What I hear vs What is said: Communication in therapy.

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I’ve been in therapy with my therapist a good long while now; in fact it’s been six years since I first wandered into the rather cold and depressingly decorated consulting room in my local NHS Mental Health Hospital (after a three year wait no less!) to begin a year of psychodynamic psychotherapy…at least I think that’s what we were doing!

Picture a small room with a tiny window at one end, two not particularly comfortable brown chairs (the kind where the back isn’t high enough to lean back comfortably and the sides are so tight that you are forced to keep your feet on the floor – no curling legs up underneath yourself!), a fluorescent strip light in the ceiling a la Girl Interrupted, woodchip wallpaper and durable office-style carpet (again brown) and you’d be in the room.

It was a consulting room like many others in the NHS I guess, nothing homely or that in any way reflects the therapist that works inside it – because many therapists use the room. It was as blank a space as the blank screen that my therapist was to me at that time. I’m not really moaning, though. I will always look back fondly on my Wednesdays in that cold little room in the grey stone building because it was there that I met my  therapist by complete chance.

I could’ve been allocated to anyone in the Psychotherapy Department as a space became available on their caseload but somehow fate decided that she would be my therapist and I am so glad it was her because when I had had a couple of assessment sessions in order to go on the waiting list I hadn’t warmed to the therapist AT ALL. I really didn’t like her and dreaded the thought of having to possibly work with her.

The moment I met my therapist I liked her. In fact looking back over my diary after the first session I wrote ‘Uh oh, I really like this one. She seems really nice’… ha!…wakey wakey attachment issues I knew nothing about at that point!!

Little did I know when we met back in 2012 that (after a too lengthy break – damn Cancer!) I’d now be seeing her privately in her home, in her very lovely consulting room by the sea. It’s a medium sized room but feels homely, with neutral – but not bland- soft furnishings, cream carpet (she must be mad!), a pale blue leather sofa and her IKEA therapist chair (you know the one!), chunky style natural/driftwood wooden furniture, several completely filled bookcases (and not just therapy books), art work and a wooden Buddha watching over proceedings. It’s lovely.

It’s amazing how a nice environment can help make things feel more relaxed. Ok, perhaps ‘relaxed’ isn’t the right word here but I do find that the familiar environment is a place I (mostly!) look forward to spending time each week; it’s a little oasis of calm where I can bring my storm and try and get settled and grounded before venturing back out into the real world. Of course that space, just like the little room in the hospital, would be nothing without the person that sits opposite me from week to week trying to help me navigate my way through my almighty mess.

Yes. I can see how this is getting a bit gushing…but that’s because tonight I am feeling nothing but love for my therapist. I would not, however, have been writing in this way on Wednesday about the therapeutic relationship! I haven’t seen her or communicated with her since our session on Monday and yet how I feel about her, and where the therapy is going, is a world apart from earlier on in the week when I was hurt and raging and devastated and considering terminating… and that is why I have chosen to write this particular post about what I hear in therapy sessions.

I trust my therapist (well the adult part of me does), and for the most part our in session communication goes ok – good even. Of course sometimes she says things that immediately hit a nerve or piss me off, but more often than not sessions go fine. I can see and feel that she is making an effort with me – and frankly I am not easy to work with. My window (letterbox!) of tolerance is minute and I can swing into a dissociation with no warning whatsoever. All through that she is with me and as steady and patient as a….what? Can’t think of a decent simile. She is patient!

Generally I leave therapy feeling ok and sometimes I feel very connected. And yet I keep stumbling over the same issue again and again and that is, as if by clockwork, the moment I leave the room and start driving home, things start to shift and morph into something else – something negative. What was a good session suddenly becomes terrible and I feel like she doesn’t care about me and before too long I’ve had enough of therapy, am angry and want to terminate.

I really feel for a couple of my friends who week-in week-out listen to me rant on about how ‘terrible everything is’ and how ‘I am done with this’ and how ‘unfair it all seems and why can’t she just give me what I need?’ and ‘why doesn’t she show me she cares?’ and they patiently coach me through my fluctuating emotions. It’s hard work being in my head on Tuesday and Wednesday and they must feel so bored by now!

The problem I, like so many of you, have is that is what my therapist says to me in session hits so many different trauma parts: Little Me, Four, Seven, Eleven, The Teen and not just my adult self. Communication, therefore, is really complicated between me and my therapist. She has frequently commented that it is hard to say something that is adequately soothing and talks to all the different parts of me. What the little ones need is very different to the teen and sometimes it is hard for her to know exactly who she should be talking to because I give very little away at times. And we all know that the littlest ones don’t really want to be talked to at all and nothing but physical holding will feel enough for them.

I can hide behind my adult self and she’d be none the wiser that the tiny two year old girl is crying inside. I actually think the coping adult front I bring to session is more damaging than when I shut down in a dissociated silence or the protector parts put things on lockdown. At least when I am like that she knows something is up and can try and connect to whatever part is having a hard time. When I (adult) go in, am articulate and talk about things (but not necessarily the things I really need to talk about) she has no clue that I am not telling her what I need to or that I will leave feeling uncontained and spiral in the week.

I am getting better at telling her how things feel but sometimes it doesn’t go well or sometimes, like last week, I leave what I really need to say to the last minute and we don’t have adequate time to discuss it and then I feel like I am left with loose ends and not quite clear communications. Ugh. Must do better at this.

I doubt you’ll be surprised to hear that I didn’t ask her to sit closer to me or tell her how much her moving closer to me the other week had impacted me – AAAARRRRGGGH! I can’t remember what we actually spoke about during the session, now! It was ‘stuff I needed to talk about’ but it wasn’t #1 on the list stuff that eats away at me!

With ten minutes to go I decided I needed to ask her about wtf was going on with the pebbles:

Why, when we came back from Christmas break, did you say that you felt like I was trying to script what you needed to say in the text messages and yet for such a long time you’ve been asking me what I want you to write on the pebbles? It doesn’t make any sense.’

I mean launching into a discussion about the text communications that caused the rupture and the failing effort at a transitional object with only ten minutes remaining wasn’t exactly a genius plan was it? The thing is, sometimes it takes me that long to build up the courage or feel safe enough to bring these things up – so in some ways it’s better with ten to go than not at all…

We talked a surprising amount and whilst she didn’t say anything explicitly hurtful or unempathic (adult knows this to be the case and can hear it on the recording that that’s not how she is EVER) once I had asked that question I felt a shift in myself. Adult may have appeared to be fronting the show but actually all of a sudden the most vulnerable traumatised parts switched their ears on and were listening intently to everything that was said, analysing every word and subtle nuance, projecting a narrative onto the conversation. Inside was a running monologue: ‘What is she saying? What does she really mean? Does she like me? Does she care? This feels rejecting. No she doesn’t like me. I hate that I need her and love her when she clearly feels nothing…’

I’m struggling to articulate clearly what I want here, but basically the moment I asked the question there was a part of me, if not several, that was automatically searching for confirmation of my deep held belief: she doesn’t care and no one loves me because there is something inherently wrong with me. To be honest no matter what she had have said I doubt I would have heard anything vaguely positive because I am so conditioned to hearing this negative narrative – even when it is nowhere near the case.

My therapist said that she often feels that whilst a part of me wants to be told affirming things and to be loved there is another part that is absolutely terrified of that and wants to run away from it or rubbish and reject it as not being genuine.

Every time she says that it drives me mad inside. Whilst she is right (I recognise this more and more now) it feels really rejecting to the part that does want the affirmation and clear displays of love and care. It feels like she is saying ‘you can’t handle what you want and so I won’t give it to you’. I feel like shouting at her ‘I’m not going to die if you give me more warmth or clear demonstrations of care and maybe if you do it enough I’ll stop doubting you and attacking myself for needing you and convincing myself that you clearly don’t care about me’.

It feels really like a Catch 22 situation. I feel like I need her to be more demonstrative in how she feels towards me and yet she feels like it would send me over the edge if she did. It sends me over the edge as things are so what’s the answer?

We left it that we would work more actively with the pebbles especially as there is the Easter therapy break coming up shortly – nooooooooooo!!!!!!! And so that is a good thing, I guess. I am a bit reluctant about how it’s all going to go. It feels like something simple has become unnecessarily complicated. My therapist said she felt that perhaps I thought she had been too pedantic or pernickety about it but that she wanted it to feel right and genuine. I, of course, heard that as ‘I don’t want to write lies on the stones and therefore have not done it because I don’t want to say anything positive about this relationship when I don’t feel it’.

Anyway, yet again I have navigated my way through the emotional rollercoaster that is the week between sessions. It is Saturday night and I feel quite stable and content in the fact that my therapist is out there, cares about me, and that she will be there on Monday and we can talk – who knows I might tell her all the angst I’ve felt this week about the conversation we had and about the one we didn’t have (proximity).

It’s strange. I always feel quite motivated and able to take these things to session at this point in the week. Monday morning at 10:30….a whole other story!

Ugh!

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Rupture in the therapeutic relationship: where do I go from here?

It’s been a week since my last post where I talked (cried, moaned, wailed!) about the rupture between myself and my therapist that came about after the exchange of a couple of text messages last Wednesday (I do see how very dramatic that seems!).

For those of you not familiar with the context, I had been really struggling with the therapy break (that old chestnut) and had worked myself up to a point of high anxiety where I was barely able to function….that is how it was and so I won’t downplay it. After three days of intense emotional struggle, not eating, and almost self harming, I decided to reach out to my therapist to ask her reassure me that she was still there and that the relationship was still ‘ok’ via text message…

And then it all went to shit! Like huge amounts of gushing diarrhoea shit! Ugh! I still can’t believe that I didn’t see it coming.

I know that it sounds bonkers that a 34 year old woman can’t maintain a sense of connection to a therapist that she’s seen for three years, but then I struggle with object constancy and it’s all part and parcel of disorganised attachment. The feeling of anxiety and all-consuming panic that floods my system, and worrying that I have been left is enormous. It’s excruciating, actually.

These feelings don’t come from nowhere. They feel enormous now but they were also enormous when I was 10 months old and my mum left my dad (and the country) without telling him or anyone else (you know, as you do!). I have a very clear image of myself at two years old standing on the back porch, looking at the snow, wearing a red snowsuit saying ‘where’s my daddy?’ – I don’t know if it’s a genuine memory but it came to me in therapy one session when I had been particularly dissociated.

So where was daddy? Not there then, and certainly not here now. He left me unexpectedly when abroad on holiday. He didn’t mean to. He had a sudden heart attack three days into a diving holiday. So daddy is gone gone. Little girl doesn’t understand and adult me never saw a body or had a funeral so can’t really understand that daddy is dead now. Part of me thinks he’s still on holiday.

We returned home to the UK when I was 3.5 years old. My mum got back together with my dad. Happy times right? No. Next thing to happen was for my mum to disappear on me 5 days a week from the age of four to go away to study. That makes sense to my adult but the little girl part of me still feels that intense confusion and fear that mummy has gone. I was always left wondering when she might return because one day, two days, three or even four doesn’t mean anything to kids – their concept of time isn’t like ours. Mum wasn’t there so maybe she was never coming back.

What I am clumsily trying to say is that the anxiety I feel on therapy breaks or in between therapy sessions does not belong to my adult. Sure the grown up part of me would like to see more of my therapist, but the dread and fear I feel it is that of a little girl that has had no emotional stability or consistently safe caregiver for her whole life. It makes sense to my adult that being away from the new attachment figure would stir up all kinds of chaos for the young ones.

Anyway, back to the text debacle. In fairness to my therapist, she did respond to me, she didn’t leave me hanging- unfortunately, though, the messages she sent did little to reassure the little girl who was absolutely beside herself and the messages felt cold and misattuned to those needs. Little girl had a meltdown!

Lots of readers commented on the post and could see why I would feel devastated by the perceived tone of the messages I received. It felt comforting, on Thursday, that at least some people could see how upset I might feel and that I wasn’t completely unjustified in feeling utterly bereft.

By Thursday evening I felt quite overwhelmed by the comments on my post because they seemed to be confirming what I was feeling was understandable and justified. I didn’t want to be right, though. Because if my feeling were justifiable….then that meant my therapist had cocked up and missed the point…and I didn’t want that to be the case. It’s much easier to take things on myself than see fault in others. I can change me but I can’t change somebody else. I didn’t want for it to be the case that maybe she didn’t care. That felt too devastating.

I’d felt completely abandoned and rejected by my therapist on Wednesday and I can see now that a lot of my reaction to her messages was about my coming from a very triggered place. Perhaps my reading of her words was not quite as they were meant – she said as much on Monday. Unfortunately, though, my therapist’s messages felt rejecting regardless of her intention and that is what I need to work through.

I had shared what had happened with a friend on Wednesday. I was utterly distraught. She could see how I felt and also felt that the messages felt cold. She recommended a therapist in my area and suggested that perhaps it might be good to get another perspective on things. I agreed this would be a good idea, not just because of this rupture but for some of the other things that have been niggling away at me in the therapeutic relationship.

I emailed the therapist to see if she could offer me any sessions to help me work through the rupture with my therapist. Essentially, I wanted her to help me see if I could find a way of working through the issues I have in my current therapy or whether it might be time to look for a new kind of therapy.

The therapist responded quickly and the reply I got was really warm and empathic even though all I had said was that I had had a rupture with my therapist – I hadn’t given any detail. It was a world away from anything my therapist has ever sent which was both refreshing and painful. How can someone who doesn’t even know me be so open and warm and yet someone who knows me intimately be so business-like? I know. I know. Two different people with two differing approaches…but ouch.

The therapist had spoken with her supervisor following my email and agreed that we could do up to four sessions to work on this stuff and that she had some availability for the next two Tuesdays. I jumped at the chance to get additional input and support because the situation felt/feels utterly horrendous.

Part of seeking out additional therapeutic support was that I wanted to know if my responses to some of the things that have happened are over the top or actually justified (I know she wouldn’t use those words, and actually my feelings are my feelings – rational or not they are real to me), and also to better understand things from a therapist’s perspective.

I know the new therapist is not ‘my therapist’ but she would objectively be able to look at the situation and maybe signpost things for me on how to get through this or at least help me clarify what it is that I need to say to move forward. So that was positive. I felt too, that having this space on Tuesday would mean I would have a sounding board for whatever happened on Monday…and that in itself allowed me to consider going in to face things.

By Friday morning I had begun to settle down a bit, or detach, or perhaps I was a bit desperate… I am not sure what was going on, really. It’s weird. Different parts were doing and feeling different things. Looking back I can see that even though there was a huge part of me that was hurting and angry there was another part that couldn’t bear the thought of not seeing my therapist. The attached child part longed to see my therapist and to try and make the situation feel better and wanted to believe that she cared.

The last message I had sent to my therapist on Wednesday was that it was unlikely I’d be coming to session but that I’d let her know on Friday because she needs 48 hours notice of cancellation. On Friday morning I text her asking her to read the blog post I had written because I needed her to understand how I felt in the moment, even if it was reactive, and even though I might feel a bit less wounded now:

‘I’m still at a loss about Wednesday but I think where I have got to is that you don’t ever deliberately do things to hurt me and I have to trust that you know what you are doing – and so I guess we need to talk on Monday even though part of me just can’t face it. I’d really appreciate it if you can find time to read the linked post before session because I really think you need to know this stuff but equally we’ll need all the session to talk. If you let me know on Monday how long it took to read then I’ll just add the extra to the payment. Have a good weekend.’

 She replied almost immediately:

Ok, I’ll read it. See you on Monday’.

This message was short and to the point but it didn’t feel rejecting…which made me wonder a bit about how I reacted to the first message on Wednesday which was clearly longer and addressed more of the content of my request. Why was my reaction so different then?

I guess what I would say is that the point at which I was reaching out for reassurance my adult was not online AT ALL. I was fully caught up in a trauma response to feeling abandoned in the break and so the part that needed reassurance needed a very simple, caring message. I needed the kind of thing that you might say to a very distressed child: ‘it’s ok, I am here, I know you feel scared, but I will be there on Monday and we can talk about this’…or something along those lines. 

I think this is one of the pitfalls of working with clients who have fragmented parts. It’s not always easy for the therapist to see which part is communicating a need (especially through a text or email) and so it’s hard to know what to say or how to adequately respond- which is why my therapist will not usually reply to texts. She says that when she can’t see me she can’t get a true sense of what I am feeling and she may hone in on completely the wrong thing and leave me feeling unseen and unheard because she misses something that is massive to me….doesn’t stop me wanting to reach out though!

Having said all that, on the occasions where my therapist has responded to me or sent a prearranged message at a particular time she seems hell bent on keeping the adult front and centre in her communications. So often it feels like our exchanges seem to miss the mark because she only talks to the adult part. She doesn’t acknowledge the child parts outside session. It’s different in session, thank god.

Through her messages I think she wants to bring the adult part back online (and that makes sense) but actually all that happens is that my young child parts feel rejected, unseen, and abandoned, when she sends messages aimed at the adult. It takes a lot for me to show any level of vulnerability and need and so to have it almost ignored feels absolutely crushing to the little parts. And that’s exactly how it felt last week. I felt like I had been annihilated and struggled to get my adult self back online.

I don’t know what the right thing to do in this situation is. I know that how what she does makes me feel awful but perhaps there is some kind of therapeutic rationale behind the way she communicates that I just don’t understand. For me, I feel that if she at least acknowledged the child parts, then it’d settle them a bit and allow adult to come back online. Ignoring the young ones just agitates them even more. The attach parts are set to scream until they get a response from the attachment figure, after all so ignoring them doesn’t shut them up.

Anyway, Friday went by steadily. The feelings of pain, rejection, and abandonment from Wednesday were still swirling around and distressing the child parts; the inner critic was doing a smashing job of attacking my body – I only ate twice between Tuesday and Friday. The teen part was feeling very much ‘fuck her and fuck this’. I could feel an additional cloud move in as Friday progressed. I sunk into a really very bad place. I’m not just talking depressed and lethargic. I was bordering on suicidal and I don’t mean that in a flippant way. I literally wanted to die. I haven’t felt like that since my breakdown in 2009. I really felt desperately unwell in my mind.

I text a friend and tried to dig my way out of my hole before having early night. I had bad dreams about therapy and then woke up feeling anxious but not like I wanted to die. Thank goodness. It was crap still, but not end of the world crap. When it gets bad I have to try and remind myself how quickly these feelings can move in and out.

I think what I am beginning to understand now, is that perhaps I am not a massively changeable, volatile, and, unstable person, but actually instead there are many parts of me and they have lots of different feelings. I need to become more aware of who’s running the show at any given moment.

Who is the ‘holding it together’ one and who is it that wants to die? Who wants to attach and who feels left and wants to run away? And so on. Because whilst I know they are all part of me, they are exactly that, fragmented parts. That’s why it is so unnerving to feel so conflicted so much of the time, there are so many voices from so many different times competing for attention. Sometimes some are silent and sometimes they are screaming. It really just depends on the moment and what triggers there are.

For example, this week I have really been aware of Eleven (my eleven year old self) being close to the surface. I don’t see a lot of her but this week I have felt her pain and that pain runs deep. I feel how sad she is about having tried to tell an adult how bad things have felt for her and what it is like to be shutdown for it and to not have her feelings acknowledged. She longs for someone to listen to how scary things are for her and validate those feelings but no one ever does. And because she copes so well (on the surface at least) no one ever looks beyond what they see.

By the time it got to Monday I was in a really bad way physically. I think not eating properly (bearing in mind I am always teetering on the edge of normal eating anyway) had really started to mess with my body. I mean you just can’t live on 400 calories a day when you already have a BMI of 16. There are no reserves to draw on. I was shaky and lightheaded but that numb feeling gave at least some part of me a relief.

I didn’t think it was all that noticeable to anyone else but I have just been to get blood taken for next week’s haematology/cancer follow up and the lovely nurse took one look at me and said, ‘you’re looking really pale, are you ok?’ and then as I got up to leave, ‘you’re looking very slim, are you eating ok?’ I said I was fine and that I’ve just been fighting a virus which meant I’d lost some weight…we get good at making eye contact and lying like it’s the truth don’t we?

So to Monday…As I drove to my session I was physically shaking- from nerves more than low blood sugar I think. My mind had shut off, I felt numb, but my body was clearly sending up distress signals.

The first thing I said when I sat down on the couch was ‘I’ve been shaking in the car’. I had no idea how the session was going to go but I didn’t feel especially hopeful. Something felt off. My therapist’s tone and body language felt all wrong. I know I am sensitive to these things because I have always had to be. I’ve always been in a necessary state of hypervigilance because I never knew when the next attack was coming. I needed to be alert to the warning signs.

I might have been projecting negative feelings onto my therapist and maybe she didn’t feel cross or annoyed with me, but something was telling me that things weren’t ok.

The session was stilted and difficult. I found it really hard to talk and I felt like my therapist didn’t really try and draw me out. Sometimes I listen back to sessions and I can hear how hard she is working with me, trying hard to connect with me, trying to make me feel safe. There was none of that on Monday. There was no warm voice or understanding non-verbal gestures. It felt like she didn’t want to be there. It felt like she thought I was criticising her.

I felt as though she didn’t really understand that although I now saw that the response to her messages was quite extreme, that the feelings of abandonment we real to me in the moment. She didn’t acknowledge how feeling ignored and uncared for felt. She said that she had responded to me and that that showed that she was there. I get what she was saying but it felt like we were at crossed-purposes. She wanted me to see that because she had text me that she had proven she was there; and I wanted her to see that she felt impersonal and distant.

On paper there was nothing wrong with what was said in session. Technically everything was correct in terms of theory….but that’s the problem. There’s more going on here than applying theory to a struggling human being. Knowing your stuff can still lead to empathic failure.

Being told that the time for my ‘young infantile needs to be met has passed’ is all well and good (hell don’t I know this, I’ve written about it enough!) but I needed some empathy too. i.e ‘you know the time for your young needs for holding to be met has passed. I know the little girl part of you wants me to hold her and make her feel safe, and I understand how painful it must be for me not to do that for her. I know that she feels rejected, but I am not rejecting her.’ – you know? Something that expresses the theory but also shows how it feels to me with her in our relationship despite the theory. She did acknowledge it was painful – I guess I’m splitting hairs.

I left the session feeling a bit hopeless. I had hoped to go in and repair the rupture and to find some common ground and reconnect but instead I left feeling like I was alone with all these feelings. I mean, the huge issue has long been feeling disconnected between sessions and then struggling, yet this time I felt disconnected in session…and so it’s not great now. Usually my leaky bucket takes a couple of days to dispense with the warm connected feelings. This time I left session with an empty bucket.

Fortunately the session I had with the other therapist on Tuesday was positive. It was a completely different experience to what I am used to and quickly allowed me to tap into emotions. I was staggered that I felt the urge to cry – usually those feelings are on lock down. I felt heard and understood. Bonus!

I have come away feeling positive about moving forward either with my therapist or, if not, someone else. My feelings were validated and I feel as though there are potentially other ways of working that may help me better if I can’t resolve things with my therapist or find a way to meet in the middle. Ultimately my goal is to try and sort things out with my therapist. I love her and really value her. I just need to find a way of expressing my needs and hopefully getting a few more of them met so that I don’t repeatedly find myself drowning in disaster therapy breaks.

Right, this is enormous and so I am going to go…don’t really feel like I have said much!

p.s Thanks to everyone that commented last week and supported me.

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Rupture. The cold, hard truth: my therapist doesn’t care.

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I really didn’t expect to be blogging about a rupture in therapy here today. I thought I’d be saying something about almost surviving the therapy break and being nervous about my session on Monday, but also being amazingly glad I’d be seeing my therapist in person soon. That was the plan, anyway. But that isn’t going to happen because, as things stand right now, I will not be going to therapy on Monday, or possibly to my current therapist ever again.

I know. Spare the drama, right? I’m sure some people read that and think ‘put your toys back in the pram and get over it’ but I also know that there a few of you, especially those that have issues with attachment and feelings about abandonment and rejection, who will read this post and wince.

This isn’t going to be a neat, well-constructed post because right now my brain is scrambled and the various younger parts of me are in meltdown…actually, the adult part is devastated too.  I literally feel like I have been annihilated and that’s not an exaggeration. God I wish it was!

In fairness now is probably not a good time to write, I haven’t had chance to process what’s happened yet, I feel raw and activated, but actually right now my options are: sit here and type or do something horrible to myself – and so this surely has to be the better option.

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My last post talked a lot about how I had been feeling depressed and generally not quite right. I have been struggling really hard this week to keep my head above water. I’ve been plagued by therapy dreams where my therapist has rejected me in one way or another, or simply not cared about me and I have woken up feeling heartbroken.

Yes, I know. They are dreams not reality, but the dreams I’m having tap into the insecurities I feel in the therapeutic relationship and end up intensifying the worry and anxiety I feel when I am awake.

I can’t count how many times I have said this now, but I really struggle when I am away from my therapist. No matter how I try I can’t maintain a sense of connection with her when I can’t see her it seems almost impossible. It is bad managing from week to week but it is always really very challenging during breaks.

All the fears I have about being left or abandoned come up, but equally there is a real anxiety that something bad has happened to her. I can’t seem to get my head to a place that can accept that she is out there, safe, and that the connection is still there. It is weird because this isn’t a problem that I experience in other relationships.

I don’t freak out if I don’t see or hear from my friends for months at a time…but then I guess this might be because I don’t have this kind of complicated attachment to other people in my life and therefore the triggers that I have from being a child don’t play out anywhere else because the child parts of me aren’t active with friends. I don’t know.

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Those of you that follow this blog will know that we’ve talked about trying to create some kind of transitional object (pebbles/note) but not got anywhere with it…and now I understand why. I know, too, that I ought to trust my intuition. I see now that my reluctance to engage getting a message written on the pebbles because I was scared that she actually wouldn’t be willing to write anything that would soothe me is right. She isn’t willing to say anything to confirm that there is a connection in the relationship or that it is any way important.

These last few days my anxiety about the therapeutic relationship reached a whole new level of hell. I felt so ill that I couldn’t function. When I say it took me three hours to load and reload the dishwasher and that I didn’t shower or get dressed until two in the afternoon on Tuesday (and that was only because I had to run an errand) because I just couldn’t face doing anything it might give an impression of just how debilitated I felt. I felt utterly crippled with anxiety.

I felt sick to my core, at times was physically shaking, and felt like a little boat of a very choppy sea. No matter what I did to try and ground myself or channel myself into a place where things felt better I just couldn’t succeed. I knew on Tuesday when I was standing in the kitchen with a massive knife against my wrist that something had to give. I knew that not eating wasn’t doing me any good and that I needed to get out of this headspace. I needed to try and get the adult back online, settle the child parts, and power down the critic.

So after three days of debating with myself what I should do: reach out to my therapist or continue down the path of self-destruction, I thought the most sensible option was to simply tell her how it was, ask for reassurance and then hopefully just settle this sick feeling down and then go discuss it all on Monday and try and work out why it has felt so terrible this break.

I know that we don’t text or email generally unless there is something about scheduling. Most of the time that feels ok-ish but sometimes it feels really persecutory. When I feel like I have reached crisis point (which actually isn’t very often) the no between session contact thing is really difficult for me. Because there is this boundary in place, it means that I can’t just reach out when I need to and ask to get a need met, instead I spend a great deal of time beating myself up for having the need for reassurance which makes it all much worse. I’ve always struggled to ask for help when I need it and so this feels impossible.

I beat myself up for breaking her rules. I beat myself up for not being able to manage on my own. I beat myself up because I know that it’s annoying her. I basically drive myself mad and all the while the anxieties I have about making contact exacerbate the concerns and worries I already have: i.e she really doesn’t care or want to know when things are bad and that I am an inconvenience, and whist she can’t openly say it that frankly she wishes I would just go away.

So, if I do pluck up the courage to reach out I end up feeling sick and guilty that I have done it. It feels utterly impossible no matter what I do. I don’t know why it should feel so bad to express a need for someone but it does.

When I was writing my text yesterday, I had debated sending the link to my post Why do I always dream about my therapist when we are on a therapy break? in my message as this is where the spiralling into anxiety began, but in the end I decided against that in favour of taking it in and talking about it on Monday. I didn’t want to do a big mind dump on her, I simply wanted to check in and re-establish the sense of connection in order to settle myself down until Monday’s session.

Simple.

Or at least I thought it would be.

Only things don’t seem to work like that.

In the past if have reached out I haven’t always been clear about what my need is and so when she doesn’t respond part of me feels upset but part of me thinks that maybe I am expecting too much of her to read between the lines of something fairly innocuous. So I endeavoured to be straightforward this time. Tell it like it is but don’t drone on!

I didn’t want to go on about the self-harm, or the slip into anorexia, how much I missed her, or how very bad it has felt recently because I didn’t want to make the text about trying to do the therapy outside the room. I get why it’s important to do the work in the room. I just wanted a sticking plaster in order that the wound didn’t get any deeper or infected before our face-to-face session next week.

So at 11am I sent this:

‘I started having vivid dreams about therapy on Boxing Day. I wrote about it when it started happening because I thought it would help, but the dreams are happening every time I sleep and I just feel completely overwhelmed now. No amount of deep breathing, visualisation, distraction, or sitting with it is helping. It’s escalated to a crippling level of anxiety now and it’s making me not even want to come back on Monday. The critical part of me is delighting in how bad it feels. It’s taken three days of battling with myself to send this:

Please can you tell me that things are still ok.’

*

I forwarded the message to a friend,  because having sent the text I immediately felt sick and started shaking. I was worrying about whether it was too much and too needy, and she assured me that it was fine and that she’d sent similar messages in the past to her therapist and all that would probably happen would be that she’d reply to say, ‘she’s there and you’re both ok and it will feel better’, which is exactly what I had hoped for.

So after anxiously checking my phone for an hour I left it upstairs and went and tried to get on with the things I needed to do. In that time I was thinking about what it might feel like if she didn’t reply to me, which is what I expected, and how that feeling of rejection would probably make me rage. I went upstairs at 2pm and there was a message from my therapist:

‘From my understanding of what you are saying, I think that it is very common for people to have dreams about therapy and for people to have strong feelings about such dreams and I hope that you will be able to continue with the therapy and come to your session on Monday.’

*

I won’t lie. I was a bit taken aback by the message. Perhaps it’s just me but it felt so distant and cold. I sat with it for an hour because I thought maybe on rereading it later my feelings would change I’d be able to find some kind of sense of connection in there and sense that she actually cared…

I didn’t.

I messaged my friend this because I was still trying to look on the bright side:

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I wondered then whether what I had sent was too much about the dreams and not enough about stating that I needed a sense of her being there and things being ok. Perhaps it’d got lost in text? So after some thought I sent this at 3:15pm:

Yeah. I get therapy dreams are normal and can evoke strong feelings. What I’m trying to say is I feel like you are gone and that there is no connection, and now this is being reinforced every time I sleep which is just horrendous. What I wanted was for you to tell me that it is just anxiety, not based in reality, and that actually things are ok still and that you’re still there.

*

I felt a bit eeeeeeek sending it but thought, if  I don’t clearly communicate my needs then there’s no chance of getting them met. I thought she probably wouldn’t reply to the text but a message did come in:

Thanks for clarifying. See you on Monday.’

*

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And that’s where I felt like I had been annihilated. Even just typing that I feel a kind of shock in my body and utter confusion in my brain.

I mean what the hell am I meant to feel about that response?

Well. First was utter devastation and then that was quickly followed by:

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My gut reaction was to fire off something like ‘Seriously? Fuck it. I’m done’ but  I didn’t. Again I waited for a while to see if my initial feelings would settle down or whether I’d go back to the message and read it differently.

Nope.

At 5:15pm I sent this:

Honestly don’t know whether to laugh or cry about that message. I’ll let you know about Monday but right now it just isn’t going to happen. I know you need 48 hours so I’ll let you know by Friday.’

*

And that’s where it’s been left.

I don’t even really know what to say to her now. I mean where do I go from here? I want to feel like I am overreacting or something because that in some way makes those messages seem less, err, what? Abandoning? I dunno. But I am not entirely sure that I can convince myself that I am making more of it than there is.

It’s not like my therapist isn’t acutely aware of my issues with disorganised attachment, being unable to maintain a sense connection, and the problems that therapy breaks cause especially for the most vulnerable child parts of me- and to not be willing to offer up the most basic amount of reassurance when I reach out feels pretty cruel actually.

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I don’t know if I can come back from this.

I’ve spoken to a couple of friends about what’s happened, both are staggered by the exchange, and one suggested that maybe now is the time to find another therapist because repeatedly not getting my needs met or even validated is hurting me A LOT.

The rigid nature of the therapeutic frame doesn’t seem to be helping and there appears to be no flexibility in it. I had just about come to terms with the fact that touch was out of bounds but actually not even getting the most basic level of reassurance when things are about as bad as they get…well, what do I do with that?

I don’t know.

I feel like I was trying to find a better way of coping with difficult feelings. I was trying to get help. It backfired and now I am back to square one. Maybe there’s a reason that blades and starving myself have been so long part of my existence. Maybe deep down what I have always felt to be true is true: I am not worthy of care and I do not matter. On the plus side, I don’t have to worry about the Christmas weight gain now. Stress of the last two days and 2kg has just dropped away. I shouldn’t be pleased about it, but fuck it. I am done.

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A Long December…

‘A long December and there’s reason to believe, maybe this year will be better than the last’ …these lyrics still resonate as strongly now with me as they did twenty years ago. At first glance these words seem reasonably uplifting and a positive projection for the year ahead, but if you’re looking for a dose of optimism as you head into 2018 this is probably not the post for you!

The fact that later in the song these words are chased by the ‘the smell of hospitals in winter and the feeling that it’s all a lot of oysters and no pearls’ might give those unfamiliar with the song more of a flavour of what’s to come…

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It’s no surprise to me that right now a big chunk of my internal soundtrack (and what I downloaded to my phone yesterday) is essentially the same as that of my mid teens: Counting Crows’ albums, ‘Recovering The Satellites’  and  ‘August and Everything After’ (it’s no accident how I titled my archive list); R.E.M’s ‘Automatic For The People’; Coldplay’s, ‘Parachutes’; and Dido’s, ‘No Angel’.

The emotions I am experiencing at the moment first became known to me back in the late nineties. As an adolescent the feeling/s hit in an overwhelming and hugely destructive way. In the last day or so I think I’ve fallen into operating from the Teen state so far as my emotions go and so that’s why my headphones are locked in my ears today as my wife has taken the kids out to give me some space and a bit of a break.

What’s up with me?

I am feeling depressed.

It’s not good.

It’s really not good.

I hate it (but then who enjoys feeling shit?).

Oh. And. I am feeling angry (which is new to me, or at least being in touch with my anger is!)

It’s funny, really, because the words ‘depression’ and ‘anger’ seem to have become so innocuous. We throw them around so freely in society that I sometimes feel like they have lost their meaning:

‘What’s wrong with x – I haven’t heard from her for a while?’

‘She’s depressed’

Oh, right, she gets like that sometimes doesn’t she? I’m sure she’ll be ok.’

And that’s kind of how it feels (to me at least). There are so many campaigns out there about mental health awareness but when it comes down to it, lots of people don’t really get what it feels like to be depressed, or anxious, or suicidal, or struggling and so it gets brushed under the carpet like it’s no big deal…when actually when you’re caught up in it it is huge. It is a BIG BIG deal.

We’re sort of programmed to know how to deal with physical illness:

‘Oh I feel rubbish, I’ve got a stinking cold and a fever and can’t get out of bed’

Oh that sounds rotten, I’ll stay away, then! Feel better soon!’ 

And somehow, it seems like we respond to people in the same way when they express feeling mentally unwell like if you come close by you’ll catch it:

Oh I feel rubbish, I feel so sad and lost and I can’t get out of bed’

Oh that sounds, rotten, I’ll stay away, then. Feel better soon!’

A lot of people don’t know what to do or say when you mention that things are a bit (a lot) shit, and so often just back away, and give you space until you are ready to venture back out into the world in the form that they recognise and can relate to.

Sometimes this is fine and sometimes you need someone to come and sit with you when you are in your PJs wanting to slice your arms open to just talk. I have found this has become even more of an issue when I express any negative feelings about having had cancer and all the treatment a couple of years ago. It’s like it’s a completely out of bounds topic. No one knows what to say.

I have noticed that when I feel depressed I don’t talk, though. I don’t reach out. I don’t share. I shut down. I become secretive and closed off and live in my own self-destructive world. I think part of it is about not wanting to burden people with my difficult feelings and thoughts, and part of it is that I just can’t communicate something that feels utterly overwhelming.

Once I hit a place where I am not eating or self-harming in order to cope with my feelings then the window where I might want/be able to talk has passed. I have disappeared…not that anyone would notice. I am very good at hiding what’s going on inside.

I struggle even to tell my therapist when I am battling with my eating disorder or self-harm. I remember clearly the first session back after Christmas last year sitting almost mute desperately trying to find the words to tell her that I had been self-harming…and it took about 45 minutes to get there…which is not ideal in a 50 minute session! So if I can’t tell someone I trust implicitly and who doesn’t judge me then I have no hope with people in my day-to-day life.

If I do try and change my behaviour, and manage to share even a hint of how I am feeling before I have moved into the realms of self-destruction I often find that people don’t always know what to say anyway, ignore it, or say the wrong things:

You were ok yesterday!’ – (I might have appeared that way, but that was because my filter was intact and I could hide what was inside. Today I have no energy to put on the front)

What’ve you got to be depressed about?’  –(You have no idea, do you?)

‘Try and think positive thoughts’  – (Fuck off! Do you really think I am deliberately feeling this way and a bit of positive thinking will shut this off?)

Your treatment was a success. You should be happy.’ (thank god I don’t have a knife to hand).

And it basically doesn’t help at all and so I end up taking it out on myself which actually just makes it worse. Far better to suffer alone then reach out and be shamed for it.

I saw this on Pinterest a while back and thought it was great:

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Anyway, I don’t need to explain depression here do I?!

Don’t get me wrong, I am all about doing things to try and help myself (#selfcare) but sometimes when things feel really bad like they did when I woke up this morning it takes a herculean amount of effort to even get my teeth brushed, let alone feed myself, take a shower, or practise a bit of mindfulness.

I’m not kidding when I say that it has taken me five hours just to get to this point writing this post. I keep wandering off in my head and sleeping.

About an hour ago I kicked myself up the arse and went and made a coffee, ate a croissant, and had a shower….but that’s where the momentum ground to a halt. It’s 1:30 in the afternoon and I am now back under the duvet with curtains (still) drawn and the lights out. I just can’t do it today. I feel so tired and ugh that I just don’t want to be awake.

I keep lamenting the fact that I have a horrible headache… but have not managed to go and get any painkillers, and since I forgot to get any when I was actually downstairs, I’ll probably just lie here groaning to myself for the rest of the afternoon now. I need to go to the loo but I can’t face getting out of the warmth of the bed.

Honestly it is just piss poor here today!

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There are loads of things I need to do but I feel incapable of doing any of it. I am trying not to beat myself up for being unproductive but of course when I feel crap, I attack myself about it.

I know that my mood today is not helped by the fact that I am still really ill with a virus that seems to keep mutating and hitting me over and over and over again. I have been ill since the beginning of September and it is really getting me down now. I wrote a while back about how illness always goes hand in hand with a mental health crash and I think this is especially relevant right now.

I just want to feel physically well and it isn’t happening. I know this is as a result of the fact that my blood levels haven’t recovered since having chemo and so I am more susceptible to picking up bugs and that in itself makes me feel rubbish. I feel like I am emotionally and physically running on empty.

I am usually a busy person. I keep myself busy because, I guess, in part, I am always on the run from these feelings. I totally understand that I probably end up here, face down in the mud, barely functioning, because I overdo it, don’t take time out for myself, don’t attend to my needs, yadda yadda and so end up burning out every now and then. I get it. I don’t need it explaining to me…but what’s the alternative? Sit with these difficult feelings and let them wash over me? I keep trying that in various ways but eventually the feeling of overwhelm overwhelms me!

Music has always functioned as an escape for me and that’s where I am seeking solace right now. I spent a huge chunk of my late teens driving around in my car, listening to my stereo, and trying to escape from whatever was going on at home and simultaneously trying to run away from what was going on in my head/heart. It was all a massive nightmare really: perpetually feeling unloved and like I wasn’t good enough.

And here I am, again, running away from those feelings and retreating into my inner world and music.

There is a part of me that feels that it is absolutely tragic that I am heading towards 35 years old and yet I still struggle massively with feeling unloved and like I am not good enough – ugh! It seems almost nonsensical that these feelings are still able to floor me after all these years.

I have been with my wife for twelve years and have two lovely kids and yet, even despite knowing that they love me and cherish me, something deep in my core can’t really absorb it. The bucket I try and store love in has a great big hole in the bottom and until I fix it the good stuff will keep spilling out and onto the floor.

I wonder what has happened to make all this flare up so significantly again?

Any guesses?

The therapy break you say? Ah, maybe you could be right! It’s getting a bit boring my going on about therapy breaks and my inability to cope with them isn’t it?!

Where am I at with it all? 9 days down, 9 to go…I think. Halfway point. (How how how can I only be halfway through?!)

I spent the first bit of the therapy break alternating between my adult and child states. I had Christmas to contend with which meant the adult needed to be online a lot of the time but I was also really aware of the little ones really missing my therapist when it got to the evening and I had bit of quiet reflective time.

I have spent several hours each night lying in bed not crying but really wanting to. I don’t know how I would explain it to my wife, though, and so I just lie there in the dark feeling like an abandoned child until I fall asleep and dream about her and all the anxieties I am feeling about the therapeutic relationship.

Those little parts of me were fully awakened after having such a connecting last session heading into the break last week. This connected feeling should be a good thing, after all, it’s what I seek every therapy session isn’t it? And yes, that feeling is amazing but it is also incredibly addictive. Initially I felt soothed, held and contained by what had happened in therapy but as is all too often the case, the positive feelings didn’t last and the sense of being on my own, abandoned, and like my therapist had disappeared off the face of the earth took root.

I know that these feelings mirror what happened with my mum when I was small (only without the positive connecting part!) and so it just feels like I am replaying that pain of abandonment over and over again every time I am away from the new attachment figure (therapist).

The knowledge about where these feelings come from doesn’t make them any less painful or any less real in the here and now. It’s agonising. I so desperately wanted to reach out to my therapist and somehow try and get the horrible sense of feeling unworthy and being unlovable to go away.

I stayed with those feelings for a while, you know, the feeling like you’ve been kicked in the gut and are simultaneously feeling scared of everything… but I know from experience that I can’t stay with this pain indefinitely – it hurts too much. And I can’t reach out for my therapist either -she deserves a break and won’t reply to me even if I do contact her which only fuels the awful sense of being left. So at the moment the way I cope with it, I’ve noticed, is by going through this emotional cycle:

The therapy break starts and within a day or two the young child parts come online and sit alongside the adult; three days into the break the child parts are inconsolable and screaming in attachment pain hell. The adult tries to listen and honour these feelings for what they are but there is no soothing to be done, the child parts don’t want me, and the noise inside escalates.

Before long the feelings of loss and abandonment become so overwhelming that the Teen part steps up to try protect the little ones seeing as no one else seems capable of it and shut it all down for them. She is angry and hurt and despondent. She really doesn’t want to go to therapy again, ‘fuck this shit – I don’t care anymore’. She doesn’t see the point in it (although part of her secretly really likes therapist). All it does is hurt all the most vulnerable parts and she can’t understand why I (adult) would spend time and money doing something which feels a lot like self-harm (and she is very good at self-harm).

I can go round in this loop for a few days: adult, child part, teen and then before long the big bastard comes online. I can see it now and it is set to smother me. It is the Inner Critic. That voice is not embodied in a traditional sense. I have mentioned before that it feels a lot like one of the Dementors in ‘Harry Potter’ and I guess this is, in part, the depressive state as well as all the internalised anger that I have repressed over the years. It is the embodiment of all the rage that I had no way of expressing at the time and instead learned to turn in on myself. It is ENORMOUS.

Right now it is leaning in and telling me that my therapist doesn’t care just like my mother didn’t, that I am worthless and unlovable, and a complete loser for having the feelings I do about someone who can never reciprocate them. It tells me that cutting myself, or burning myself will make the feelings go. It tells me that my body is disgusting and that I should stop eating.

Part of me is terrified and feels like the only option is to give in to that voice and there’s another part of me that is hanging on for dear life and shaking a great big stick at it and telling it to leave me alone. I don’t know how resilient that part of me is but I am digging in deep today.

I know that I need to find a way to make that Dementor shape shift. I need to find a way of making friends with it and acknowledging it as a part of myself. I know that it has served as a protector of sorts (even if it is hard to see that anorexia and self-harm have been survival /protective mechanisms) and therefore in some ways I should be grateful that it got me through some emotionally horrendous periods.

I have been thinking today. What I am going to do is try and re-imagine this entity as an angry black dog that has been mistreated and caged for a really long time. I know that the black dog is a well-used metaphor for depression but in my actual real life I have four lovely black dogs whom I love, they are super bonkers beasties. What I hope is that over time and with a bit of training I might get the critic under control just like my delinquent hounds.

I am hoping that if I can change the image in my head from all-encompassing terror-inducer to an angry dog that needs taking for a walk sometimes, then perhaps that’ll settle it down a bit and I will be less frightened by it.

Maybe I need to work out what the needs of the Inner Critic are rather than being so terrified of it that all I do is run from it.

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Anyway, that’s where I am today, there’s more I could say but I know I am making no sense so instead, here is the song that sums up how it feels! I’ll be glad to see the back of this year for sure!

 

Why do I always dream about my therapist when we are on a therapy break?

Just like clockwork, three days into the Christmas therapy break, my therapy/therapist dreams kicked in.  I wrote at length a while ago about dreams and how much dreams of my therapist can knock me for six.

I feel compelled to write on this topic again now because my sleep is filled with her again… I need to get this stuff out my system because it is still another 12 days until my next therapy session and part of me needs to process/let out what’s going on before I amass a catalogue of dreams and end up sitting down first session back and saying….‘So, err, I dreamt about you every night for two weeks…’ 

I wonder, is that more or less weird than sitting down after last year’s three week Christmas break and the first words out my mouth being, ‘Do you think I have BPD?’ I’m sure she’d sit there completely un-phased if I went in and told her she was repeatedly in my dreams during the break but there is a bit of me that always feels like it’s a bit creepy telling my therapist I have dreamt about her … and it’s even more cringeworthy if it’s happening night after night.

So often what comes up in dreams about my therapist are the anxieties I am feeling in the therapeutic relationship and so it is unsurprising that these dreams tend to increase in frequency during breaks when I can’t see her, or at times when I feel unsettled in the relationship, or there has been some kind of rupture.

These recent dreams seem, again, to be tapping into the underlying (ok surface level!) worries I am feeling about being on Christmas break and issues in the therapeutic relationship, mainly: feeling like I am unimportant to her and that the connection is broken; feeling angry about her not caring about me and that she’s abandoned/rejected me; and despite all this, still desperately craving closeness and proximity to her, wanting to repair the damage.

It’s all about conflicting feelings and emotions. What a surprise!

For the past three nights I have had incredibly detailed dreams about, and involving, my therapist.  There is a little part of me that is glad to ‘see her’ in my dreams because I find it so hard to hang onto any sense of her actually being out there in the real world during a break. I so easily lose my sense of her being safe and ‘there’ because on breaks she is not there. It’s long been one of my frustrations, being unable to reach out to her between sessions and check-in and try and maintain the sense of the relationship being sound.

Unfortunately, I start to emotionally wobble quite soon into any kind of disruption in therapy, and the dreams I have about my therapist aren’t usually massively warm and fuzzy. They don’t really involve lots of nurturing, love, and holding (which is what I would love my mind to serve me up in my sleep). It’s usually feelings of abandonment, rejection, and loss that come to the fore and leave me with a killer dream hangover for days (and sometimes weeks) afterwards. Sigh!

Mind you, having said all that, perhaps I should mention that I did have my first erotic dream about my therapist a couple of weeks ago (which after six years I think has been some time coming!) and that sent me through a completely different set of emotions – obviously. I won’t lie, it was a great/positive sexual experience (it wasn’t scary or threatening or pressured) but the moment I woke up I was flooded with shame and embarrassment, as well as confusion about it.

Although I am gay, and my therapist is a woman, I have never really thought of her ‘in that way’! She is attractive, definitely, and I have always had a thing for older women (oh but of course!), but for me, there’s been a shit tonne of maternal transference and so I have never consciously/unconsciously thought of her in a sexual way….until the other week!

My fantasies involving my therapist have always revolved strongly around being held/cuddled by her and her behaving in a very mothering way towards me. Basically I have wanted her to treat me in the way a mother would (should) treat a young child. (Isn’t it odd that I should feel less embarrassed writing that than saying I had a dream where I slept with her! ha!)

Thinking about it now, I realise the sex dream was really again about trying to get close to her (as so often happens in my dreams), only in a different way. The sexual element, I think, was about a part of me (maybe the adult) finally trusting her, being vulnerable, and allowing her to see part of me that I keep hidden which is kind of what’s been going on in therapy…I mean opening up to her and being vulnerable- not having sex! So although it was a bit ‘argh!’ at the time, in many ways I guess I should see that dream as a positive. I haven’t managed to tell her about that yet, and to be honest I am not sure that I ever will.

Still, back to the current batch of dreams… I know it’s not just me that is currently negotiating the therapy/therapist dreamscape during the Christmas break. Sleeptime for many a therapy client is firing out all kinds of anxiety-ridden dreams. Oh the joy and wonder of breaks eh? I’d be really interested to know just how many people are having therapy dreams right now and how many of those are positive, how many feel full of anxiety and if/how this reflects where people are at in their therapeutic journey.

Anyway, yesterday night’s dream stayed with me all day. I was a fucking pain in the arse all day as a result. Even this morning, I know that I am like a bear with a sore head. I have already been snappy and short. I can’t help it and I can’t blame it on being tired. I just feel so frustrated and sad and all kinds of emotions. The attachment pain stuff has kicked in massively and I feel really awful. It’s ridiculous, really. I should be enjoying the holidays but it is just so difficult when there are various parts of myself missing my therapist and feeling unanchored.

I know some of what I am feeling will be the Christmas hangover coming out. Christmas day was ‘fine’ on the surface, as I knew it would be, but inside I felt a little bit like I was dying. The little ones are always poised and waiting to see if Mummy will see them or acknowledge them. She never does. She never did. If she couldn’t do it when I was in my child’s body then I guess I am expecting too much for her to see beyond the body of a 34 year old woman.

The day wiped me out and I slept until 10:30 yesterday (which is unheard of – but then my wife got up with the kids and I think given the chance I could easily sleep like that everyday!). Christmas when it was just me, my wife, and my kids was lovely but when my mum arrived I could feel something shift inside me. It’s a subtle shift but I am very aware of it now. I become ever so slightly anxious and ever so slightly hopeful….which I know is what happens when I sit down in therapy. I hope that my therapist will ‘see me’ but also anxious that she won’t.

It was civil enough with mum but just not ‘warm’. We chatted for a long while, but not about anything in particular – other people mainly. It was small talk. The ‘real’ things seem to be off limits. Since she said ,‘therapy was for losers’ a couple of months ago (despite knowing I am in therapy and have been on an off for the last decade), I am not really feeling like my mental health is a topic to broach anyway! I mean I guess it’s not a Christmas day topic (why?!) but I don’t know when the, ‘Mum I am really struggling to cope with what it was like when I was younger and it’s really impacting on me even now’ will ever come up.

Anyway, as so often happens all my sadness and feelings of loss and abandonment which clearly originate in my childhood have been fully transferred onto my therapist and our relationship in 2017. I am not grieving my mother’s lack of connection and relationship with me. I don’t want her now. Of course I don’t. I want the person who has given me the closest thing to unconditional love that I have experienced. It is intoxicating to all the younger parts of me and the adult too….but of course that is just a fantasy that needs to be crushed and grieved for too….eventually. Not now, though! Give me time!

This dream is a long one, so feel free to skip:

I was walking alone along the coast path not far from my therapist’s house. A little further along the bay I could see the snowflake card that I had given for Christmas resting on a wall/gatepost. It was as though it had been displayed as an ornament but it was now falling apart and broken in places. It had been left outside, and because it had been raining it had started to disintegrate. Perhaps she hadn’t realised that the card was only made of paper and therefore fragile….or perhaps she didn’t care?

As I walked further up the path I became increasingly angry. I felt sad and disappointed that something I had put thought and effort into, and had bought to symbolise our relationship seemingly meant nothing to her. It was fine to leave it out in the rain.

When I reached where the card was it turned out to be the entrance to a pub but it was also where she lived (?). Part of me wanted to walk on by and ignore her but another part was drawn to see if I could find her. To get to her place I had to walk through the bar which was incredibly busy because it was Boxing Day and up some narrow steps to the door. The door wasn’t locked so I let myself in – there was no one there.

I wandered around the house knowing that I shouldn’t be there but at the same time desperately craving any kind of connection with my therapist in order to try and prove to myself that she did care, didn’t mean to hurt me, and wouldn’t deliberately disregard something that I had given her that demonstrated the feelings I have for her.

The house was really tidy and one of the windows had a window seat and lovely view out over the sea. It wasn’t raining at that point but I could see the snowflake card looking really sorry for itself on the wall below. I decided to lay down and wrapped myself in a blanket that was on the seat and try and take in the space, and by extension, my therapist, but I must’ve fallen asleep.

I woke up to find my therapist kneeling down beside me and gently saying my name. I woke up with a start. I was mortified! She didn’t seem angry that I was there, but feeling exposed  and off guard I immediately launched into an attack on her. I pretty much screamed at her that ‘she didn’t care about me’, that ‘I couldn’t believe that she would so easily disregard something I had given her, something that had taken me time and thought, but moreover something that really showed my feelings toward her’. I said ‘you told me that this card was about love. You know it is. Why would you treat my love like it doesn’t matter?’ I started crying.

She said, she was sorry and that she had put the card outside because it was beautiful so others could see it at Christmas but it had started raining when she was away. She was sorry that it had been damaged and was disappointed too. I petulantly (teen part) said ‘it didn’t matter’. I told her ‘I would never have left it outside’ and it just shows how I much I would value something from her if I had something and proves the lack of balance in the relationship.

I told her I still have every scrap of paper that’s she’s written holiday dates on for me. I said, ‘see how pathetic it is? – how pathetic I am? I hang onto the tiniest part of what you give me to try and sustain the connection. I have to try and make that enough and yet you couldn’t care less about things that clearly mean something, that are given with love’.

She said she understood how I was upset and wondered if there was anything we could do to fix the snowflake. I said ‘look at it, it’s falling apart, I don’t think it could be repaired and even if we could it’s not the fact the snowflake is broken that’s really the issue, it’s that you left it out in the first place, it doesn’t mean anything to you and it is not important to you’.

She told me that it was important to her and that’s why she had put it on display. She said she could see I was upset and asked what could make it better. I wanted to ask for hug. I so badly wanted to feel close to her. I knew that even though that was exactly what I needed I couldn’t ask for it because it was one of her ‘boundaries’. 

Having this thought come into my mind made everything feel even more awful because I felt abandoned and rejected and now couldn’t ask for connection because it was one of her ‘distancing rules’ (boundaries) that I have no say in and it made the anger rise up in me again.

I said ‘I don’t know why I am even here. I just keep hurting myself in one way or another with you. I love you so so much but to you I am completely insignificant. All that happens when I am with you is that I get reminded how unimportant I am to you, and that really hurts. I can’t keep putting myself through this. It physically hurts that you won’t let me close to you and I just can’t bear it anymore.’

Then she said perhaps we could take the card to a dry cleaners and see if it could be mended. I said that was a ridiculous idea, it wasn’t clothing and it couldn’t be mended. I said to stop going on about the card – that she was missing the point. I went outside and brought it in off the wall and put in on her table. All the words I had written had blurred into a watercolour of ink.

I said I needed to go. I didn’t want to go, though. I felt really hurt but I didn’t want to leave because I knew there was a long time until I would see her again and in that time I knew my upset and anger would increase and I may never return to therapy.

She suggested that we could go for a walk along by the sea together and talk things through. I said that I would love that (caving in)  and so we made our way downstairs through the pub which was now empty, and out for a walk.

We walked for a while but I said nothing. I didn’t know what to say. I still felt angry and upset and I was also aware that I was shutting down because I knew that I would have to leave her again soon. She looked at me and said ‘this has really upset you hasn’t it? You think I don’t care about you and that you don’t matter?’ I couldn’t look at her but nodded. She took hold of my hand and said ‘I am sorry. I really think there’s a lot to work through in this area’.

Then I woke up.

So yeah. Ugh! There we are another detailed version of the same old things. Whilst I know it is just a dream it taps so heavily into all the areas that bother me in the relationship. I have to remind myself when it feels this bad that what’s going on for me is not my therapist’s fault. The dream isn’t real. The issues are real but they aren’t of her making. I have deep-rooted attachment trauma and it’s playing out in this relationship now.

My adult knows (kind of!) that my therapist hasn’t just left me and stopped caring… but there are other parts who are not convinced that this hasn’t happened because this is their experience of what caregivers are like: they leave and they don’t care about me or my needs. I am not on the radar. I am not ‘kept in mind’.

I know my therapist is just a therapist (argh!) but there are parts of me that refuse to see her as anything other than the desperately longed for mother figure they need/ed. I know that the time for those young needs to be met has passed but the youngest parts of me don’t understand this at all because they are frozen back in time where it was possible. They are active in 2017 but they live back in the 80’s and early 90’s and to them there is still hope of things being ok, hope that whacking great mother wound can be filled with ‘her’ love.

Just writing this makes my stomach ache. It’s awful really. I have said this stuff so many times now. And, yet, whilst rationally I TOTALLY get it, I just cannot get accept it emotionally yet. I know that I shouldn’t ‘hope’ for the impossible but I would be lying if I said I didn’t.

I know this is why I am in therapy and why there is still a long way to run with my therapy…but right now, on Christmas break oh my god, it’s so hard! There was a period of time where I didn’t dream at all between 2013-16 (break in therapy) and I could go to bed to get away from things. Now I go to bed in the hope of escaping the emotional torment I feel and it chases me into my dreamworld and plays out there.

As I said a couple of months ago: ‘To sleep, perchance to dream’…but please, God, not about my therapist!

Sleep tight, everyone!

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Solace.

What’s 2017 year been like for me? On balance, there’s been some good, some bad, and a lot of stuff in between. It hasn’t been all cupcakes and rainbows by any means, indeed, it’s been a lot of horseshit and heartache… but that’s life, I guess!

The death of a very close friend/mother figure has shaken me to the core; then there’s been reflecting on (and being overwhelmed by) the last few years since my cancer diagnosis and treatment; finally facing the reality of my childhood and the deficit in love and care from my mother in particular; oh and of course I’ve been steadily edging towards Christmas which basically means freaking out about the therapy break and attachment pain ramping up a notch or five!

It’s not been easy, but then I don’t think life is. The older I get the more I realise that for me, at least, life is about winging it. I might be a grown up now, and a parent, but actually the childhood concept of what an adult is (or should be) is completely unrealistic. I don’t know anyone with all their ducks perfectly lined up.

Perhaps it is just me and my immediate circle of friends but, honestly, it seems to be about making the rules up as I go and holding it together with rubber bands and chewing gum…which is why I chose this blog name!

I don’t really know where this post is going to go, I’m afraid. I have been so busy this last week that I really hadn’t had any time to think about myself until yesterday’s therapy session. So, whilst I know I have stuff to say, this is likely to be more of a stream of consciousness than some well-crafted post…yeah, right, same shit different day then! Business as usual.

Why have I had no time to breathe? Well I am a mum, of course. The run into Christmas with small children is like some kind of hideous military exercise testing endurance and memory set by sadistic teachers who want payback for having to cope with your kids for the last term. The two weeks leading into the holiday is basically designed to send any sane woman (and it is mainly women) over the edge.

In the last week I have been to two nativity plays and a Christingle service (wtf is that about anyway?!). I have sent my kids dressed in non-uniform, muddy winter walk gear, Christmas jumpers, and uniform (all on the right days- win!). I really felt for the poor mum who brought her son to school in uniform on wear what you like day…it was six minutes before the bell and she almost did a handbrake turn in the road to go rectify the wardrobe error: ‘was it in the newsletter?’

I have provided ‘bring and share’ party food for two separate class parties and sat through an hour and a half of mind-numbing (but not mind-numbing enough) children’s entertainment with a room of twenty kids under four before trying to feed them all party food. I was hanging on by a thread on Tuesday and all that got me through the preschool party was some choice WhatsApp messages to a friend!: ‘Shoot me now!’

I have bought and wrapped gifts for ALL the teachers and support staff at both my daughter’s school and son’s preschool. I have basically been some kind of mum robot/Stepford Wife and it is so not me! I really am not cut out for this. I am not PTA material…which is hilarious seeing as I have taken on the frigging Vice-Chair of the preschool committee. Ok, there’s a part of me that can do this stuff well but there is another part of me that wants to hang myself when in that ‘role’.

I’d go so far as to say that I have felt a little Grinch-like lately! And it’s not just because of what I’ve written above. I’ve almost hated the idea of Christmas this year for what it inevitably means for me: a lengthy disruption to my therapy and, therefore, the sense of connection with my therapist disintegrating again (oh the drama!).

I find Christmas stressful because not only is it a time where I am left without that much-needed support from my therapist, but the break in support coincides neatly with being faced with much of what has taken me into therapy in the first place! What a bloody irony!

I feel an immense pressure to play ‘happy families’ with my mother at this time of year. For the last decade she has come to us on Christmas day. These days my relationship with my mum is as good as it could possibly hope to be. Yeah sure, we don’t touch, and there is an awkwardness between us, but I don’t feel like she despises me these days which is how I felt for a really long time.

In fact I (adult) know that she loves me… The problem with this is that there are so many parts of me that are locked in pain from the past that I can’t seem to fully operate in 2017 and take in what’s in front of me now. There are so many desperately sad young parts that feel utterly abandoned that it just stresses me out being around my mum, especially at Christmas.

I know I shouldn’t, but I often find myself longing to be with my ‘therapy mother’ over Christmas and feeling disappointed with the biological version that is in front of me because I become someone else in her presence and it is not me…or the version of me that is emerging. I want to be with the person that makes me feel safe and the person that makes it feel ok to be me. I know that my idealised version of my therapist is not who she really is, but when things feel overwhelming my head and heart run and seek solace in the therapy mother.

I know my mum would be utterly devastated if she read my blog because I think in her eyes things are fine now. She tries really hard. I can’t really criticise the here and now. The thing is, I am not fine about the past yet. I haven’t worked out how to soothe all the hurting parts and until I do I don’t think Christmas will ever be easy.

The other thing that is really hard about Christmas is spending meaningful time with my children. That sounds totally bonkers doesn’t it? What I mean is I find it really difficult knowing how easy it is for me to love my children, to hold them, to tell them how special they are, and to be there for them that it is totally devastating knowing that there are child parts inside me that are still crying out to be loved and held because they never had this nurturing growing up.

It is not a chore for me to love my kids (sure the running around like a nutcase for school is). It is not a bind for me to snuggle them up in bed and read them a bedtime story. It is not a drain on me to listen to them tell me about their day. It is not an inconvenience to be their mummy so why was it so hard for my mum to love me?

Ouch. I can’t even go there right now. #motherwound

Anyway, maybe I have been a bit Grinchy lately but what I will say, is that perhaps my heart grew three sizes yesterday in therapy, or rather the tight tight squeeze on it released a little in session and I feel a bit happier, a bit more secure….or at least I feel that way in the therapeutic relationship which is really all I seem to write about here anyway!

So, yeah, I’ve now finished therapy for the year and am officially on break until the 8th January (Eeek!). Thankfully, yesterday’s session was a good one. I gave my therapist a popup card Christmas card with a snowflake on it that symbolised how our relationship is to me. I had been really torn about whether or not I should actually give it to her and struggled to find the words to put inside it.

The therapeutic relationship is so complex. Although it is a professional relationship it feels so much more than that. I know that for many of us there have been times when our therapists are probably our most trusted relationship and the person whom we feel closest to.

I didn’t sleep much on Wednesday night. I was anxious about handing over the card but I think I was also dreading the fact that it was the last session of the year. The previous session had seen me shut down and block my therapist out which is so often what happens when we approach breaks.

I know that I am not alone in the mental to-ing and fro-ing about gift giving or card giving at Christmas (as well as at other times). I had chosen the card specifically because it was meant to be a keepsake and yet was not obviously a ‘present’. I think my therapist would accept small gifts but from what I can gather she genuinely likes the more meaningful small gestures, i.e a carefully chosen card with thoughtful words.

It took some time to work out what I wanted to say but I ended up writing:

I saw this card and thought of you/therapy/the therapeutic relationship.

Sometimes I feel like being in therapy is a bit like the adventure in Michael Rosen’s ‘We’re Going On A Bear Hunt’:

‘We’re going on a bear hunt,

We’re going to catch a big one.

What a beautiful day!

We’re not scared!

Uh-Uh! A snowstorm!

A swirling whirling snowstorm.

We can’t go over it.

We can’t go under it.

Oh no!

We’ve got to go through it!’

It’s not always easy and I sometimes freeze when faced with  a ‘snowstorm’ or ‘thick oozy mud’. I am beginning to realise that these obstacles are all part of the journey and am hopeful that there will be plenty of beautiful days along the way. I am very grateful that you keep walking alongside me even when the terrain is pretty treacherous.

Keeping on with the snow theme, the snowflake serves as a great metaphor for how I feel in our relationship. The Inner Critic is always so ready to devalue and undermine what there is in the therapeutic relationship (especially when I can’t see you) because it knows that to you I am just one of many clients. I am forgettable just like a snowflake in a blizzard.

However, some people say that each individual snowflake is unique and special in its own way and so it is hard to compare one with another. So this Christmas I am trying hard to remember that actually no matter how many snowflakes there are, to me this one/relationship is special, it is valuable and really that’s all that really matters. 

I hope you have a lovely Christmas holiday and rest well- you surely deserve it just for listening to me.

With love,

There was so much I wanted to say when I was trying to find words for the card and somehow at the same time I was acutely aware of not ‘saying too much’ or ‘being too much’ or ‘overstepping a boundary’ or making her feel ‘awkward’. It’s so difficult knowing where that line is. Although, interestingly, my therapist said something that really stuck with me yesterday and that is:

‘boundaries are not barriers’

I am really going to try and keep that in mind because I have always felt that boundaries are designed to keep me out and stop me really getting close to her but perhaps that’s not the case?

She said something about working on the space between us and the relationship and so I’ll see if I can reframe my thinking about all this stuff over the holiday. I think it is something I want to come back to with her and ask her exactly what she meant.

It felt like we covered a lot of ground yesterday. I won’t go into it all here. I don’t have time and I need to sleep…but we talked about love A LOT. We haven’t done that before and it was really connecting.

Those of you that read this blog regularly know that I really love my therapist, and that’s not meant in some wishy washy ‘fond of’ or ‘warm feelings’ kind of way. I genuinely love her, and as much as it has filled me with intense feelings of shame and embarrassment (not sure that should be ‘has’ – we are certainly not in past tense with this yet!) there is also a bit of me that is beginning to see that it would be a bit bloody weird if I didn’t have feelings for my therapist after all these years!

I met her six years ago now, and although the was a break in the middle we have worked together for three years – nineteen months this time round! Don’t get me wrong. I have all kinds of feelings (positive and negative) about my therapist but yesterday I just really wanted to focus on the positives and the love rather than feelings of loss and abandonment about the break.

I wanted to talk about what there is rather than what I feel is lacking (hugs!). I really wanted to connect and get a sense of the relationship being real and not just something that is one sided and all in my head (which is how it sometimes feels)…and fortunately that’s exactly what happened.

When she read the card she started really talking to me about our relationship, about love, loving feelings, finding a way to make the space feel soothing, her choice to work with me, the fact that she isn’t going away, that the therapy will go on for as long as I need it….basically it was lots of the stuff I really needed to hear. Yay.

Of course, there’s a part of me that always wants more but under the circumstances, yesterday’s session left me feeling about as good as I could heading into a break. I’ve already had a wobble or two since yesterday. Can’t win! If I get the connection and sense of care I so desperately want in session, then moment I am away from her it feels like it disappears and suddenly I have all these little parts totally awake and screaming out for ‘mummy’. It’s really quite sad.

There are other times when feel like my therapist is so walled off from me and the blank screen thing is massively frustrating because I feel like she is holding me at arm’s length. How I perceive her has much more to do with me than how she actually is, though. She is incredibly consistent and warm. I just can’t always see, feel, or take in the care that she gives me. I don’t know what’s worse feeling the ache of the distance or managing the rage of being abandoned!

My own walls can be so thick and my heart so heavily guarded that there are times when there is nothing at all she could say to get through to me. My Inner Critic is massively powerful and persuasive and always ready to tell me that the relationship is worthless and that I am loser for even having feelings about a therapist. Thankfully, yesterday it didn’t come to therapy with me. I left it at home grumbling and bah humbugging!

I’m not sure where the Critic is at the moment, but I would really love for it to stay away over the break. I would like to think that I can just be here with the child parts and find a way to soothe them with gentle reminders that my therapist does care and that she will be back.

I’m not stupid, though. I know how this all works. I’ve been here enough times to know that there is always a calm before my inner storm. I know that the moment the little ones get really activated, really miss her and it is sustained for a few days that the nasty protector will step up. I know it will scare them into silence and make suggestions on how to get away from these feelings: cutting, burning, not eating, terminating therapy. It’s just shit.

Anyway, I’m going offline for a few days as of Christmas Eve. We always try and do a tech black out over Christmas: phones, laptops, and I-pads get put in a box for 48 hours. It’s both refreshing and terrifying disconnecting from the outside world. I think it’s important that we engage with what’s in the room in front of us rather than scrolling through and liking pictures of other people’s Christmases. I don’t want my kids to think that 6 inch screen is more interesting than they are.

This year, in particular, I think it’ll be me that will find this no phone zone thing a challenge whereas usually it’s my wife. The reason for this is because since I have started this blog I have made some really supportive friends. The idea of not being able to check in to ‘scream on screen’ or simply lament how tough it is at Christmas is going to be tricky.

Other than here, there is nowhere else that I let the attachment pain stuff out apart from in therapy (and let’s face it, I struggle to really say how it is there!). I know that this ache intensifies during breaks and so being unable to write about it or get some support from others who ‘get it’ is going to be a trial. I’ll probably binge read blogs on the 27th December! haha!

So as this will be my last blog before Christmas, I am going to sign off for now with this piece, ‘Solace’ by writer and poet David Whyte. It popped up on my Facebook feed the other day and I thought I’d share it because it really spoke to me, perhaps it will speak to you too.

I know I’m not the only one who finds the Christmas holiday difficult. I know there are a lot of you struggling with all kinds of issues right now: rifts with family members, feeling unsettled with therapists or simply just missing them, generally struggling to feel connected and safe with people whom you love and care for, missing lost loved ones. None of it is easy.

I really hope that whatever comes up for you over the next few weeks you can find some solace whether it be in nature, in a pet, in a loved one, art, music, anywhere. I hope that you might find it somewhere deep within yourself. Be safe in the knowledge that you are important and special and loved. You are as unique as a snowflake but like a snowflake, you do not fall down from the sky alone, you are surrounded by others, not the same as you, but not amazingly different to you either.

Merry Christmas x

From CONSOLATIONS: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of EverydayWords.
2015 © David Whyte: and Many Rivers Press

Solace is the art of asking the beautiful question, of ourselves, of our world or of one another, often in fiercely difficult and un-beautiful moments. Solace is what we must look for when the mind cannot bear the pain, the loss or the suffering that eventually touches every life and every endeavor; when longing does not come to fruition in a form we can recognize, when people we know and love disappear, when hope must take a different form than the one we have shaped for it.

Solace is the spacious, imaginative home we make where disappointment goes to be welcomed and rehabilitated. When life does not in any way add up, we must turn to the part of us that has never wanted a life of simple calculation.

Solace is found in allowing the body’s innate foundational wisdom to come to the fore, a part of us that already knows it is mortal and must take its leave like everything else, and leads us, when the mind cannot bear what it is seeing or hearing, to the birdsong in the tree above our heads, even as we are being told of a death, each note an essence of morning and of mourning; of the current of a life moving on, but somehow, also, and most beautifully, carrying, bearing, and even celebrating the life we have just lost. – A life we could not see or appreciate until it was taken from us –

To be consoled is to be invited onto the terrible ground of beauty upon which our inevitable disappearance stands, to a voice that does not soothe falsely, but touches the epicenter of our pain or articulates the essence of our loss, and then emancipates us into the privilege of both life and death as an equal birthright.

Solace is not an evasion, nor a cure for our suffering, nor a made up state of mind. Solace is a direct seeing and participation; a celebration of the beautiful coming and going, appearance and disappearance of which we have always been a part. Solace is not meant to be an answer, but an invitation, through the door of pain and difficulty, to the depth of suffering and simultaneous beauty in the world that the strategic mind by itself cannot grasp nor make sense of.

To look for solace is to learn to ask fiercer and more exquisitely pointed questions, questions that reshape our identities and our bodies and our relation to others. Standing in loss but not overwhelmed by it, we become useful and generous and compassionate and even more amusing companions for others. But solace also asks us very direct and forceful questions. Firstly, how will you bear the inevitable loss that will accompany you? And how will you endure it through the years? And above all, how will you shape a life equal to and as beautiful and as astonishing as a world that can birth you, bring you into the light and then just as you were beginning to understand it, take you away?

 

Grief.

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I woke up in the early hours of this morning sobbing violently, again. A dream. It wasn’t a bad one but it deeply touched on that vulnerable place that I have been desperately trying to guard, the place where feelings of loss and abandonment reside. I awoke to find myself physically shaking. I was stone cold. Tears flowed endlessly down onto my pillow in the pitch black. It was not gentle crying, it was full-body, snot-ridden, ugly crying. The physical embodiment of my grief is not in the least bit pretty, it is warts and all, let it all hang out, pain.

Since my friend died last month after battling Myeloma for two years, I have felt unbelievably sad, lost, and empty but have continued to function in my day-to-day. Externally it has been pretty much business as usual. This is partly because I’ve had to carry on, partly because I am in denial about it,  and partly because I know that’s what she’d have wanted me to do. She would have told me to hold my babies tightly, to find joy in the small things, and buy myself flowers (now that she can’t bring me home grown roses from her garden)….and that’s exactly what I have done or, at least, what I have tried to do.

From the mundane to the extraordinary and everything in between I’ve tried to be present and engaged in life because my friend can’t be in hers. She’s gone. Now, more than ever, I feel the pressure of needing to ‘live’ and not just live but live authentically and fully.  I won’t lie, though, truly there are days where even existing has been difficult. I know I put too much pressure on myself. I should give myself a break. I am grieving for goodness sake! And grief is not neat. There’s meant to be five stages I think, but in my experience is looks more like this:

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There is a part of me that longs to have what feels like the weight of the world lifted from my shoulders just for a minute or two. I know. I know. Get over myself. It could be so much worse…I do know that. It’s just for me, right now, it is bad. I am so tired of battling in one way or another – whether it be against myself or with my health. It’s just exhausting. I never ever seem to reach a point where I feel safe and balanced. If my head feels ok (ha, when was that again?) then invariably my body gives up on me. I’m still coughing and spluttering and heading towards the dread of the three monthly cancer check up.

There’s no wonder I am not full of joy or exuding Christmas spirit. How can I be when my friend isn’t here this year? How can I feel jolly when in a week’s time we would have been celebrating her sixtieth birthday over our annual Christmas crafting day (faffing about making pompoms, or jabbing stuff in oasis, or buggering about with PVA glue and tissue paper). It was always the perfect excuse to get together with my collection of older women/surrogate mothers and consume too much cake, too much chocolate, too much mulled wine. A day with giggles on tap.

I could really use a day like that right now. We had planned to do it this year anyway to celebrate our lovely friend but as it’s worked out no one is around because life is like that – people have children and grandchildren to look after etc. Life moves on and commitments come up. I’ve got so much on this next couple of weeks that even I am probably going to have to cancel the coffee and cake in town we had planned in for Wednesday instead of a full craft day. I have to be on an interview panel for preschool.

There’s a part of me that wishes the world would just stop turning for a little while. I want to pause and take time to reflect on what has happened to my friend, and to me. I want to mourn for what I have lost. And yet, somehow in my waking hours there just is no time to. Not only that, I am fearful of letting it out because I know the flow of pain and loss and grief can’t just be stemmed when the clock demands. And there is so much unprocessed grief – my dad’s death still haunts me.

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So because I don’t face it in the daylight, my grief seems to come out in my dreams and then the floods of tears wake me and they just will not stop.

Last night’s dream:

I called in to see my friend’s husband to deliver a Christmas card and see how he was holding up. I found him sitting in the living room, dishevelled and unwashed. He was a broken man. My heart ached for him.

It felt strange being in the house, as though my friend could walk in at any point, her things still dotted around the room, her presence still felt. We talked a little while  and I told him how much she had loved him and how that if there was such a thing as soul mates then they certainly were the closest example of it I have ever witnessed. He cried and left the room.

I sat in the chair that I have always sat in and closed me eyes. My friend’s voice came into my head, ‘darling girl, look after (husband) for me. It’s terrible for him and he’s so blinded by grief that he can’t feel me. I know you miss me but you know I am here. I am always with you’.

So again, it wasn’t a terrible dream. It just hurts. My soul aches. I know that sounds dramatic but that’s how it feels.

I can’t tell you how many times things have happened where I have thought, ‘I must text (friend) to tell her…’ and then it hits me that she’s not here. I can’t tell her that my daughter has lost her first tooth, or that my son did a good job as a king in his nativity, or simply that I feel a bit sad right now and would love to pop round for a cuppa.

The grief of no longer being able to share the everyday is hard to manage.

I know that this loss is also really hard right now because I am just about to start my Christmas therapy break. And so all my feelings about my friend dying are getting muddled up with my therapist disappearing for nearly a month.

I struggle enough feeling like my therapist is really gone (dead) on breaks or in between sessions and I know this comes from various events that have happened in my life: my mum consistently being away during the week when I was little, and then more recently my dad dying three days into his month long holiday in Thailand. So throw in this massive recent bereavement and it just feels incredibly difficult.

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Basically, it seems to work that if people are out of sight for me then I am shitting my pants. It is massively anxiety provoking being away from my therapist for any amount of time because I rely on her so heavily. The idea of her being actually gone (dead) is terrifying for me and that is exactly how it feels when I can’t see her. There’s none of this ‘holding in mind’ stuff, and being able to feel secure in the knowledge that she will be there at a fixed time on a fixed day. It really is just horrendous. I’ve tried to explain it to her but I not convinced she really understands.

This year is even worse than usual because obviously one of my mother figures has actually just died. The one other person (aside from my therapist) who I felt totally got me and accepted me just the way I am is not here anymore. It is devastating.

Tomorrow I am meant to go to my last therapy session of 2017 and somehow get something written on my pebbles to take away with me over the break. I know that in theory they should function as a transitional object and should be better than nothing. Having a tangible, physical reminder of my therapist on something concrete did ought soothe me when it feels bad. The thing is, I am so worried about her not writing something that is adequately holding or containing that I’ll just end up feeling rejected and abandoned by her at a time when I least need to feel that the connection is tenuous.

It’s really hard knowing how to handle it if she starts trying to bring in the adult in the message. Last week she acknowledged that my adult doesn’t need the pebbles and it’s the young ones that need something but I know that it doesn’t always follow that a message to the little ones materialises. In the summer we had a similar conversation before she wrote and sent me a holding text message. It fell so flat because it was worded so formally and didn’t talk to the parts that need her most.

I guess I’ll have to see how it goes. Part of me already feels like I am shutting down in preparation for the break. Part of me dreads going to session tomorrow because it signals the start of a period of time that I know is going to be challenging. There is  also another part of me that desperately needs to go and try and connect tomorrow -to try and charge up that felt sense of connection and holding.

I just wish I knew which part of me was going to show up and sit on the couch tomorrow. If it’s the silent and withholding one then I am screwed…thing is, if it’s the open and vulnerable one I fear that she is also screwed.

Either way, by midday tomorrow I can say that the grief I feel is going to be massive. I hate therapy breaks.

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Ouch.