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 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.