’ for things to be as they are now. I know that if she had found this writing she’d be hurt. Of course, it would be hard to read this stuff in black and white. I think anyone’s first reaction would be to feel wounded and the victim and then shut down. But the thing is, I’m not trying to blame her for my experience of her when I was growing up. Like any mother she did the best she could with the tools she had available – and as a young mum, they were few.
I don’t think for one minute she set out to be how it was. As a mum myself, I know how it is to be stressed, tired, and at the end of my tether, and hand on heart I know I do not always get it right. Far from it! I’m a sensitive person and perhaps other children would not have been as impacted as I was by her absence, or her wanting me out the way, or the fighting and violence I witnessed…or the difficult teenage years we had. But it has impacted me and I am trying to heal from it. It’s not easy healing from something when you can’t have a reparative experience with the person who you experienced the wounding with.
So I take myself off to therapy twice a week and rake over this attachment stuff – and it’s hard because as an adult who has done pretty well for myself and feels like I have a reasonable insight into what’s gone on, I still haven’t done enough work in the therapy room to escape the sense that I haven’t done enough to make my mum want to stay (and, yes, I know that is the voice of my inner child).
I used to make excuses as to why my mum wasn’t all that involved with me and my kids. She had a massively stressful high-powered job and so there simply wasn’t the time or energy for us. Then she retired, and it was still the same… but then COVID hit, and we were in a pandemic so therefore couldn’t spend time… but then the restrictions lifted and it’s more of the same. It feels so rejecting. I don’t know if it’s intentional. I don’t know if she genuinely doesn’t want us in her life or whether she is so busy with other things that we’re an afterthought.
Again, this is where the contrast with Anita really stings. Anita obviously works but she takes an afternoon off each week to collect her grandkids from school, takes them to swimming lessons, and then often has them overnight. K does similar things for her granddaughters. So many of my friend’s parents are active participants in their grandchildren’s lives, too. They’ve taken on regular childcare – not because of the financial savings for the family (although that was a factor when the kids were pre-school age) but because they actually want to spend time with their family. My kids have never spent a night at my mum’s, or been picked up from school…and my god, sometimes I could really use the help given I work after school every weeknight until late. Having someone collect the kids, feed them, and put them to bed would be amazing!
It’s not just that I could do with a bit of help now and again, though. I feel so sad for the relationship that they, too, aren’t getting. My mum’s parents were incredible with me growing up. Despite living hundreds of miles away they’d have me for holidays, write me letters and send me magazines and sweets in the post. There was no sense, ever, of being ‘out of sight, out of mind’ and it’s continued through into my adult life. I ring my grandma every day to check in now she’s alone, following my grandad’s death last year, and I do that because we have built a relationship over my entire lifetime, and it is solid. It’s such a pity my kids won’t have that. I feel so sad, too, because my dad would have been such an amazing, involved grandparent. He loved kids. Although my mum makes not bones about the fact that she ‘doesn’t like children’.
I really need to get over this stuff, though, because whilst there’s this wish for something better all that happens is I get hurt over and over again. I need to realise that things are never going to change and move on from it. I’ve said in the past that I can’t expect people to be mind readers so if I keep stuff to myself and then don’t get what I need I shouldn’t really feel disappointed so this summer I did something a bit different. I let my mum see what some of the reality was for me – I don’t know what I expected but I know, deep down, I hoped for some tangible care and support.
In the summer my wife and I were going through a particularly tough time – tbh this whole year has been devastatingly hard for us. In January my wife got very ill with COVID, then lost her job, all the while trying to manage a serious health condition that could end her career. She found a new job (yay) but was immediately put under immense pressure with unrealistic working patterns and conditions which put her health at serious risk again and there were threats of ‘failing her probation period’.
We were both at our wits end. It felt like we were lurching from one disaster to the next. Stress exacerbates my wife’s condition and it was a vicious cycle. Financially, it was a really hard year, too, as after my wife lost her job in January we also had a period of time where she couldn’t work due to an operation that saw her out of action for almost a month. Then she was having to pick up agency work whilst she looked for a new position which pays nothing like enough and isn’t guaranteed hours. We were literally a couple of weeks away from not being able to pay the mortgage and bills.
The stress levels were making me ill. I couldn’t sleep, my anxiety was off the chart, I genuinely thought I would have a breakdown at times. And I certainly would have had it not been for Anita and K. No doubt about it. It’s been their love and care got me through this year – when really what I needed was my mum…or a mum that does being a mum.
Like I said, I never really share anything with my mum, I think she knows I am in therapy but we don’t talk about it! This summer she had asked me to collect her from a trip she’d been on. I’d cancelled work to enable me to do it – so lost two hours pay (which we really couldn’t afford), asked a friend to have my kids so I had space in the car to put her and her husband’s luggage, and then drove across the city and waited in a coach station steadily unravelling. My wife was away from home for work and had been driving hundreds of miles on top of working 14 hour shifts. She was suffering with her health and I felt completely exhausted. I’d been juggling my kids and work all week alone and by the time it reached Friday I just couldn’t cope anymore.
I was driving down the motorway with my mum and step-dad and I just let it all out. I was on the verge of tears but angry too. I was in a place of complete overwhelm. The dam burst. I don’t know what I expected to happen, but I guess maybe I thought showing how stressed and anxious I was might maybe elicit some support from her side.
If anything, she’s distanced herself since then. She hasn’t asked about my wife’s health or job. Her health is massively deteriorating but thankfully she’s found another job. She hasn’t asked how I am. When my childhood friend died a couple of months ago she went to the funeral when I couldn’t. I just don’t understand it.
I feel like I am moaning- and I guess I am. I just really wonder what it takes for the little girl inside to finally give up hope of being seen and loved by a woman that seems incapable of seeing me and accepting me for who I really am. I would literally walk over hot coals for my kids. Having just seen her friend’s daughter die of cancer you’d think she might see the parallels – I was the one of us that survived the cancer but the roles could so easily be reversed. Wouldn’t you want to invest in a relationship with your child?
It’s Christmas time. It’s a difficult time of year for me. Mind you, when isn’t eh?!
As my kids rehearse for performances (streamed online this year via zoom) it reminds me of the years standing on stage and staring out into the audience and seeing the faces of my friends’ mothers but not my own. I feel silly, as a grown-up woman still being upset by these ‘small’ things but I really wish my mum had have been there more when I was a kid…I wish that her physical and emotional absence hadn’t have left this gaping great hole inside. I feel like it’s going to be my life’s work getting over this.
Like I say, I am so lucky to have a couple of amazing therapists in my life. But they’re not my mother. I can’t call them at 10pm and ask them to come over because I need them, and things feel overwhelming. I ought to be able to do that with my mum – but I can’t – because she doesn’t know how to be that type of mum.
I have to mother myself.
And my god I am trying but sometimes we just need to be held by someone else.
(And yes, Anita is on holiday – ANOTHER break in the therapy – so it’s hardly surprising timing that this has come up so forcefully now!)
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.