Emotional Vampires

Isn’t it funny how a therapist can repeat the same thing over and over again over a period several months (or in my case years) and although you understand what they are saying, agree with it wholeheartedly, you don’t really do anything about it? It’s like you get what they are saying, on some level, but don’t then go on to apply it to your life because the way things are now is the way things have always been and you are used to it: ‘it’s not all that bad’.

And then, one day, after treading the same ground again in session, albeit perhaps talking (complaining) about another relationship or area of your life, and about how exhausted and drained you feel, you receive the same response you and actually ‘hear’ what the therapist is saying. You finally take it in, absorb it, and start considering how to make changes based on the information that you have always known deep inside but have been reluctant to do anything with for fear of, what – rejection, upsetting someone?

What on earth am I talking about? (Honestly, after that convoluted mess I’m not even sure now!!) Well, it’s about being mindful of ‘what goes out’ and ‘putting in boundaries to protect yourself’.

My therapist ALWAYS tells me that ‘too much goes out and not enough comes in’ so far as my life goes. I have lots of things plugged in that drain my energy and very little that recharges or replenishes the battery. She is right about that. And sure, on some level this is adult life isn’t it? You grow up, take on responsibilities: work, family life, and friendships all require energy. Sometimes these things seem to take a lot of what you have to offer and both your physical and emotional energy gets drained.

There are some things that you can’t do much about; the house is always going to need cleaning and clothes need washing etc. That’s a bore and unless there’s a magic fairy about to come into my life I have to accept that there are some chores that just have to get done and take a bit of energy. That’s fine.

I also know that often I don’t help myself and I frequently add more and more draining things into my life at the very time I need to be unplugging them. Like, let’s face it, Easter was a complete fucking mess wasn’t it? Not eating and heading down the path of full blown anorexia wasn’t exactly replenishing or rejuvenating. I can’t beat myself up about it. It was what I felt I had to do at the time and is a well-worn coping strategy. It’s not ideal but it’s ok right now. I have found some balance with food and exercise again. That’s not really what I am talking about, though. I absolutely do need to work on my negative coping strategies but there is another area of my life where I can unplug a lot of the ‘drain’.

There are things in life that are unavoidable that drain you but there are some things that ARE TOTALLY AVOIDABLE if you just put in some boundaries about what you are prepared to accept and tolerate… and we all know how big a fan I am of that word! (has my therapy actually worn a path in my brain where boundaries are seen as a good thing…actually yes!).

The idea is that on balance, work, family, and friendships actually give you something back too! No shit Sherlock! When you need someone they’ll be there for you in the way you have been there for them. Relationships are about reciprocity. It’s not fair to be the one that is always taking just as it is not fair to expect someone else to always be the one that gives.

I think this is an especially sore spot for many of us that over the years have sacrificed and hidden our own needs from our narcissistic mothers in order to survive our childhoods. We are so used to giving and listening, being amenable… and being ‘used’ that it can take quite some time to realise that this is not the blueprint for relationships. It doesn’t have to be like this. We should expect for our needs to be met in relationships too… not plain ignored!

Actually, I was whinging on about something at the end of Monday’s therapy session as a bit of an afterthought and suggested that a person in my life was an emotional vampire and I was beginning to really resent it. I don’t know where that came from but it was exactly what I was thinking! Then I said to my therapist ‘I don’t know how you do this job because it must be like being sucked dry all the time’.

But then I remembered some things that are sometimes really difficult for those of us that struggle with ‘the authenticity of the therapeutic relationship’ and they are 1) she is not my friend (I know that!) and 2) ‘SHE GETS PAID’ to do what she does. That is the fair exchange in the relationship. That’s where the balance is restored (to an extent) and how her need gets met.

It’s not always easy when those upset teen parts start chiming in about how ‘the relationship isn’t real because if we stop paying the relationship ends’ but actually that is completely how it should be, we pay our therapists to listen to us because it is not an equal relationship. They keep their needs out of the space so that we can get what we need. That doesn’t come for free. The care absolutely does come free. The relationship is real. It’s different in other relationships. The currency we exchange is our time and willingness to listen to the other. It is not a one way street.

It’s funny because since Monday, and finally hearing what my therapist has been saying for a long time about being allowed to put my needs first and not having to please others (especially those that give nothing back), I am feeling pretty pissed off! Like fully annoyed! Not with her, but with myself for allowing people to take the piss for such a long time. Like seriously, why have I been so willing to put the needs of others first often at the expense of my own emotional wellbeing?

This week was basically the straw that broke the camel’s back (or the event that made me draw a line in the sand!). Another person has started unreservedly dumping their shit on me, unfiltered, with no regard for what I am going through. It happens quite a lot! But this week something shifted and I was like, ‘be a bit sensitive; please don’t talk to me about X when you know that I am struggling with Y and at least acknowledge that you are writing to an actual person!!’

This is one of the dangers of Blogland, I think. Whilst, for the most part, us bloggers are really very supportive because we try and build up a sense of being there for one another via comments or whatever – sometimes people just come out of nowhere and flood your inbox don’t they? I know I am not alone in this.

I guess, maybe, it’s because we write so openly and so people feel like they know us and identify with us. I guess maybe there’s a part of them that unconsciously thinks that because they have read all about us and our woes that must open up a space for them to unload on us. I sort of get it. The thing is, people have a choice whether to click onto this page, to follow, and to read. No one is asking you to do that. When I open my emails I have no idea what’s going to be there.

The other important thing to note here is this: I am not a therapist and whilst I absolutely understand how agonising it can be in therapy I am not here just to absorb your emotional angst outside your sessions. I can’t do that. I have enough of my own!!! I absolutely can be here as a listening ear but if you want to engage with me then hey, remember I am not just your blank screen! My inbox is not your journal space. And the person that writes this blog has a shit tonne going on!!

I do want to make it clear that I have made some amazing friends via my blog that I speak with daily, and so this is by no means directed at everyone. It is possible to forge meaningful and reciprocal relationships here and I am open to that! BUT basically, the place I have arrived at this week is this (with the help of my T and those blogger friends):

I am not some receptacle for another person’s emotional shit. I need to protect myself from burn out.

Great Mantra right?!

I’m not suddenly going to become some unempathic, hard-hearted, arse hole – far from it! But what I am going to consciously start doing in my life is realising that I can make boundaries around what I am prepared to accept from others, look at what I’m giving out, and let some relationships go that aren’t giving me anything back. I need to look after myself so that I can continue to give to those that actually deserve my care. I want to spread myself more thickly on those I love! And actually, I want some energy left over to love myself….

LOVE MYSELF!!

Did I just say that?!! Eeek!

*Do you know what is really rubbish? Is that I have just written a post about maintaining my personal boundaries and emotionally protecting myself and there is a part of me that feels like there will be some backlash to the post. Like ‘Don’t write a blog if you don’t want people to contact you’…FFS!!!!

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Dissociation

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It’s been a really very difficult week this week (although I am still in that ‘good place’ I spoke of last week where I am, at least, not beating myself up for having difficult feelings). I have been so massively dissociated since last Monday morning that just getting through the week has been an enormous struggle. I’ve lost sense of the day of the week, time, where the hell I am, as well as experiencing problems in having conversations with people because I can’t hold what the person is saying in mind and therefore follow the thread of what they are saying. I’ve had a real battle trying to locate my adult let alone engage her in any meaningful way. It’s been far from ideal!

The level of energy I have had to expend just to function in a way that appears ‘normal’ has been huge. The little parts have been running the show and they are poles apart from who I need to be in order to get through the working week/being a parent etc. The young parts are absolutely beside themselves having a proper meltdown and are trapped in some kind of trauma response (again). It’s been horrendous and I am completely exhausted now. In fact I have come back to bed to type this because I am so worn out.

I’m so glad it’s the weekend because at least for a couple of days I don’t have to fire up the teacher and can sit a little more with my feelings. Today I must be mum and wife but I can notch up my quietness to being ‘tired’ or ‘a bit hormonal’ rather than being in a dissociated mess. And to be fair, things are a little better today than they have been…thank god! Although I do want some peace and quiet and don’t appear to be getting any. (Like right now my wife has just walked in and has decided to sit on the end of the bed and just fire up her tablet….like WHY? Give me some space already).

So, to last week…

My therapy session sort of bombed on Monday because I was basically unable to connect with my T in any meaningful way until about ten minutes from the end. I had spent the session feeling either totally numbed and shut down or like I was two years old and hiding behind the sofa. Neither state is conducive to talking because I’m either ‘not there’ or ‘don’t have words’ (the youngest one is pre-verbal which makes things a bit tricky).

It’s been like this before. In fact I would say I spend at least some of every therapy session in a dissociated state but it hasn’t been as bad as how it was on Monday in a long while. I don’t know why it was so awful and I felt so trapped inside myself.

The first thing on my mind as I opened my eyes on Monday morning was that I would see my therapist (to be honest my life essentially revolves around where I am in relation to my next session! Six days a week it’s ‘Wahhhhh today isn’t Monday and I won’t see Em’, or on Monday it’s ‘Yay!’). I really wanted to see her this last week. There was a lot that needed to be talked through that I have been hanging onto since before I went on holiday– the rest of the letter, for example!

As I lay there half-awake the child parts longing and love fired up in a huge way ‘We get to see Em! We love her’ and then almost simultaneously a wave of fear, panic, and shame washed over me as I also realised the needs of those young parts can’t be met. They desperately want to hug her and be held and that just isn’t going to happen. My stomach hurt and my chest tightened. I could feel tears weren’t far away. I felt stupid. I felt pathetic. I felt so very alone.

What’s the point in going to therapy to be reminded week in week out that I am untouchable and unlovable? (Yes, I get it, to work through this and work out why it feels so horrendous! – but when I am in that state it just feels like torture).

Still, at that point, I had enough of my adult present to know where things were likely to be heading and so I drafted a text message to Em. I could feel I was on a slippery slope and suspected the session was going to be tough or a total washout:

I’ve woken up feeling really vulnerable and needy. It’s been hard this week and I can’t put my finger on why – perhaps the break? Or stuff left over from the before the break? It’s just felt physically horrible and I feel really shaky.

I can feel the shame and embarrassment creeping in and the critical part stepping up ready to silence the young parts who really need to connect with you because they are struggling and it’s making everyday life feel tough.

We need to talk through the letter I wrote before half-term today but I feel like the little ones are starting to run the show and so I don’t know how that’ll work out because when I am in that state I can’t talk – everything feels so sensitive and scary. I don’t think they are going to settle until we’ve gone through it all together, so I guess we’ll need to find a way.

Right now I am frightened that what I wrote is all too much and you’re going to go (same old story). That makes me want to run away or attack myself in some way. I feel like I am dissociated a lot of the time and I really don’t want that to happen, this week, in session.

Please keep checking in with me today. I want to be close but it’s going to be really tough to stay present because the young ones feel terrified and whenever I feel like this I hide, even though it’s the absolute last thing I want to do. It’s rubbish that the more I need to connect the more I hide or push you away. X

Great text right?

Yeah.

I didn’t send it.

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I didn’t sent it because even though I knew it said exactly what I needed her to know, I felt like if I were to send it I’d be overstepping the outside contact boundary. She prefers it if I write stuff down and bring it to session so we can discuss things in person.

Texting has been such a minefield that I didn’t want to ‘get into trouble’ about ‘breaking the rules’. I can see now how the young parts were instrumental in the decision making process here. It was very much coming from a place of not wanting to disappoint the attachment figure or not being a ‘good a girl’. It’s not surprising I felt like this because I was so frigging caught up in the young emotions.

Of course there is part of me also wanted to be able to go into the session and just tell her how I felt… so freaking optimistic!!

Anyway, the text remained in my phone and by the time I got to therapy I was a shaking mess. I hate it that sometimes when I arrive and sit down my body starts trembling. It’s like having the shivers all over. When I am like that I find it hard to concentrate on anything other than what my body is doing. I don’t know why it keeps happening other than it being something to do with fear and anxiety from my childhood playing out in the therapeutic relationship. It sucks whatever the reason.

I tried to get myself in a place to talk but I couldn’t. I just got further and further inside myself and could barely look at my therapist.

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Being shutdown and detached in therapy makes me so sad. The little girl parts (mainly the two and four year old parts) struggle so much through the week, basically holding on for the time when they can see my therapist and yet so frequently when I get there I can’t let either of them be seen or talk. It feels too much.

I absolutely love my therapist, she knows this (you know this!), but I feel enormous shame and embarrassment about having these feelings for her. Sometimes I am able to talk but about things and the session goes ok, it’s not awkward, but there are times when I completely freak out, dissociate and sit there in silent pain wanting to hide but also needing be seen simultaneously. It’s basically agony.

I know! I talk about this ALL THE TIME and it is GETTING BORING!

Don’t get me wrong, my therapist tries her best when I am like this. She really earns her money and I am staggered that she hasn’t given up yet. She did help me find a way to emerge from the hell I was in once she could ascertain what was really going on and who was there in session but I don’t make it easy for her!

Eventually she had done enough to build my trust – or rather the trust of the frightened young parts and any protector parts that were lingering. (I hate that we have to go through this process. I hate losing my sense of her care and being a safe person during the week).

My silences can be so multi-layered. She wondered were the teen parts there or the critic? Nope. Neither of those (this time!). The silence came from fear of rejection rather than anger. But it’s hard for her to tell what the silence means because the body language is the same, the sighing is the same, the lack of eye contact is the same. I might’ve been raging. I wasn’t. I was small and crying and lost. And I was trapped inside myself – or rather outside myself!

As soon as she found them (hiding behind the sofa), she spoke directly to the young parts and showed real care and empathy for them. I love that soft voice and gentleness. It was exactly what I needed and drew those parts out and allowed them to talk. Unfortunately so much time had already gone from the session by the time I felt able to let her in that I was unable to even share half of what I needed before I had to pick myself up and leave the room.

She is great at telling me that it’s ok when these difficult sessions happen because she says that I am still telling her a lot about how things are and at least we get somewhere in the end and I can let some stuff out. It makes me feel less of a therapy failure when she says this but having her acknowledge that often the week between sessions is difficult after these sessions feels unbearable. It’s like we both know it’s a recipe for disaster but I am still on my own with it. I can’t check in. There is no extra support available….and that can make me spiral down even further. I feel cast adrift.

I know that’s why this week has been so bloody hard. I have all this stuff inside massively activated and was unable to get proper help and holding last session – although did at least get some and I must try and hang onto that.

I know that this is what it’s like sometimes but man, I wish I would learn that when I don’t talk and open up I really pay for it in the week. I have never been as bad as this before so far a dissociation outside the session goes. I have never felt so spaced out or absent before. I have rarely felt so consistently caught up in the trauma of those young parts. I suspect this signals some big work is coming in session – if I could just get there and remain present enough to talk.

I have decided that I am going to send a text to my therapist that includes the one I wrote last week just before I leave the house of Monday morning. I can’t afford for her to be going in blindfolded again this week. I need to give her the map and a compass so she knows what she’s facing. There have been so many times this week where I have wanted to reach out to her and ask for reassurance but I haven’t. And I have tried to hold this all for myself – and I have done. I think giving her the head’s up an hour before we meet is a bit different from how I might have reached out before. I don’t expect her to reply and I suspect she will read it with me in session – which is all I want. I want a way in to talking when I feel mute.

I guess we’ll see what happens. Let’s face it, if I get the boundary talk all I’ll do is shut down and be silent so it’s no different to last week without any mention of boundaries.

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The Good Place

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I am in a good place at the moment (internally/emotionally not literally). I know, right? What on earth is going on here? Who’s writing this and where did Rubberbandsandchewinggum go? As I type this I am sitting in a soft play centre (so clearly not a literal ‘good place’ unless you are five years old) with Dolly Parton’s ‘Islands In The Stream’ in my headphones…

After that last sentence, part of me wonders if I am on the verge of a breakdown and just haven’t twigged and am about to have something big fly out of left field that’ll knock me out; but the thing is, I actually don’t think this is a ‘manic’ good place which is what so often happens after a low/depressive/ED episode. I am not brilliantly full of energy, buzzing, or even very motivated –far from it! In fact I am tired and a bit stressed out from a busy week of (crappy) work and dealing with stuff I shouldn’t have to, but it’s nothing overwhelming or anything I can’t cope with.

So right now I am ok. I am here. In a good place. I am reluctant to use the word ‘normal’ as it’s so loaded but that’s kind of what it is. I am present and things are good enough.

Often I struggle to try and articulate to my therapist how much I struggle to be present in the moment. I am shit at just ‘sitting with it all’. I usually run from myself in the present,  ruminate on the past, and project about the future. I find it difficult to just be in the moment…mind you it is little wonder when being a parent on Saturday morning today involves this! FFS:

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But I have noticed since my holiday I am here. In the moment. And granted in the current moment is a little bit surreal but I’m fine with that. And I do at least have a coffee and some time to write!

I haven’t suddenly had some kind of epiphany. I am not suddenly better. I am not suddenly without trauma to heal or devoid of attachment pain. I have not had some fantastic therapy session that has made me feel held and contained and left me able to be more present (although it wasn’t bad on Monday!). Nope. Nothing like that. But there has been a definite shift in me this week. I doubt it will last (I am a realist after all) but I want to document it here because I know that when the wheels fall off (which they undoubtedly will again) and I end up careering into that dark zone I can easily forget that it can be like this. This feeling might be fleeting but I want to pay attention to it when it does happen.

How can I describe what’s going on with me?

It’s not about being content, as such. As I said, the demons haven’t gone away. But there’s a sense that I am fine not being fine. I am able to be bit more accepting of myself. Yeah, that’s what it is. It’s the feeling that I am ok as I am. In whatever state I am in. It’s ok to be me. My feelings are ok. I don’t need to hide. I am human. I guess that’s what my post when I got back from holiday was leaning towards when I thought my anonymity had been blown.

I am who I am.

I am working on myself.

I am not a finished product.

I will never be a finished product because we are always changing and evolving (even when we feel stuck!) but you know what, I’m not some chronically flawed asshole that doesn’t deserve to be happy either. I shouldn’t feel like I am in hiding all the time. I shouldn’t be perpetually feeling like I have some kind of deficit that means I shouldn’t live.

And that’s really how it gets at times. I feel so often like I am hanging on by a thread. It’s about survival rather than actively living. And that is a crock of shit when the odds are that my life is going to be cut short due to either a relapse in my cancer or a nasty side effect of the chemo and radiotherapy that saved my life three years ago.

You can’t expect to have your chest heavily radiated and your body chemically poisoned and get away with it for the next fifty years. There is a strong chance that if my Hodgkins doesn’t come back I could now develop problems with my heart or get lung, thyroid, or breast cancer due to the radiation as well as any other number of nasties from the chemo. Great. It was a risk I was made aware of when I underwent treatment but there was no other choice. The Hodgkins would have killed me.

So really, I ought to be living now didn’t I? Lots of cancer survivors I’ve seen go crazy manic once they ‘beat cancer’. There’s a lot of bucket list ticking off: sky dives, obstacle course runs, sponsored this that and the other. And that’s great. I guess it’s a celebration of sorts. But that’s never been where I’ve been at. I have just wanted to get back to my life and carry on being boring and like everyone else – only with the shadow of cancer alongside me.

I want to just be ok living in the moment. I think this has long been my goal even before the diagnosis. All I really want to is to be comfortable in my own skin.

Today, I feel a bit like that. I am here doing not much but I am in the moment. I’m not perfectly fine. Far from it. I am more than ready to see my therapist on Monday. I need that space. I need to let some stuff out. I want to see her and connect. I have missed her. At times this week it has been agony for the young parts. But importantly I accept that this is where I am at. I am trying really hard to now make a conscious effort to accept myself in whatever form I happen to be in.

Self-acceptance…eek. Am I edging towards that place?!

I put weight on on holiday. So what? I can’t be bothered to even engage with that. It’s my body, it’s still (too) slim, I don’t need to starve myself to drop a couple of pounds to please to unpleasable eating disordered part. I won’t be any more happy thinner – in fact I know I won’t be. Anorexia messes me up big time. I hated myself at Easter.

The attachment stuff is big right now. It’s been so active in the early part of the week. The ache was there almost from the moment I walked out of therapy on Monday. But this week I haven’t run from it. I have acknowledged it. I have accepted it. And it’s been a little bit more manageable. Strangely, in accepting it, rather than feeling ashamed about it I have felt more connected to my therapist. She always tells me that I have nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about so far as these feelings go. I struggle with that. But she’s right. And in accepting myself a tiny bit more I feel a tiny bit better.

So this is how it is right now. I’m doing as well as I can and that’s good enough.

I think this is all about baby steps.

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A Much Needed Week Away

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So, this is the post I had planned to write before the Instagram episode on Thursday night where my anonymity in Blogland and Social Media World was compromised. God that sounds like some kind of MI5/Secret Service statement doesn’t it?! For now, I am ok with my decision to keep this blog public but I guess we’ll just have to see how things pan out in the coming weeks. The worst that’ll happen is I’ll password posts or something.

Part of me is too tired to even care about it. As things stand right now I have bigger concerns. It’s all about doing a reality check sometimes isn’t it?

Currently, my best friend from primary school is in agony with metastatic breast cancer that has now found its way to her sternum. She is battling hard, third diagnosis in five years, but we know that this is going to kill her. I am devastated – in fact I ended up bursting into tears on the bus from the resort to the airport on Thursday just thinking about it (and I don’t cry!).

Her struggle is so hard to watch and a potent reminder that my very good friend died of Myeloma just before Christmas less than two years from being diagnosed. I still haven’t processed the loss and keep imagining I will see her again. My brain is really not very good at dealing with death.

In addition to this, I actually have my own follow up at the hospital this coming week to check (and hopefully confirm) I am still in remission. So in reality, who cares if someone I know might find out a little more about my mental health? It’s not going to kill me. It’s not cancer. It’s only the truth.

Anyway, my holiday. I’m not sure anyone wants to really read about this but I think it’s important for some balance to show that not every aspect and minute of my life is a complete shit show! Ha! Having said that, since I got home I have slumped and the attachment feelings/pain have ramped up enormously. I guess I can’t really escape that.

The last time I had a proper holiday abroad was I was eighteen weeks pregnant with my son. He is now almost four years old so it’s been a while. I have always loved travelling and have been fortunate enough to visit lots of the countries on my bucket list, but since getting diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in early 2015 travelling abroad has been off the cards.

Until recently I have been pretty much uninsurable. Despite being in remission, I am now classed as having a pre-existing condition and so the cost of travel insurance has been insane. For example, when I finished my course of chemo and radiotherapy in January 2016 we thought it might be nice to get away in the May once my hair had grown a bit and I was a bit less fatigued. We needed a holiday. We found one. We almost booked it. And then I got an insurance quote for that week in Greece: £1000! It was more than my ticket!! So, needless to say we didn’t end up going.

I have intermittently generated insurance quotes for trips and until recently they’d still be in the several hundreds of pounds and made things unaffordable. It seems mad that I have no active disease and am fitter than almost anyone else I know: running, cycling, swimming etc, and yet have to pay such an enormous premium. I would understand if there was active disease or I was compromised as a result of having had cancer but I’m not, not really.

I get tired, of course I do, but then I pack a lot into my weeks and have two young kids. That’s being a mum not necessarily a cancer hangover. Or maybe I should say, the cancer hangover is not so physically debilitating as to stop me from going to an all-inclusive resort in the sun, sitting my arse on a sun lounger, reading books, and eating plenty… in fact that’s surely exactly what I need! Low risk and relaxation. I need stress reduction – because these days the biggest problem with having had cancer is the continual stress and anxiety about it coming back.

It was my 35th (wtf how did that happen?!) birthday in March and my wife and I were bickering with one another about absolutely nothing at all. We’d just reached that point where we needed a break, a proper break, not another midweek ‘break’, self-catering in a static caravan in Devon which is not really relaxing at all or long enough to unwind. We needed to get away properly. So before I even entertained searching for a holiday I generated an insurance quote….and low and behold it was £42. Win! Having said that my wife and two kids all got insured for less than £10 with a high level of cover so go figure…

I quickly found a holiday and booked for us to go away for half term week. The joys of internet travel agencies and credit cards eh?! It’s amazing what you can do in five minutes online…and how much you can spend!

The kids were super excited to be having a holiday when so many of their friends regularly go away. My son was in his element on the plane, ‘mummy, are we really in the sky?’ and my daughter was good as gold.

We arrived at the resort and I could feel myself relax instantly despite having left home the best part of 15 hours ago. It’s a feeling that I haven’t truly felt in a very very long time. I know that chilling out has always been a problem for me. My brain is always buzzing even when I feel low, but I hadn’t truly realised the levels of stress, anxiety, exhaustion, nervous energy that was the cocktail fuelling my system. I guess it’s not a surprise to anyone that reads this blog!! Haha.

It was so nice to be away from the responsibilities and routines of home. My dogs were in kennels for the week. My neighbour was feeding the cats and fish. I didn’t have to cook or clean. No school runs. No teaching. Just sunshine, swimming pools, and the spa. Whoop.

It was amazing.

The most surprising thing for me was that for almost the whole week I didn’t experience any of that horrible gnawing ache in my tummy. The absence of attachment pain feelings was a massive relief. I didn’t feel agitated and lost. I didn’t feel young. I didn’t feel angry. I didn’t want to harm myself. I didn’t desperately long to be with my therapist. Sure, I thought about her, but I wasn’t consumed by that need to be in contact. Seriously, having that weight off was incredible.

Sadly, it didn’t last!

I think it was Wednesday (bloody Wednesdays will be the end of me, I swear!) when those feelings started to creep back in. The young parts started making themselves known again. I could feel that shift in myself from predominantly adult to all the others. I started to feel snappy and short tempered and my wife and I ended up having an argument. It was nothing big. I was just being unreasonable and angry. I know it’s because of those attachment feelings coming up (might’ve been a bit premenstrual too!). Suddenly I felt suffocated being around people. I wanted to be alone…or with my therapist. Argh. What a shitter.

Fortunately, I got over myself, or rather, I returned to default – i.e having those feelings and masking them from everyone else. Don’t get me wrong, I was still able to enjoy the last two days of my holiday but I was very much aware of carrying that additional emotional baggage inside me again.

What also didn’t help matters in the least was the set of scales in the hotel room bathroom. I clocked them the moment I walked in. I ignored them for almost the whole week, determined to leave the ED back in the UK, but then once those attachment feelings, doubts, and anxiety crept in so did the body stuff. No real surprises there.

I knew it was a bad idea to stand on the scales. You can’t go to an all-inclusive resort and eat pretty much consistently for a week really packing it in: full English breakfast, smoothie, and pastries at breakfast (breakfast is a meal I never bother with!); a plate of hot food, a salad bar, bread, and a plate of desserts (yes, three or four different sweet items) for lunch; ice cream, drinks, and snacks beside the pool; repeat lunch at dinner time…. and then not gain weight. So yeah. Of course I put on weight. Still not enough to take my BMI into the healthy range but not a million miles off it either.

I saw this:

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I wish it were true!

For some reason I can’t cope with the idea of having a healthy BMI. It’s madness. I do get that. The idea of the calculator ever saying ‘18’ makes me feel strange. Usually my BMI is mid-16 and now it’s mid-17…and that’s fine isn’t it? Only it doesn’t feel fine. I feel stodgy and fat. I am due my period and so some of this will be hormonal stuff and water retention but my head is conflicted. I am trying really hard not to resort to my unhealthy coping strategies. I don’t like being caught up in active anorexic behaviour. It makes me miserable. I don’t function well. So it’s going to be a challenge. One of many!

Since getting home the attachment pain has ramped up even more. The little ones two and four are very active. I was delighted to crawl into bed in the early hours of Friday morning when I got home and snuggle with my teddy bear but I could feel that ache of not being read a story, held, or tucked in by ‘mummy’. Don’t judge me!

I have felt really flat and lacking in energy these last couple of days. Everything feels like it’s a struggle. I have got things done – all the holiday laundry is completed, I have mowed the lawn, and taken the kids out on their bikes but it has taken a ridiculous amount of coaxing myself through.

This morning I still feel flat but am going to try and take it a moment at a time. I have jobs to do today: painting fences and exterior walls and this will allow me to feel like I have accomplished something by the end of the day whilst appearing ‘present’ when everyone else is in the garden doing their own thing.

I also got my bike serviced whilst I was away on holiday and so I might go out on it tonight once the kids are in bed. I know once I am out I will enjoy it but I am not sure right now if I will end up in bed and sleeping instead. I guess we’ll see.

Tomorrow is my therapy session. It’s only been two weeks since the last session but it feels like a very long time ago. I am both desperate to see my therapist and dreading seeing her too. I want to have a good, reconnecting session. I need that with the week I have ahead of me. I have so much to do. But I am frightened that the session will fall short. So often a return to therapy after a disruption is not quite what I need. I can’t settle. It takes a while to rebuild trust. I’m hoping that it won’t be like that though. I need my therapist to see me even if I am hiding.

During the last session I had, I handed over my letter with about twenty minutes to go and we started to work through it. My therapist was amazing and said all the right things but obviously we didn’t have time to cover everything – in fact I think we only got through the first couple of pages in a light touch way and she quickly scan read to the end before I left.

She said that she thought there was a huge amount in it and that we should definitely come back to it when I returned from holiday and so we agreed that we’d continue to talk about it next session. So that’s what I am walking into tomorrow. The stuff about connection, touch, boundaries, transitional objects, outside contact….it’s all waiting for me.

Fuuuuccckkkk!!!

I won’t lie. I am nervous (shitting myself) about it. I know that my therapist always handles things well when I spell it out this clearly to her and we generally have really connecting sessions. I should feel encouraged by her response to what we talked about at the beginning of the letter but I feel anxious. This is big stuff for me. I know it needs airing. I’m just not sure that I am ready to hear the reasons why I can’t get what I want from her – no matter how kindly it is delivered. And I know that’s what’s going to happen.

I know tomorrow I must go and start to grieve another loss or, should I say, several losses. But I guess this is what therapy is about. It’s not always getting what you want. In fact many of the needs could only have truly been met in my infancy. It’s now about trying to work through it with someone who cares and has empathy for the situation. Adult Me understands all of this. Truly. But the little ones can’t accept or understand why they can’t get a hug or reach out when they feel sad and alone.

And that’s the conflict.

If we were working with Adult Me all the time I’d be fine…but as we well know, the work needs to be done with the little ones and therein lies the problem. I have a two year old screaming to be held, a four year old silently crying in a corner, a seven year old that wants to run away, an eleven year old that feels like she’s dying….and the list goes on….so many parts suffering in one way or another. And because I am dealing with child parts I keep hitting the same boundaries over and over again, circling the same issues time and time again. This is the work but man it’s tough going!

So, yeah, I went on holiday. It was great to escape, relax, and recharge a bit but now it’s time to roll my sleeves up and get stuck into therapy again. Really get stuck in.

Wish me luck!

x

P.S The reason I haven’t really gone into any detail about my last session with the letter is because I think I’ll write once I have been to therapy tomorrow and addressed the thing as a whole.

 

 

Anonymity Blown?

So I was planning to come home from my holiday (yeah, I haven’t just dropped off the face of the earth this last couple of weeks – I’ve just been on a different part of the face of the earth!) and write about how lovely it has been to go abroad for the first time in four years, to have a proper relaxing break with my kids and wife, and to say how amazing it’s been to recharge my batteries… and I will get to that at some point in the coming week along with writing up the session where I gave my therapist the letter I had written her. But something happened last night when I was at the airport and about to fly home that sent me into a bit of a tailspin.

I was ten minutes from boarding my flight when I received a notification on my phone about my rubberbandsandchewinggum Instagram account that SOMEONE I KNOW IN REAL LIFE (a mum from preschool/school) had become a follower. My heart skipped a beat and then I panicked and then I literally started sweating…and I am not a sweaty person! Basically my brain was screaming ‘FUUCCCCCCCCCKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKK!!!!!!!!’

How on earth did this happen? Like really? All my privacy settings are set not to sync with any of my contacts on my personal email or phone. I don’t even list my mobile number on the accounts I set up with Instagram or WordPress. I use only my blog Gmail email to set up anything like this – not my actual name or anything. In theory there is absolutely no way that account should have been found other than by complete chance.

So I don’t know what’s happened. I went over all my settings with a fine-toothed comb a couple of months back when I wondered (got paranoid about) whether I was identifiable on one of those ‘you might like this’ suggestion type things but I asked a friend to try and locate me with my details ‘ie my phone, email, facebook etc’ and she couldn’t find me.

I guess it could be complete chance. This woman has an interest in similar things to me, from what I can tell on Facebook and having spoken in real life. She doesn’t deny she suffers from anxiety and depression and always ‘likes’ anything I post on Facebook that relates to MH awareness etc. I just feel like it’s a bit of an unlikely massive coincidence, you know? Like of all the pages in the world about mental health she discovers mine with no identifying info. GPS??? Does Instagram try and suggest pages you might like with people in the vicinity? I have no idea. I am not a techy person – I just write!

It all feels a bit, I dunno, Big Brother… I guess I am naïve and trust that these big social media things are private when you set yourself to be private but who knows. It’s too complicated!

Anyway,

My Instagram has this info:

Mental health blogger. Mum of two. LGBT. Procrastinator. Holding it together with rubber bands and chewing gum.

Which is basically the same as my Twitter account.

I guess that wouldn’t have been too defining had I not posted some Bitmoji on the Instagram page….but also used Bitmoji on my personal facebook as my profile pic….ugh. What a dummy! It looks like me! Obviously!

Until yesterday my Instagram had a link to my blog. I have since removed it- although given the name is the bloody same only with a dot com at the end it’s not exactly a stretch to find my blog is it? I temporarily made this blog private last night (thanks to those of you that emailed to find out why and to get permission to read it). In my panic I didn’t know what else to do knowing I was about to board a flight.

Just before I turned my phone off I bit the bullet and messaged the person who had followed me (but for some reason was her account was no longer showing as a follower despite the notification coming through) and said:

Am I imagining it or did you follow a mental healthy Instagram (my Instagram) earlier and then disappear? My phone’s having a wig out and then I had a panic that someone I know would access my blog through that account. Thought it better to be honest and ask than freak out – as am actually bonkers mental health wise x

She responded kindly and basically said she had been following things at random on her business account that had come up in her suggested pages and thought it looked cool and followed without even looking at it. And then said ‘I’m pretty bonkers too, so no judgement’. She then said she understood the panic and knows how important it is to have places like that (the blog) to go to that are your own. I received that reply when I got off my flight having been sweating it some more for the four hours back from the Canaries.

So. Where am I at today with all this?

Well clearly, as you are reading this the blog is no longer set to private. What I have decided is this: whilst I am not going to suddenly promote my blog on my personal Facebook page (can you even imagine?!! -hell no!) or let anyone else that I know know about this blog (literally my two best friends know about this page and even they don’t read it and respect my privacy and need for space to let this stuff out) I am not going to take the page down.

Why?

Well, even though this is blog talks about personal stuff….VERY personal stuff and is a window into my emotional world and my private thoughts. It is a side of me that only a very few ‘real life’ people ever get a glimpse of. I kind of feel like if I take down this blog or make it private because one person in the world that I actually know might find out that actually I am more vulnerable than I appear, that I struggle with my mental health, and that life is not always what I present to the outside world then….well…that’s a bit daft isn’t it? What’s really wrong with someone knowing the authentic version of me?

(breathing deeply into a brown paper bag here!)

Obviously, I am working on trusting this person, who I don’t know very well but seems nice enough, to keep my blog and anything written on it to herself. I mean why would it interest her to talk about me to anyone else in the playground? I am not that interesting.

There are, of course, parts of me that flood with shame and embarrassment and want to crawl in a hole and die at the thought of being exposed in this way. But I need to work on my feelings around shame and embarrassment. Man how much of my therapy is devoted to this pairing?!

I am not a bad person. I have feelings. Some of them are tricky. I have some shit coping mechanisms. But I am not a weirdo for having them (the feelings or the coping strategies). Lots of us with traumatic and neglectful childhoods feel like this and have unhealthy behaviours that we use to try and help us cope.

Yes. I am in therapy. So what? Frankly, it’d be more worrying if I wasn’t in therapy, given how I am, wouldn’t it?!

And lastly, the main reason I am not binning my blog is you guys. If so many of you have accepted me despite, and maybe because of, all my emotional wounds when you haven’t ever met me than surely someone who has did ought to extend some of the kindness, compassion, and care that you do (if they end up reading).

I don’t often talk directly to the followers of this blog other than in comments but I really have to say that this blog, and the people that choose to interact with me on it and through it, have been a huge support. I think we have a brilliant community. I cannot thank you enough for the kind, considered, thoughtful comments you post up. I have made some lovely friends through this page, too, and what started out as a random anonymous space for me to spill my emotional guts has become something so much more than that.

So, yeah, this is me, warts and all x

And now to get back to writing about therapy…soon be Monday…eek!!

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Letter To My Therapist (That I Probably Won’t Even Show Her!)

So earlier in the week I was really struggling. I always feel particularly unsettled in the first few days after a therapy session. It’s a pattern I am so familiar with now that I’ve almost accepted it as part and parcel of this therapy, albeit an uncomfortable side effect. It’s as though seeing my therapist stirs EVERYTHING to do with my attachment issues up and then I walk out the room with a bunch of inconsolable children inside me and some angry teens and have to survive the week as best I can. It is utterly draining and emotionally all-consuming.

The attachment pain I feel is agony. It’s been especially bad since Easter break where the eating disorder stuff got a bit (ok, a lot) out of control. The ED stuff was certainly triggered by feelings of abandonment and rejection around the Easter break and not seeing my therapist for almost a month. I feel huge amount of shame just typing that. I am so embarrassed that I am so attached to my therapist that not having contact can send me into free-fall and latching desperately onto my teenage coping strategies like a life raft on a stormy sea.

I hate feeling like this. I hate not seeming to have found a way of ‘not feeling like this’ after being in therapy for such a long time. If anything these feelings are getting worse rather than better at the moment. I know, in part, this is because I am keeping a lot to myself.

My last post was about The Elephant In The Room or rather the herd of elephants that are wedged in the therapy room with me! I was largely talking about the eating disorder stuff being a current and big stubborn beast but there are others. One of the most persistent and long-standing (so far as this therapy goes) elephants is the one about being unable to talk about touch and holding in the therapeutic relationship.  We talked very briefly about it last year – basically it’s a no from her- and since then I have struggled to acknowledge this really massive problem for me. In fact I would go so far as to say it is ‘the issue’ that activates all of my anxiety in the relationship.

I need to find a way of feeling ‘more held’ and I know that part of the problem with not feeling held and contained is that I see my therapist once a week. Before my last session I had reached the conclusion that it was time to ask about incorporating another session into my therapy or, at least, a check-in (because that made a huge difference the other week) and so I text her to ask if we could talk about this. I basically said that I can’t do the work I need to do with one contact each week. It’s just not containing enough.

My therapist was agreeable to the idea of an extra session, in fact she had suggested this might be a good idea this time last year, but as things stood financially with me not working it just was never on the cards. I hate that mental healthcare is so limited by your ability to pay in this country! Anyway, since I have taken on some home-schooling and tutoring work it’s just about doable to have another session.

Unfortuantely, my therapist doesn’t have any times available at the moment. Ugh. She has said it could be several months until a slot becomes available and in the meantime she has not got time for a check in. You can imagine how that went down with various parts of me. I sat there and absorbed what she was saying with an ‘it’s fine’ face – I mean it is the way it is, she is busy. BUT omg! It stung.

It wasn’t so much the not having any regular times available for a session that upset me – there’ll be one eventually- as soon as one becomes free it’s mine. No. It was not having time for a check in that hurt the parts that feel like she doesn’t care about me anyway. Like, seriously, she doesn’t have time for a five minute call at the end of the week to settle the parts that are struggling, or won’t reply to a text and say ‘Still here! Look forward to seeing you on Monday.’

I know we don’t have a good track record with texting but I was kind of hoping that if we spoke about it a bit we could reach a mutually acceptable way of interacting that would help contain those feelings that get so stirred up in the week. As it stands I feel stranded and alone and like I don’t matter. I know I should bring these feelings up in session today but it all feels so raw and activated that I suspect it will become another elephant.

I’m struggling, too, because when she told me that she had no time for a check in she said that the other week when we spoke on the phone it was an usual situation because she had had a cancellation. This simply isn’t true. She doesn’t work at either of the times she offered me to talk that week. And whilst I understand she mightn’t want to make it a regular thing working outside her usual hours, that is what she did that week. It felt like a big gesture on her part that she was willing to help me outside her usual working day and now it feels like something has shifted… she did mention that she felt that the dynamic had shifted…so maybe she’s gone back to the usual frame. I just have no idea.

I really want today’s session to be connecting and holding because we have another break next week. I am going away on holiday but my therapist would also have been away so whichever way you look at it we would’ve had a disruption (again!). I am so rubbish with breaks and the last thing I want is to walk out of my session today feeling anxious and lost and little – even if that is the norm.

My therapist said to write stuff down and bring it to session last week and so that’s kind of what I have done. I splurged on the page on Wednesday – a five page handwritten letter – and have copied it below. Today it feels unimportant, or less potent, somehow. I don’t know whether or not I will take it with me and hand it over. I guess it would prevent a silent session but I am not sure I want to be so vulnerable.

I find this whole process so bizarre. I struggle so hard for the majority of the week, the feelings are huge, it is so painful, and then I get to the weekend and things semi-settle down. I guess part of this is because I know I will have my session on a Monday and so the parts that struggle settle a little in the hope/knowledge that they may get what they need in session. I think there is probably also a bit of resistance from some of the parts. It’s almost like ‘you weren’t there in the week, so why should I care or talk to you now?’ I know!! It’s not all coming from an adult place!

Anyway, here’s what I wrote. No idea what I’ll do with it!

What It’s Like On Wednesdays

Wednesdays are notoriously the worst day of the week for me. Something horrible happens in the pit of my stomach when I wake up and it stays all day. It’s hard to explain how utterly crushing this feeling is and to anyone that’s not felt it, it must seem crazy. I know, however, that I am not alone in this and at least a couple of my friends understand.

Every week in session I struggle to talk about these feeling because they are totally mortifying. It seems so stupid that a grown-up can feel so small at times and so unsafe. What’s even worse is that these feelings are triggered in relation to you. I can’t tell you how awful that feels. I don’t want to feel any of these emotions and I certainly don’t want to feel them about you. I don’t seem to have a choice, though. Believe me when I say have tried to rationalise out what I’m feeling, to make sense of it , in the hope that it might go away…but it doesn’t.

You tell me that the young parts have done nothing wrong and their feelings are ok. Sometimes I believe you. Sometimes the way you say it makes me trust that actually you aren’t freaked out by this and you can handle whatever I am feeling. Sometimes I can feel the barriers coming down and there is a sense of connection. The problem is that a lot of the time I don’t believe what you have said, either because it’s been a while since you’ve said it (I hate that I need so much reassurance) or because I sense something is different in you. I might be oversensitive but I notice when your voice is different and how you are sitting – and even if those changes are only subtle, the parts of me that have always had to be on guard start applying a narrative to what might be going on. I don’t know how accurate it is because you rarely tell me how it is for you.

I know that my ‘worst case scenario’ thinking doesn’t do me any favours here ,but if I feel like you are annoyed or frustrated with me I shut down even further. I do, absolutely, feel helpless when it gets like that. I wish you were able to actually see what’s going on inside me when we are sitting in near silence and I feel like you are giving up on me. I know it’s difficult to picture a set of small children all alone and separate from one another suffering varying degrees of upset but that is how it is.

You said before that sometimes it’s like being blindfolded with me, and you don’t know who’s there – for me it’s like being trapped on the edge of a ravine. I can see you, just about, on the other side, but I can’t reach out to you. You cannot hear me crying. At least I don’t think you can. The critical part of me thinks otherwise and believe that you simply don’t care that it is so difficult for me and despite what you may say, are as embarrassed about how I feel as I am and choose to ignore it. It’s easier that way.

So, frequently the session is fine-ish. I talk-ish. You probably think things are ok-ish. And yet more often that not I walk out of the room feeling sad and deflated. I am frustrated that I can’t tell you how bad things feel. for the young parts. I’m still not really sure you get what I mean when I say I worry about you giving up on me. It’s not a mild sense of anxiety, it is utterly debilitating. And sure, I get it, therapy will end one day, but the youngest parts of me don’t even feel like you’ve really seen them yet and so the idea of an ending feels hideous.

I walk away feeling all sorts of agony. I really believe that it is only a matter of time before you pull the plug on the therapy. I understand what has happened lately with all the GP stuff and eating disorder stuff. I know it’s important to have a safety net but I can’t help but feel like you’ve started backing away from me because actually it’s all too much. This confirms what I have been thinking for such a long time and that is painful.

There is, of course, a bigger more horrible side to these feelings and this is what causes me so much difficulty from week to week, and on breaks. I know that I’ve said it a million times before but I don’t think you really understand that I am not being dramatic or over the top when I say that for parts of me it feels like you are completely gone – like dead- in the week. I feel panicked that you have disappeared and are not coming back.

Adult me knows that this is unlikely to be the case but the child parts have had a lifetime of people disappearing: my dad was ‘gone’ when I was nine months old until I was three and a half; and then my mum was ‘gone’ Sunday to Friday between the ages of five and eleven – and even when she came back she was often ‘not really there’. Top that off with my dad dying when on holiday – it’s little wonder that I struggle when you are not there and on breaks.

It should feel like I am onto a winner if I can hang onto the sense of you being out the somewhere but even that isn’t straightforward because when I can’t see you I miss you. And because I miss you I feel massive amounts of shame and embarrassment. It really is like having all the sadness and pain of my childhood playing out week after week and it is really hard to manage. I am convinced that you find me irritating and think I am deliberately keeping myself stuck and you are reaching saturation point.

I don’t like feeling this way. I want to find a way to make things feel better between sessions. I want to find a strategy that helps to contain the feelings. That’s why last summer I asked you to send me a message. You said after the break perhaps writing a message on a card would help and then the fucking pebbles disaster happened. I really wanted to succeed in making a successful bridge to get through from week to week and it’s not really worked because I still have no real sense of you, which I guess should not be surprising when the words were not yours.

So when I feel disconnected, like today –hellish Wednesday- I cycle through all kinds of emotions. The little parts feel completely alone and unseen and the older parts want to run away and give up. The smallest ones want to be close to you, to close the space between us, and the older ones want to tell you to stop hurting the small ones.

I completely get what you are saying about therapy needing to take place in the session and that sending long messages isn’t a good idea. I don’t want to ‘do’ therapy outside the room but really every time I send you something it’s to check you’re there. Obviously getting no reply doesn’t help matters in the least. I don’t know how to get round this. I feel like I am drowning with this stuff and can’t see how to make it better. How am I meant to feel secure when my brain conspires against me all the time?

I get to session and all the little parts want you to notice them and yet you don’t for a really long time. I try not to disappear when I see you because I want to be able to connect but there is such a huge fear of being seen and then being rejected that something happens and I don’t behave in a way that I recognise as even being me. I feel embarrassed when I sit there saying nothing because I feel like you are automatically judging me negatively. Sometimes I want you to come closer to me because my head is telling me that you can’t bear to be near me. I’ve said before that the space can feel enormous and when things are bad it feels awful.

I have no idea how to get around this. Sometimes I want you to sit near me but I don’t ask and then shut down because the shame and embarrassment of needing physical proximity feels awful. So when this happens it triggers another level of hell. It’s like I must be utterly disgusting to you, you can’t even tolerate being near me. This feels horrid, especially to the parts that want to be able to touch you and can’t. I don’t think you have any idea how big an issue this has become for me. Week in week out I feel like I am re-enacting the relationship I have with my mum. Every session we have confirms to me that on a fundamental level I am untouchable and unlovable.

I struggle, then, to trust in the relationship because on a basic level I have confirmation that you don’t want me anywhere near you. It feels so confusing because I feel like therapy did ought to feel more nurturing and connecting and yet I can’t help but feel like it is impossible to get close to you. And then I wonder what I am actually meant to be doing! Like what on earth is a therapeutic relationship?

You said once that boundaries are not barriers and I have never really been able to get my head to make sense of it because if they are inflexible then how can they be perceived as anything but barriers? I seem to keep banging hard into boundaries and feeling like I simply cannot get therapy right.

I can’t help how I feel. It’s doing my head in. I hate that wanting to feel close to you causes me such high levels of anxiety but I hate, too, that I seem to be caught up in wanting something that isn’t available. Right now I have a lot of children’s feelings and nowhere to put them and so, instead, have been trying to shut them down by attacking myself. It’s not sustainable but there feels very few options out there.

I think I still want you to read the thing I wrote about ‘The Mother Wound’ because I think it sums up just what we’re dealing with. But perhaps not now….

And lastly, finally (phew)… last week you said you would expect that perhaps I’d be relieved to have a break next week given how things have been. This really surprised me. I’m staggered that I give off such a strong sense of not wanting to be there or that I discern nothing useful from the process – but I guess that’s because I rarely show you the vulnerable bits that actually want to be there, to be seen, and to connect because they don’t believe it’s possible and are scared of showing up properly only to be told to go away.

X

Oh, and actually, I’d much rather know the truth about how things are – I might not like hearing that I am annoying you or that you think this isn’t working but it’s actually better that I know. I can’t keep doing things the way I am/we are and so something has to shift. I can’t currently work out whether that is changing things and ‘colouring in’ or ‘leaving’ – because I have no clue where we are at. All I know is that the levels of anxiety and physical drain is really hurting.

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The Elephant In The Room

There are times when I feel like there’s not just ‘an’ elephant in the room in my therapy sessions but rather ‘a herd’ of elephants in the room with me. Some days there are so many jostling for position and distracting me that it can make it very difficult to do any work. I can’t even see or hear my therapist over and around the huge mass and racket that a number of metaphorical pachyderms generate in my mind.

I’ve been aware, for a long time, that there are some elephants that could do with moving on to make space for me and my therapist to work together. They’re quite stubborn, big buggers, though, and they don’t want to move!  It doesn’t help, either, that The Critic is doing everything possible to keep the elephants there…and we all know how powerful she is.

I know I can’t push the elephants out the door on my own, or persuade them to move on. I need my therapist’s help with this task. She knows there are elephants too. She mentions them a fair bit, but I don’t think she has always got an idea of which elephant is sitting between us on any given day; she just senses a presence. She tries to invite the elephant out of the shadows  –  she can’t miss my silence, she knows it’s there, but when I have an elephant’s trunk wrapped around my face acting as a gag I can’t say anything.

I’ve learnt over time that it’s not just as simple as my asking the elephants to ‘please go back to where you came from (so I can just talk about something else that is easy)’ in order for them to leave. I have to tell my therapist that they’re there, who they are, and together we have to coax the elephant into not feeling like it belongs in hiding anymore. We have to make friends with it, give it some attention, and then it gladly moves out for a bit, or sometimes even permanently (if we do a good enough job).

Whilst I want to set these massive beasts free because they don’t look at all comfortable in the small room, and I am certainly uncomfortable when they are there, it is not as easy as it might seem. See, the thing is, these elephants often feel threatening to me. Whilst The Critic is a fabulous ring master in this circus that is my therapy and can tell the elephants exactly what to do, I am less confident with them. I’m more of a cat person, really!

Part of the problem is that I worry about how my therapist will respond to the elephants when she meets them properly. I wonder (panic about) whether she will be able to help me with them or whether she’ll send me packing along with them when she finally sees just how destructive they could be. Some of the elephants are very young, vulnerable, and needy and just want to sit with her but know they can’t; others are absolutely raging and want to destroy the place.  It’s complex. Any one of them handled in the wrong way could result in a stampede.

Recently, after the Easter break, I was feeling brave/desperate/squashed and so I finally pointed out one of the long-standing, elderly elephants to my therapist. I felt a bit like David Attenborough as I described this twenty year old. Her name is Edey, or ED. Edey has been a near constant companion to me since my teens. She’s a skinny elephant and looks like she’s had a tough time over the years. My therapist knows of her but has never really come face-to-face with her before.

Edey is a shy elephant and frightens easily. So when she first met my therapist properly she was quite tentative and didn’t want to be fully seen. Little by little over the last couple of months she let herself be seen more by my therapist and I was able to talk about the problems Edey has. It was going so well. I felt like my therapist and I were, for the first time, really getting to grips with this massive elephant together. It felt like we were co-creating a plan for her. She was calming down, trusted my therapist, and was thinking about going outside.

And then something unexpected happened. My therapist took her by surprise and spooked her in a session and since then Edey has gone back to being one of the elephants in the room. My therapist and I both know she’s there, but for now I don’t feel like I can mention her because this sad, little elephant could be the one that gets me terminated from my therapy, or at least having to ‘work towards an ending’. And frankly there are other little elephants in the room who can’t bear the thought of that. Edey really couldn’t care less now. She wants to smash everything up and get all the others to join her and then march out the door.

I was worried about talking about Edey, in six years she’s rarely come up, despite having always been there with me, but after what’s happened (and yes, I know my therapist was just doing her job and has acted in my best interests etc- it’s not what has been done that’s the problem, it’s how it was done)  I am even more terrified about talking about some of the others. Edey is a tough old beast but some of the little ones are already so wounded that I am not sure they could handle my therapist treating them in anything but a gentle way.

Anyway, winding metaphors aside, I wrote my therapist a letter this week. I’ll type it up and post it on here, later. I am still unsure if I will hand it over on Monday.  This is a nothing post but I just had to write this because I saw this image on Facebook earlier and thought it was utter genius!

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