Remain Sane This Christmas

So, it’s rapidly approaching the start of my Christmas therapy break. Eek! I have one more session on Monday and then that’s it for almost a month. As a therapy addict, the last thing I respond well to is a break in the supply of my drug/therapist (argh attachment issues!). As of Monday I’ll be going cold turkey (and it’s not even boxing day yet which is really the only acceptable time to be facing cold cuts) and that is actually pretty terrifying.

Despite there being a huge part of me that has been dreading the Christmas break since returning from the loooong summer break (I tend to do this – work on a cycle of dread counting down to each inevitable separation from my therapist) there has also been a part of me that has also tried to pretend that it isn’t going to happen, or that it will be fine, or that I don’t really mind that there is a break at all…denial, basically!

A couple of weeks ago I said to my therapist that ‘I think maybe the break will be a good thing as maybe a bit of distance might get me out of this rut of silence and being awkward with you’ and I meant it at the time…or, at least, whichever part of me was talking did.

Simultaneously there was a voice inside my head losing it, shouting, ‘What the fuck are you saying this for?! The break is not a good thing you stupid moron! Why would you say that to her?! Why can’t you tell her how bloody awful it is and how much it hurts just thinking about not seeing her? Why pretend that a month with no contact isn’t going to have you crying into your pillow every day?! You do my head in! FFS!’

I think, maybe, what was happening was that part of me, possibly the teen, was basically trying to tell my therapist, ‘I don’t need you, I don’t want you, and I can cope without you’. Breaks stir up a lot of feelings in me and really affect the therapy for quite some time both before and after a break. They really absolutely are the pits. I can’t help but feel abandoned and rejected.

I (adult) know that therapists need holidays just like the rest of the population but the child can’t really understand why her safe adult is fucking off for almost a month and leaving her to fend for herself when she is at her most vulnerable. It hurts a lot.

Every time there is a break and I can’t see my therapist it dredges up some really painful feelings from when I was little. My mum used to disappear from Sunday through to Friday. She was away at university studying, but as a four year old there is no rationalising that information when all you want is your mummy at bedtime….and this is what plays out time and again with breaks, and actually the time between weekly therapy sessions. When I want/need safety, nurturing, and care from my therapist and can’t access it, it feels utterly crushing. I have another ‘mummy’ that isn’t there when I need her and so I feel abandoned.

How I communicate how I feel about ‘being left’ to my therapist varies. Sometimes I am able to be vulnerable and open and tell her how I feel before a break.  More often than not, though, I shut down. I think my saying that the break was ‘a good thing’ to her was my way of shutting her out from my emotions. It was almost me saying, ‘I have to manage it regardless. I have no choice in this, so I am not going to let you see how much it bothers me’. 

The Teen part of me is so hurt, angry and rejected that it seems sensible that I stonewall her or say stuff that I don’t really mean. In some way if I don’t let her in then maybe it shows her how it feels to be excluded too. Yep, it’s not totally rational, but this is an emotional response and it’s just how it is sometimes.

Anyway, the following session my therapist asked me again how I was feeling about the break after her having read the 10 things I wish my therapist knew… post which clearly indicated that the break was a problem for me! She asked if I felt the same as I had suggested the previous week’s session. My simple answer: ‘No!’

The remainder of that session became a huge splurge about why Christmas break is so hard for me … but nothing about missing her or any of the therapeutic relationship stuff – just my life: my dysfunctional family; the weight of expectation to be someone who I am not anymore; missing my dear recently dead friend whose birthday falls a few days before Christmas; the anniversary of my spectacular mental health breakdown; two years since going through radiotherapy over the Christmas period; fear of spiralling down into self harm because things feel tricky….it went on and on and on but I kept tight lipped about the biggest issue: managing all that stuff without her support and the vulnerable parts of me struggling to maintain connection to her.

So then it got to Monday, and this week’s session. I’d been struggling all week with feeling lost and alone. Basically the attachment pain stuff had really kicked in massively. I’d shed the cloak of denial and was fully immersed in the reality of the feelings that go with a disruption to my weekly sessions. I knew that I couldn’t bury my head in the sand any longer, and I had a choice to make when I sat down: avoid or connect?

This week, I am delighted to report that I chose to connect. It mightn’t seem like a big deal but after months of being really closed off it was huge.

I’d had a quite disturbing dream earlier in the week where I had killed myself and so took that in to talk about. It was a good way into the session and stopped me just sitting there getting anxious and saying nothing! We did lots of unpicking and then once I thought we were done with it, she said, ‘I also wonder if this has anything to do with the break?’ I looked at her incredulously, ‘how?’ I asked. And she said something about how I have told her that I feel like she is dead when I can’t see her. I felt myself shut down and hide.

She noticed immediately and asked me what had changed? I explained that my body was really tense and she asked me when it had happened. I told her, ‘when you mentioned the break.’ She did one of those really warm and understanding ‘ahhhh‘ sounds and said, ‘breaks are massive and stir up loads. We need to pay attention to this so it doesn’t get ignored. We need to give it more attention than we have done in the past, I think. The break maybe feels different this time?’

Then she asked about the pebbles (honestly, those frigging pebbles will be the end of me!!) and we talked about how it’s been hard to get to it/them on both our parts. I think after the failed internalising visualisation that she sent me for the summer break that I had a had a meltdown over she’s probably worried about getting it wrong again.  She asked if I had any ideas about it and what kind of message she could write that would help and I said ‘I don’t know. I don’t know what you can write to make it feel any better’. She agreed and said she didn’t know either because it was complex.

She said that she was aware that the adult didn’t need these pebbles (transitional object) but the young ones who are more fragile really did, and maybe a few of those young parts, not just one, needed a particular kind of message. She asked me what it was that all of them respond to. I wanted to say ‘knowing you are here with me and aren’t going anywhere’ but sat still and said nothing (look, I can’t always say what’s on my mind!!). She said, ‘I think maybe they need to know they are kept in mind and are held, something along those lines?’

Basically from the moment she had mentioned the break when unpicking my dream my little ones inside lost it. It was tears and tantrums. I could feel at least three separate child voices inside me screaming. Usually I keep that kind of thing to myself and banish the inner child to the corner of the room or gag her, but seeing as my therapist seemed to be inviting a conversation about what the young parts needed and knowing the break was coming I said, ‘it’s really noisy in my head’ and somehow from that we got moving along a path that I have been wary of treading before now.

She asked if I recognised the voices of the children? Were they my children? I said ‘no’. She asked if it could be my inner child/ren in distress? And I said ‘yes’ (I am sure you are all marvelling at how eloquent I am in my therapy sessions!). She said that these types of conversations really stir up lots of difficult feelings and overwhelm me. I said it was ‘hell’. She asked me if the voices felt contained inside my head. I said ‘no’. She said ‘it’s huge, isn’t it?’ I nodded, ‘I hate it’. She looked right and me and gently said, ‘I know you hate it, but there’s a need, there’s someone inside that needs a lot of care. She is very distressed.’…and then the doorbell rang!

Embarrassed, she quickly answered it (the therapy room is right next to the door and she had obviously seen her neighbour coming up the driveway) and came back in. She asked if the crying noise was loud still in my head? And wondered if the disruption to my session had amplified the noise?: ‘The little one doesn’t understand why there has been a disruption, she just doesn’t like them and it mirrors what happens in the break.’ She said that I (adult) know what’s going on but the little one can’t understand why she is not there with me.

I felt really exposed but equally really held and contained and said, ‘I don’t know what to do with this’ and she said ‘I think this is where we often get to. It’s really hard to talk about it. It’s overwhelming. It’s hard to find the words to talk about it. But the need is huge. The little one inside you, however old she is, she needs something, and so if one of your children were telling you this, what would you give them?’

And then I replied (a bit – a lot- frustrated!) ‘I know what you are trying to get out of me but it’s not as easy as just giving myself a hug and holding myself. It doesn’t work! I’ve tried really hard. It’s great knowing that there is that need but what the hell am I supposed to do with that?’ and she was really understanding. It’s one of the things that I really struggle with, knowing there is a all this sadness and pain inside and yet not seemingly being able to do anything to make it feel any better. I just feel like a powerless spectator watching small children suffer.

I told her about how I had emailed my friend some activities for our child parts and said ‘as nice as all that is, and as aware as I am about needing to attend to the needs of those parts, it doesn’t hold them, it doesn’t contain them. I try really hard but it just doesn’t work. I can’t make it feel like there is holding’. She said she understood and suggested trying something different.

She said ‘these little ones need an adult to be with them and soothe them and settle them down emotionally. It might be you or another adult. The little ones need holding and probably so do the teenagers. Maybe that is something we could develop together. It’s not just about knowing about it (holding), it’s about feeling it bit by bit. Can you imagine how that would feel?- starting with the youngest, most needy one, because she needs it. The adult can kick in and organise everything but the little one needs to feel held and loved and emotionally there with someone’.

I said, ‘yes, I get that, but the little ones don’t even know I exist. The smallest one doesn’t want me!’ In my head I was willing myself to say, ‘she wants you!’ but didn’t. She said ‘they can meet you and we can work together to help introduce you to each other. We need to be able to soothe the little one, just a tiny bit to start off with’. She asked if I thought it was possible. I said ‘no‘ because I know that little me really only wants to be cared for and held by one person…and we all know that right now, that isn’t me!

We talked about what the little girl was feeling and how it would be if I tried to sit her on my knee and hold her. I said, ‘she doesn’t want me. She doesn’t trust me’. She asked who she trusted. I said ‘no one’…which is kind of true. I want to trust my therapist but since the no touch thing I don’t fully feel like I can say ‘my little one wants to sit in your lap and for you to soothe her and tell her that she is loved‘….because it just feels toooooo much. But that’s what I wanted to say.

She asked me if the ‘little one could imagine being cuddled?’. I said ‘no’…because I have no memory of it. Holding and touch have been so lacking in my upbringing that I honestly can’t tell you of a time when I remember being ‘held’ by mum. Of course we’ve had awkward hugs now and again when we say goodbye, but there’s never been any of that closeness that I crave. There has been no snuggling at bedtime after a story and softly saying ‘I love you more than anything’  or ‘you are the most special girl in the world and I love you’ which is what I say to my daughter every single day.

It’s a running joke. Each day when she comes home from school I say to my little girl, ‘guess what?’ and she laughs and rolls her eyes at me, ‘I know mummy- you love me- you say it all the time!’ And do you know what?-that fills me with utter joy because that is exactly how it should be. She is so secure in knowing that I love her that it is almost boring to her. Win!

After my therapist’s ‘cuddle’ question – big ouch – please, please cuddle me! I jumped out of the situation, detached from the young part and wondered aloud, ‘why can’t the little part of me trust?‘ and she said some affirming, validating stuff about how things have been and yet I had somehow survived it. She said, ‘this is the place where the change is going to come. it’s a lot of work and effort and it hurts but when you take your mind to this place this is where things change. the more you can be in touch with your need and your feelings, as hard as it feels, the more possible it feels for things to be less bad’ and she is right….because despite how tough it was it was a great session.

BUT. Oh and there always is a giant BUT isn’t there? Since having such a deeply connecting session I have been left with the most enormous therapy hangover. It’s Thursday now and I am still feeling it. I’ve been so sad all week. I can’t tell you how many times I have considered picking up my phone and sending a text to tell my therapist that I miss her, am struggling and try and get some kind of reassurance that things are ok.

I haven’t sent that message because I know that she doesn’t respond to texts that are about anything other than scheduling. I literally cannot bear the feeling of being so vulnerable, reaching out and then being ignored – it feels so rejecting. I’ve done it enough times to know that texting doesn’t end well but god, this place that I am in right now is hellish. I really cannot bear the thought of the break.

So in order to try and get some extra support and sense of holding during the break I have just signed up to Sane’s Text Care again:

http://www.sane.org.uk/what_we_do/support/textcare/?task=thankyou

It’s a really great service. Basically you fill out a really quick form online with some info about what you struggle with:

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and then they send a weekly support text message to you at a time of your choosing for five consecutive weeks.  I’ve done this over several of my therapy breaks now and I have to say it really helps:

With the Christmas break coming up I figure it’s worth doing everything possible to try and make the weeks without therapy a little more bearable. Having my feelings acknowledged in this way is really helpful because, like a lot of you, it’s not easy to share these feelings with family and it can feel incredibly isolating struggling in silence with attachment pain. Of course, you can get support with whatever your issue because all texts are tailored specifically to what you write in the text box on the request form.

Usually they only need 72 hours notice to begin the text messages but I noticed when I filled out the form earlier that the deadline for requesting Christmas messages is 10th December. So if you are thinking this might be something that’d help you over the festive period to stay sane then get online quick.

Anyway, that’s about all for now. School run calls! …

Spread a bit thin.

I’d be lying if I said that I resembled anything other than a sheet of uncooked, filo pastry at the moment (metaphorically, of course, although I do feel a bit transparent, pale, and pasty at the moment – gotta love the British climate!). What I mean is that I feel like I am spread a bit thin.

I know this is a bit of a weird analogy to use, but I am a GBBO fan/loser (decide for yourself). For those of you not in the UK, ‘The Great British Bake Off’ is a baking competition and week by week the contestants take on various baking challenges set around a theme: bread week, cake week, biscuit week, pudding week…

I often get the sense of being like an unskilled/unfortunate baker on pastry week. I try to get lovely thin sheets of filo (read as high functioning, optimum performance in life) and invariably just try that bit too hard, stretch the sheet a bit much and then a whacking great hole appears and the whole thing is totally fucked.

My filo pastry (life/self/who knows?- the metaphor has run its distance) has torn and split more times that I can count now. I try and patch it back up with a bit of egg wash (I need to get that bake in the oven!) but ultimately I am not going to be crowned ‘Star Baker’ any time soon.

So that’s exactly how I feel right now. I’m sure no one is any the wiser after that convoluted explanation.

Let’s start again.

Things in my life are ok, or as ok as they ever are. There hasn’t been any more significant trauma or upheaval in the last week or so, nothing has really changed, but I think the cumulative effect of the last few weeks and years (cancer, bereavement, and mental health struggles) combined with having zero time to myself is finally catching up with me.

I feel like I am spread a bit thin and the cracks are starting to show now. Those of you that follow this blog may well be thinking, “hang on a minute, love, the ‘cracks’ are more like ‘chasms’ and have been around for ages” and of course you’d be totally right. What I mean is the face I present outwardly in my day-to-day life is beginning to crack. The painted smile and the ‘can do’ attitude is faltering. I literally don’t think I can take on much more without things falling apart and so it is daft that I have been taking more and more things on…

It’s not totally desperate yet. I think I can pull this back from the brink by saying ‘no’ a bit more frequently and take some time out over Christmas. Right now I am just about functioning in my day-to-day and not spending hours lying in bed whenever the opportunity presents….which is probably because there have been no opportunities presenting for me to do that!! I am shattered and could do with a rest. I’m fighting my second chest infection in as many months and need to recharge my batteries.

I have been unusually busy this last week which is why I haven’t sat down to write anything, not because I don’t have things to say (I have two good – but tough- therapy sessions to talk about! – yay!), I just literally have not had the time or the space to really sit down and think or process much. I am always at the bottom of my ‘to do’ list and things keep cropping up that require my time and attention.

I wish I could say that the reason I haven’t been able to sit and write is because I have been undertaking highly stimulating activities (oh, god, I haven’t even had time for that in the last couple of weeks – no wonder I feel like a woman on the edge!…brb….!) but it’s not the case.

Actually this whole blog post is just me moaning. I’m really just complaining about niggly things that on top of the ‘big stuff’ that I am shackled to and drag along behind me are making me feel a bit shaky. There are too many plates spinning and it’s only a matter of time until one smashes on the floor. Or I breakdown.

The daily current ‘ugh’ is the school run stuff and ‘being a mum’ duties. I just want to make it absolutely clear here that although I excel at small talk and ‘mum’ things and being the organiser … I literally want to hang myself sometimes in the playground, or sitting at martial arts lessons, swimming lessons or blah blah blah. I sit there wondering where ‘I’ have gone. Who am I now?

I love that my kids do these things and are growing in competence and confidence but continually running about getting everyone to the right place, at the right time, with the right gear is a bit draining, frankly…. and that’s before you add in being an acceptable mother in conversation with people you have nothing in common with, whilst watching the kids do these things. I identify more with the women in ‘Bad Moms’…which means I don’t feel like I fit the mould!

Don’t get me wrong. I love my kids and would die for them but I could not give even the tiniest nugget of shit about either of their nativity plays (so shoot me already – it’s just a fucking hassle – where do I get a sodding horse outfit from anyway?!); how to organise the ‘bring and share’ Christmas lunch (title is self-evident is it not?); or ensuring that exactly 50% of the ‘mum’s Christmas night out’ meal (heaven help me!) is paid for by a certain date with pre-selected menu choice…… I mean really, I just want to die. I used to have a career and I was not completely intellectually dead.

I am aware that, to date, I have participated in the bare minimum of mum things, i.e PTA, fundraisers or whatever. I am more of a drop and run type mum at the gates: kiss, cuddle, ‘have a nice day’, and then get my head down and get the hell out of there. So of course, lately not wanting to be the mum that doesn’t do enough, (I tell you mums are a judging cliquey bunch) to show willing I recently attended a pre-school committee meeting…..FUCK ME!

If you don’t have kids then you can have no idea what level of torture something like this is to anyone with half a brain cell. Think bad, inefficient staff meeting and then add on an extra hour for good measure. I recommend one of two things to you, 1) don’t have kids, 2) take a leaf out of my book, learn from my error, and NEVER UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES GO TO ONE OF THESE MEETINGS.

A few weeks back it was that time of year where some members were standing down and others were required to fill the roles…you can see where this is going can’t you? They needed a chair and vice-chair among other roles. The vice-chair line manages the staff and is responsible for observing learning in the setting, ensuring quality, keeping the development plan up-to-date and accurate, and the person deals with Ofsted… basically it’s the bit that makes sure everything is good for inspection.

So there I was, there to make up the numbers when suddenly all eyes were on me.

I knew what they were thinking.

Had it not been the same day as my friend’s funeral I probably would have said ‘not a chance! Don’t you all look at me like that! It isn’t going to happen.’ but instead I said ‘Look, I’ve got to leave in a minute but I can see that my skill set does lend itself to this role, I’ve supervised and trained teachers and am used to dealing with Ofsted, so I’ll do it if you want’. I swear I had an out of body experience and watched myself from above as those words came out of my mouth. WTF?!

So of course, because I am actually pretty astute and capable I have gone into this stuff all guns blazing. There is a lot to do to and there was a meeting this week in which I proposed a strategy for meeting some of the Early Years criteria and how to staff it, then somehow offered to shortlist interviewees for a post in the setting and lead the interview in a couple of weeks. Again WTF? WTF am I doing?

I don’t know.

Ok, maybe if I am honest I do know what’s going here. I am aware that fairly imminently the emotional shit is going to hit the fan (cue Christmas therapy break) and so I am taking on commitments and distractions to keep busy in order to avoid the inevitable.

I am piling things into my calendar to keep busy and also in some weird way to make it so that I have to keep both emotionally and physically intact. Like today, for example, I invited my kids’ half-brother and mum (the kids have the same sperm donor) to visit for three days at the start of my therapy break…which will be lovely, but right now the last thing I need is to be running about after other people.

We all know that this strategy is going to be about as effective as a chocolate fireguard, don’t we?

I know all that will happen is that this feeling of being spread too thin is going to be exacerbated the moment the therapy break kicks in. I know this because since finding out the exact length of the therapy break in Monday’s session my appetite has gone right off, I’ve had to will myself to eat and feel very dissatisfied with my body….ah that wonderful coping mechanism. Suddenly all these niggly activities and drains on my energy feel unmanageable because as I am already starting to sink into the pits of attachment pain.

Basically what I’ve done in the last few weeks is go into denial. I am desperately  pretending to myself that my last therapy session is not actually on the 11th of December and that I do not have an almost four week break until the next session on the 8th of January.

The thing is….all the denial in the world isn’t going to change things at 11:20am on the 11th as I walk out of therapy for the last time this year is it?

Did I mention that I hate therapy breaks?

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10 things I wish my therapist knew…

I have had this title in mind for a while now and yet haven’t really known what to write because obviously my therapist ‘knows’ a lot about me already. It’s not as though I am new to therapy, sitting here with a locked box, holding onto secrets that I can’t share  with her.

Indeed, after all these years I know that she knows ‘me’ better than anyone. She’s seen it all. She knows my patterns. She’s repeatedly come up against my defences. She understands my coping strategies. She sees the vulnerable parts. She is a step ahead of me a lot of the time…which is a little frustrating for someone who likes to be in control!

As I say, there’s not much she doesn’t know.  So this post is not ‘I want my therapist to know about the time that x, y, z happened’ it’s more about what’s happening for me in the therapeutic relationship right now. It’s the things I sometimes find hard to articulate. Lately I’ve really struggled with feeling connected in sessions. I’ve struggled to say what I have felt and so it’s almost like I need to reiterate this stuff (to myself as well as her).

I was reading a letter that I wrote to her just before the summer and I cannot believe that I  was so open with her. It’s almost like I was a brave tortoise for a while, stuck my neck out for a bit and then something spooked me. (The therapy break is the tortoise’s predator and I’ve been languishing in my shell ever since).

All the momentum we built up between Easter and the summer break seems to slowed and I feel like I have steadily been grinding to a halt. Well, not quite that, it’s just that my confidence has sort of dried up and with that my barriers have gone back up. Of course there have been some good sessions, lots actually. I have shared some of these blog posts with her so it’s not like there hasn’t been work done. It’s just I don’t feel the same as I did. After Easter I felt motivated and like things were moving in the right direction. I felt like I could absolutely trust my therapist, but now I feel like I am treading water a bit, ok hiding, and am reluctant to let her in. I’m nervous again… Ugh.

I shone a light on the issue about containment and not feeling held between sessions and yet, even now, four months down the line, it still remains a huge stumbling block and it impacts massively on me from week to week both in therapy and out of it.

In some ways there is so so much I want my therapist to know and in other ways what it boils down to is very very simple. So, I’m going to avoid the usual 3000 word splurge and keep this short-ish.

Yesterday’s session was fine. I talked about a lot of things that are going on in my life but nothing about the therapeutic relationship. These things needed to be aired and worked through because they are impacting me so much right now. But every time I don’t face the therapeutic relationship stuff I really pay for it afterwards. It remains to be seen how this coming week will pan out but I’ll guess there’ll be a few upsetting dreams and a sense of feeling generally uneasy and on high-alert.

Here are some of the things that are huge for me right now and I wish my therapist knew:

  1. You are incredibly important to me and even when I am resisting in session or being flat out obstructive and saying ”I hate this’ – it’s not about you. I just can’t show you how I really feel because I am still so scared of you rejecting me. It’s easier for me to shut you out than let you in because you can’t hurt me that way.
  2. When I say ‘I don’t want to be here’ actually, I can tell you there’s no place I would rather be than in the room with you, but I just can’t handle how my brain shuts down and leaves me floundering like a fish out of water when I am with you. I don’t like not being in control. I feel so stuck.
  3. You feel so far away at the moment and so I keep retreating further and further into myself. Sometimes I don’t want to be seen, and having discussed this with you I know that’s why you don’t look directly at me a lot of the time because it has been a trigger. But actually, right now, I need you to see me, the little ones especially need to be seen. I need you to look at me, I need the direct eye contact. I need to feel connected to you.
  4. When I say ‘I don’t know’ when you ask me a sensitive question, I do know – often I just feel embarrassed and exposed and so hide behind that stock response! Please push me a bit harder.
  5. I really struggle between sessions and feel like you are gone or dead. We need to work out a way to make this feel better/less scary because it’s awful. Perhaps it is time for the pebbles? I know I have been resisting this because I feel like you don’t really get what I want/need but I think we need to have that conversation now, anyway.
  6. Last week’s conversation about physical holding and containment has really shaken me in a way I wasn’t prepared for. I have felt the little ones retreat and shut down. I know that this boundary is there for a reason and it isn’t going to change, so can we please actively work on the emotional containment and holding because right now I feel like I am totally unanchored and the Inner Critic is having a field day .
  7. I am already dreading the Christmas break – have been since September. I don’t feel like I have fully found my feet since the summer break and so the thought of the upcoming disruption fills me with dread. Last Christmas was really tough and so I think partly I am frightened of ending up back in that place where self-harm seems like a sensible option. I don’t want to go there.
  8. Despite my really hating therapy breaks I am worried that you aren’t taking enough breaks for yourself. You haven’t taken any time off since the summer and you don’t plan to until Christmas. You look tired to me and I hope that you are looking after yourself properly.
  9. I hate that I have so much to say to you during the week (but can’t), and yet when I finally see you it disappears or gets frozen. There’s still part of me that isn’t convinced that I am safe with you and I worry that you are fed up with me. It’s a negative cycle because when I feel like this I retreat into myself more and it perpetuates the cycle.

And lastly 10: Deep breath in…this is hard…because I know you know it…or at least I hope you do! (although clearly part of me doesn’t want to have any feelings at all!)

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Why I hate therapy breaks: part 2

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

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

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

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This is how it feels today.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Why I hate therapy breaks: part 1

So it’s that time of year again. August. The long therapy break. The emotional marathon. The endurance test. Almost a month away from therapy and my therapist. Right now I feel like I am hanging off a ledge and holding on by my fingertips. It’s all about survival!

For many therapy clients, particularly the long-termers and those with attachment trauma I know this is a difficult time. I’ve only got 5 days left until my next session and despite having made it through a good portion of the 22 day break, time still stretches out for what seems like forever. I feel lost and unsettled.

Back in the days before I had children, when I was a teacher, I literally couldn’t wait for my summer break. In those days, the 6 weeks off symbolised a much-needed rest, relaxation, and a nice holiday. It was a shining beacon that got me through the dark winter months. I guess this is, maybe, how my therapist feels.

I used to spend the summer term counting down, and with each week ticked off I could feel the stress ebbing away. At the end of July I could take off my professional hat and be ‘myself’ (whoever that is!) for a bit and then return to school in September full of enthusiasm and energy.

These days I spend the time from April counting the sessions down, one by one, week by week, and dreading the approaching month of August. By mid-July I feel myself emotionally shutting down and protecting myself ready for the therapy break. I guess that it’s all part of the process and often some really good work comes off the back of a therapy break, but I won’t lie, I really REALLY hate breaks.

I don’t begrudge my therapist her holiday (or maybe I do bit!). She more than earns a good solid bit of time off to recharge her batteries. The thing is as much as my adult can see that she is entitled to her holidays and actually wants her to practise good self-care so that she is able to be a good therapist to me and her other clients, there are lots of parts of me that don’t feel quite so understanding and pragmatic about it. There are parts of me that feel like I have been abandoned and that generates a whole heap of difficult feelings.

The little parts of me feel absolutely distraught that she has gone and left me on my own. They quickly lose their sense of trust in the relationship and doubt the connection. They don’t understand that she’s away but will be coming back. To them she’s disappeared off the face of the earth and isn’t returning and it’s probably because of me, something that I’ve done wrong, or that is wrong with me: I am annoying, irritating, and too much for her. It’s not a nice place to inhabit. It’s exhausting feeling like a tiny child who is screaming for her (therapy) mother to return and then at times being further harassed by my Critic who makes me feel unworthy and undeserving of her help and care and that I am pathetic for feeling anything about her.

I appreciate how bonkers that sounds to the majority of the population but I also know that there are plenty of people who suffer this separation anxiety, people who suffer with object constancy, people who rely heavily on their relationship with their therapist and just don’t cope very well with disruptions and ruptures. I am one of those people.

I’m trying to put in place strategies for coping with the breaks but at the moment it is hit and miss whether they are successful. I guess this is part of the problem with disorganised attachment and trauma. It really depends which part of me is most active at the time as to whether my self-care strategies work.

The next part of this post can be found here: Why I hate therapy breaks: part 2

The backstory- or how I met my therapist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Got to start somewhere…

I’ve been procrastinating. A lot.

I meant to start this blog when I re-entered therapy with my old therapist in June 2016. We’d had a three year break and plenty had happened in the intervening time: a baby, a cancer diagnosis (chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hair loss – the whole nine yards), almost a mental breakdown.

I thought I’d start a blog as a way of keeping a record of what happened in my sessions and to chart my (hopeful) progress out of cancer, chaos and depression! Needless to say it’s now August 2017 and I haven’t posted anything.

I don’t know why I haven’t got round to writing. I’ve had plenty to say and no one to really share it with in the real world where I pretend to have my shit together and function. I put on a good show and unless I told you, you’d never know what a mess it is underneath the cool exterior but in truth, I really am holding it together with a bunch of rubber bands and chewing gum! It’s a little precarious to be sure. I feel like a crap swan: I’m not even really gliding along and my feet are going like the clappers beneath the surface just to stay afloat and keep moving forward.

The thing is, I may have been back in therapy for the last 14 months but actually it’s only really started to get ‘interesting’ (scary/terrifying) since Easter, in that I have started to really unpick things that I’ve been to afraid to even acknowledge before. I’ve also become aware of different parts of myself: Little Me (she’s about 2 years old), Four (her age), Seven, Eleven, The Teenager, and The Critic (a really mean bastard).

So I guess now is the time to start sharing with you lovely people on the internet because I need to let it out somewhere and talking through your therapy session isn’t run of the mill conversation at a playdate with small children- although part of me would love to see the faces of mums if I dropped the ‘so, I’m on a 22 day therapy break and I feel like I might die because my little parts are beside themselves and think they’ve been abandoned’.

To be honest, I’m a bit protective of my therapy so maybe that’s why I’ve had this blog page for ages and not said anything. Part of it is also because I wasn’t really sure what was wrong with me. I’ve been borderline depressed since I was a teenager. I have a history of self-harm and an eating disorder both of which I manage to varying degrees depending on how bad things feel.  I am a perfectionist. I don’t trust people. I feel alone most of the time even when in company. I’m highly sensitive. I like to be in control. I feel like I am not good enough. I have a dysfunctional relationship with my mother (who doesn’t?) … I mean basically I’m a high-functioning fuck up.

The deepest wounds I have are invisible and were formed in infancy and gouged further throughout my childhood and adolescence. Not many people understand what childhood attachment trauma is like, not many people have even heard of it (I hadn’t until therapy took a nose dive and I started doing some reading) but for those of you who do know exactly what I am talking about, this is for you too.

I have wanted to write and share my experience, what it’s like to have these wounds and what therapy is like as a result of this because I get the sense that therapy is quite challenging for most of us. I hope my experience makes you feel less alone even if it’s identifying with some really tough emotional stuff.

So here I am. Today. Taking the plunge. Here goes. Wish me luck.  It’s probably all going to be a bit haphazard but I’ll try my best to tell it like it is… and right now, ‘like it is’ is pretty hard. 8 days of the therapy break remain and:

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