Trust In Your Sixth Sense (Or Is It Just Hypervigilance?).

When I was seventeen, I went and saw a palmist in Bangkok and he did a detailed consultation for me. At the time I was sceptical – I certainly hadn’t got into my astrology and tarot at that point! My dad had been to see him years before, when he worked in Thailand (his Thai friends all swore by this guy), and his reading had been surprisingly accurate for the past as well as what had started to unfold in the intervening time since he’d come back to the UK.

I figured there was nothing to lose so went and sat in his consulting office, put my hands in some ink and transferred the image of my palms onto paper. With the print of my hands and my date of birth alone before him, he took compasses and all kinds of mathematical equipment and set to work. I sat and watched as he methodically worked his way through one hand at time. After about twenty minutes, finished, he looked up and spoke to me and told me what my palms said.

I remember feeling like there was a lot of accuracy in the reading at the time, but then at seventeen telling me I would be in an arts field and hate maths was really a 50/50 guess surely?! He said that I would have two children – which made me bristle and instantly made me think the guy was a crock of shit because at that point I knew I was gay (I wasn’t out yet) and couldn’t imagine how children would ever be part of my life (although I desperately wanted to be a mum). There were other things, too, but to be honest looking ahead twenty years when you’re that age seems like another lifetime…well, it is now I am here!

As I walked out the door, I remember him holding my hands in his and telling me that I have a very strong sixth sense and to trust in it. I thanked him for his time and put my inky print in my bag and went on to enjoy the rest of my holiday. When I got home I put the envelope containing the reading in a box with other souvenirs and photos and there it lay for the next few years as I went off to university, met my wife, travelled the world and grew up a bit.

When I was twenty-five I got the news that my dad had died suddenly of a heart attack in Thailand whilst on holiday. It was, without doubt, the worst, most distressing experience of my life. I’ve written about it before so won’t bother again now, but the trauma surrounding that event was the trigger that sent my life into freefall and opened Pandora’s Box spewing out a lifetime of trauma that I had dissociated away. This bereavement signalled the start of the massive mental breakdown I had.

Every single day I miss my dad and, at times, even now, twelve years later, the grief rises up in me and I howl with pain or wake up in floods of tears when he enters my dreams (which is a lot lately). My anchor is gone and I struggle to accept that. Especially when, right now, I REALLY need him. It sounds daft, being an adult myself, but when I feel like I do right now (like a child), I really could do with the steadying presence of my rock.

Anyway, after he died, I was going through his stuff, clearing his house, and found his palm reading from years before. I opened it up and glanced through it. It was so on the money that I could barely breathe. When I got home, I went into my loft, found the box that contained my reading and looked to see what it said, only now viewing it with more grown-up eyes and living further in the future. It was definitely interesting. There were some parts that I was hoping wouldn’t materialise not too far ahead but others that might be a possibility. I folded it up, put it away again and carried on with my life.

Time moved on. We moved house. The box in the loft moved into the next loft and the hand prints, souvenirs, and photos were safely stored there along, now, with my dad’s copy, his passport and letters he had written me over the years. My wife and I got married. We started a family (and yes, 2 children!). I got cancer. My wife lost her job. Things got bumpy. Things got better. Then bumpy again. And then really bumpy…which brings us to now.

If you look at the picture (above) you’ll see that it’s slap bang in the wobbly red ‘SHIIIIIIIITTTTT’ area between 37-38 years old where finances are fucked. I turn 38 in a few weeks and ugh…can’t we just fast-forward to 40 where I apparently get super successful and hit the peak of my life for the next 18 years?!

I’ve been AWOL here on the blog a bit this month. Since Christmas I have written, on and off, about how hard things have been feeling (really fucking hard). The Christmas therapy break felt tough this year, but then that wasn’t surprising as I headed into the anniversary of ‘tick gate’ and the end of my therapeutic relationship with Em. Then lockdown three thousand was announced, home-schooling started AGAIN, and I had to reduce face-to-face contact with Anita to once a week and no visits to K ☹. Then my wife got COVID and was isolated from us for weeks upstairs. Obviously, the kids and I were also stuck inside – so then no face-to-face at all with A…GROAN.

Incrementally, week on week, things were getting emotionally harder to cope with. I could feel myself sliding. I just felt so stretched and anxious, and on the edge, and yet the support I needed felt further and further away. Of course, Anita hadn’t gone anywhere but it didn’t feel that way when I had to revert to complete online therapy during isolation. There’s fuck all privacy here so online sessions are often interrupted by one of my kids who suddenly need me. I can never fully relax into a session, and the parts that need help rarely show up, or if they do, they get so upset that it actually feels worse.

I am really shit with online therapy (no shit!). But it felt especially hard this time because Anita was here, she hadn’t gone away, and she had been willing to see me face-to-face this lockdown after my complete lack of coping in the November/December lockdown! No need to write more on that!! You’ve all been along for the ride. So, it just felt so fucking unfair that I couldn’t see her and I couldn’t believe unlucky we’d been for my wife to get Covid.

Things started to escalate inside over the isolation period. I felt a sense of foreboding and panic rising up in my body. It’s a familiar feeling of dread that is so visceral it cannot be ignored. It wasn’t about being unable to get to see Anita or COVID (although those stresses and attachment stuff were definitely there too). Instead, I don’t know why, but I started to feel like my wife was going to lose her job. It was such a strong burning feeling in me that I really couldn’t ignore it. On paper there would be no reason this should happen. She’s very good at what she does and has transformed the place she has been working in with recognition from the inspectorate.

Perhaps I was just being silly. Maybe I just had too much alone time. Perhaps I was just being pessimistic and was crumbling under the stress and pressure of the last couple of months…but it didn’t feel that way. I couldn’t get away from the feeling and no amount of rationalising would make it go away.

I got out my deck of moon tarot cards (definitely got a lot more alternative since that day getting my palms read!). It’s freaky what happens with them. Frequently I’ll ask a question and get a card that resonates. Then I’ll ask the same question again…and get the same card. A few months ago, I pulled the same card six times in succession on the same afternoon! I close my eyes and spend ages shuffling them about – I have no reason to try and ‘cheat’ but it always makes me feel a bit ‘eek’ when the same card keeps coming. Anyway, I asked the question three times and got the same card. It felt confirming but also not what I wanted to hear.

Two days before my wife was due to go back to work, and we had all received negative Covid tests I decided to tell her what I was feeling. It was making me ill. The fear of losing everything (which is where my mind takes me when stability is questioned but that’s the trauma brain) was making it so that I couldn’t eat and the nightmares I was having every night were taking their toll.

Usually, my wife would tell me I was overreacting and to not run away with panic. But this time she didn’t. She looked at me seriously and said, ‘You know what RB? Your Spidey sense has never been wrong in all these years we’ve been together on anything. I hope you are wrong but if you’re right we’ll be ok, we’ll find a way through together’. That helped a lot. I mean I was still stressed out beyond words but at least she was accepting that my gut was screaming and that maybe it might have a point even if there was no tangible evidence yet.

Then it happened. As suspected. On the Monday she went to work for a morning meeting and was on her way home within half an hour. Absolute farce. I told her to record the meeting just in case even though there was no reason to suspect that anything was wrong. It’s a good job she did. Our friend is a HR manager for a big organisation and listened to the recording and was absolutely horrified by what took place. The laugh is, in the UK if you have less than a year with an organisation you can have your contract terminated for no reason at all so long as they pay you any holiday owing and stick to the terms of their contract – i.e a week’s notice.

I felt so sad but also so vindicated when my feeling was confirmed to be correct. But of course, here we are again. No job and huge stress with bills etc. I text Anita the day it happened to let her know. I had already spoken to her about my worries in the weeks before it happened (she probably thought I was losing my mind and overreacting!) and told her that I wanted to see her for our planned session the next evening but from that point on we’d have to put the therapy on hold as I didn’t know how we were going to cover bills let alone therapy. You can probably imagine what that felt like.

This last year, but certainly the last few months, has been an emotional rollercoaster and to lose the one thing/person that actually helps me function felt unbearable. I felt utterly beside myself. Anita as usual was, and has been, incredible throughout but this is long so I’ll write more on this later.

So what was the point in this post? Well, what I am learning, despite the shit storms is that I can and should trust my gut. The other day I was so shut down and was isolating myself from A. It was so painful. I wanted to be close but was terrified of being too much. The fear of abandonment stuff was massive and I think this especially the case right now with all the instability at home. Anita said she thinks I know deep down, and can feel, that she is safe, but sometimes the fear that I have about what’s happened in the past comes in and impacts how I can relate to her.

I always knew in my gut that Em was not safe. I tried to convince myself otherwise- that it was my hypervigilance gone mad and that there was something wrong with me. I so desperately wanted her to be safe that I repeatedly ignored what my body was telling me. Whereas, I have felt safe with Anita from day one. What comes in when I am silent and disconnected is not that I am unsafe with her, it’s the fear that I’ll lose her by being too much – especially now, when she’s seeing me for next to nothing.

It’s a completely different thing to how it was with Em because underneath that I DO KNOW that if I let Anita in, she is there ready. She is willing to connect. She isn’t scared of me. I know she loves me. I can feel it even without my sixth sense! Sometimes my brain just doesn’t get the memo in the moment that things have changed and it takes a while to unstick the brakes.  

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Anyone Want To Skip To 2022?

Honestly, it feels like a lifetime since I was last here having a meltdown and lamenting how hard things felt. If only I had known then what it was going to be like now, I don’t think I’d have moaned quite so much! I mean it really felt awful when I wrote my last post – stuck in the horrible limbo that happens each year between Christmas and the return to work in early January – but at least I could have my mental health crisis in relative peace!

Things felt especially bad this year with my annual breakdown. It’s a year since all the shit really started falling apart with Em and I couldn’t help think about it and turn it over and over wondering if I could have done anything differently. I couldn’t. And things are better with Anita than they ever were with Em, but there is still a profound sense of loss as well as all the feelings of rejection and abandonment around how things went down last year.

There’s still a lot to process and try and heal where that’s concerned, but 2020 didn’t really allowed a great deal of space for that. I mean Anita has held the space, but other stuff has got in the way. I mean who would have imagined we’d have been desperately surviving a pandemic in 2020 (and now 2021)? COVID and the associated lockdowns have caused so many disruptions to therapy (and we all know how shit I am with change – and working remotely!) and so a lot of the time I’ve actually been trying to work through the ‘here and now’ issues that have been brought up with A, not stuff that happened last January (although I more than appreciate that my reactions and responses to A have been informed by what’s gone on with Em…and my bloody mother!). 

Working online for half the year hasn’t exactly been ideal. However, bit by bit Anita and I have built a good, strong therapeutic alliance. I’m staggered, really. I’ve had my fair share of tears and tantrums, been needy, been avoidant and felt and expressed all the feelings and throughout Anita has remained solid and strong. I think she saw parts of me that would have otherwise taken a really long time to surface in the room when we couldn’t do face-to-face in November. I was so triggered by the remote sessions and it gave us both a really clear understanding of exactly where my sore points are. I knew already, but being safe to express how I really felt and not be told I was too much or ‘like a tick’ was huge for me.

Throughout all the upheaval I have felt Anita to be on my side, like she genuinely wants to help me and cares. I also feel like the power dynamic is more in my favour than it ever was with Em -I felt so powerless in that relationship. I trust Anita with all the parts of me. I feel safe with her and that’s really testament to how she is as a therapist – especially given how hard I find it to trust in relationships.

When I am drowning in shame and pickled in embarrassment, she always normalises my responses in relation to the level of trauma I have experienced. When I am mortified about how I have reacted or behaved she tells me it’s ok and that it’s to be expected. As I said recently, she’s like a bucket of soapy shame remover and that’s so accurate. I had a horrific session this week, the critic totally derailed me but Anita was steady, and calm, and found a way through to me and I left feeling connected. I never leave the room feeling abandoned or dissociated. I know I shouldn’t think that that is something unusual or noteworthy, but it really is after all the years with Em.

Anyway, get to the frigging point RB…!

Last time I wrote here, I was winding myself up anticipating the government announcing a lockdown and freaking out at the prospect of more online therapy. After how bad it was in November, I just really, really didn’t want to have to do it again – especially as I knew that another lockdown would be harder this time around because I felt it was inevitable that schools would close and I would be back trying to manage home-schooling for my primary aged kids as well as still working my job teaching online. I certainly didn’t relish that proposition, but the main thing that was upsetting me was knowing if my kids were home from school then I would have to wave goodbye to face-to-face sessions as I have no childcare. Ugh. Part of me hoped that Anita would go and bubble with her partner again to take the decision out my hands.

I managed to go to my session on Monday 4th January because my wife had already booked annual leave as I had therapy and the kids weren’t due back in school until the Tuesday. To be honest I can’t tell you much about it because it feels like so much has gone on since then. I know that it was nice to see Anita and we reconnected. It was so lovely to have a proper cuddle and to be able to talk about how fucking hard it had been over the Christmas break but other than that, I can recall nothing about the content of the session.

Obviously, at that point the lockdown hadn’t been announced yet and I left the session feeling ok but also slightly anxious that that may be our last session if I was correct in my assumptions. There were rumblings on social media when I got home that something was going to be said that evening by the prime minister.  I sent Anita a text:

‘Forewarning… if we go into a proper lockdown from tomorrow – or minimally schools close – after Boris announces whatever the fuck he’s going to say tonight at 8pm, I’m actually going to have a breakdown. You can join my club if you like!

Roll on Monday evening and BoJo confirmed my fears, yep, it’s time to lockdown. My heart sank. I was instantly all over the shop, internally, even though I had known it was coming.

The next day A replied to my text with, ‘Yes it’s not going to be easy. I guess we need to go back to WhatsApp’ ended with a crying face emoji.

To be honest that really didn’t cut it. I mean, sure, ok, I get it but NOOOOO. Having sessions whipped away again like that just felt sooooo bad. I would really have liked to have talked to her to discuss it and settle the chaos that was going on inside. I get that she must have also been taken by surprise and would have had to have cancelled or rescheduled all her clients for the week but I just needed a bit more than that in her text – some reassurance, I dunno.

I responded by telling her that I felt sick and just wanted to cry because I couldn’t believe we were in this position again.

She sent me a cute gif with a hug but, again, it just didn’t cut it because by now my system was having a complete meltdown. Things escalated internally as the day went on as the reality of what this lockdown meant hit home. I asked A is we could speak and have a check-in before our Friday session and I think this is where she got the memo and recognised that I was flailing like a fish out of water.

She offered me a time the next day and I took it. When we got online, I genuinely had only intended to talk for ten minutes and then go… somehow, we ended up at an hour! I literally let it all out in the biggest way. It was like the floodgates opened. The Christmas break and this latest disruption had seen me really fall into the depths of the doom. The stuff around eating (or not!) had reawakened, and even thoughts of self-harm were doing some serious time in my head. It wasn’t good.

I told A that I felt like an unset jelly that had been dropped on the floor and was just spilling out everywhere and that I felt enormous amounts of shame for reacting so strongly to this lockdown. Ok, not the lockdown, but the separation. My young parts just couldn’t fucking cope. I asked her when she was going away, assuming that’s what she was doing this time around, and she said she’d definitely be here until the weekend and told me that if I wanted, I could see her face-to-face on the Thursday or the Friday if I could get childcare.

Internally, there was a lot of relief when she said this, but also a dread. My wife is flat-out at the moment – you only need to look at the news to see what a state the health and social care sector is in right now – 14 hour days are the norm for her right now (in fact looking at the clock she’s still not home and left 15 hours ago) and then endless calls to mobile when she’s home. There was no way she could take time off for me to go to therapy – and I didn’t want to have to explain that despite seeing Anita on Monday, and having spoken to her on Wednesday, that I now needed ANOTHER session on Friday because I wasn’t coping.

I have spoked a lot to a friend of mine that lives a few doors down about what’s been going on for me this year. After the shit with Em I just couldn’t cope on my own and needed support from friends. Our children are friends and we’ve basically dragged each other through this year by meeting at the park in a socially distanced way and letting the kids let off steam. I’d spoken to her just before lockdown and told her how precarious it was feeling. She text me after my session to see how I was and I told her what had happened. When I told her what Anita had said she immediately said that she was happy to form a childcare bubble with me if it would help me to access the support I needed.

I tell you what, not all superheroes wear capes! Thank god for friends.

So, on Friday I went to see Anita. It felt bittersweet. I so needed to see her to work out a plan for getting through the next few months but was painfully aware of how this was going to be the last session for a while. I sat there not really knowing what to say. How many ways are there of saying the same thing – ‘I really struggle when you aren’t here and my young parts are giving me hell! I literally cannot do this again. It nearly killed me last time!’…

Imagine my surprise when Anita told me that having spoken with her partner, that this time they were planning to stay here. She said she may need to go to their other place to check on the house every now and then just to check pipes etc but the plan was to be here most of the time and so, therefore, I could have my face-to-face sessions if I wanted them because she knows how I need them and that we could find a way to make it work.

Honestly, I could have cried.

She said she understood that I wouldn’t be able to make daytime sessions and that two sessions a week would probably be tricky for me given how much I work, but she wondered if we might do a longer session one night a week and then have one online to keep touching base? I mentally scanned my timetable. I work every evening of the week but knew that I could move an evening session or two to during the day, during lockdown, as my students are not in school. I just needed to run it by my wife and see if she could commit to being home from work by 6pm one night a week.

I told Anita that this would be amazing. I felt the tension I was holding in my body lessen and promptly burst into tears. The relief was palpable. Anita came and sat beside me and I cuddled into her and cried and shook for ages. My system finally settled after about twenty minutes as I tuned into her heartbeat and her breathing and I could feel myself almost drifting off to sleep. The week leading into this session had been absolutely exhausting. I was emotionally done in.

My wife agreed that she could get home on a Tuesday night and I went ahead and arranged my sessions with A. We booked in 90-minute sessions for these times…although next week I can’t go Tuesday evening but will go during the day on Friday as my wife is home. It makes an impossibly long stint between sessions, though.

I even struggled on Monday not having my regular session this week. I just think that there has been so much upheaval that my system is off its tits. I’ve been so unsettled and jumpy and generally just struggling to get through. It’s been absolutely manically busy trying to teach my children and fit in work. I was actually a couple of minutes late to two of my own lessons last week (shudder) because I was caught trying to sort out technical issues on my kids’ devices trying to access live lessons on Microsoft Teams. It’s felt relentless and stressful and I just can’t sustain it for very much longer. The nightmares started up last night so I know I am dangerous ground.

Anyway, I was so so so relieved to be able to go and see Anita on Tuesday evening. But FFS…parts of me had other ideas about it when we got there. It was so dark, and I was so tired driving that when I arrived, I was just flaked out. The room felt really bright/light and A made the fatal error of sitting in her chair. It was the last thing I needed. Everything instantly felt wrong. I had so hoped to just be able to go, relax, and talk about the stuff that was bothering me – the Em stuff…and the fact that it was a year since Anita and I had met, the relief I felt about being able to see her in person…but no…ugh!

The critic stepped up really quickly, instead. That hasn’t happened in ages. My ‘false adult’ talked about shit that had gone on in the week – filler – for 30 minutes, all the while hoping that the critical part would move out. But it didn’t. It had all the vulnerable parts locked down. From then on it just all started falling apart inside. I couldn’t connect at all because the critic was so on her game.

Anita was amazing, so calm and kind. She asked me if I wanted her to come and sit with me and I refused. Of course I wanted her to sit beside me but how could I admit that? The critic would never allow that need to be shown. The young parts, by now, were absolutely distraught. Anita kept steadily reassuring me and asking what I needed but I couldn’t say. I was so overwhelmed. It was agony. I could see the clock ticking down. I felt awful.

I managed to ask Anita if we could turn the light off and put the little lamp on instead. I felt so exposed under the bright light and so distant. Immediately, things felt a bit better. It felt more intimate and less exposing being in a softly lit room. It was a relief to have a gentle orangey glow rather than the ‘big light’ in the ceiling doing its thing.

Anita told me that she felt like we were a long way apart and asked me if it would be ok, now, if she came closer to me. I barely nodded but at least it wasn’t a flat refusal like earlier. Maybe the critic was backing off a tiny bit? A kept gently talking to me, telling me she was still here, and did I want a hug.

YES…

But the critic said ‘No’.

FOR FUUCKKKK’S SAKE!

I told Anita that I couldn’t feel her and I felt like I wasn’t there either. It was that impossible situation where you are so disconnected from yourself that you cannot connect with others. It’s shit.

Finally, my barriers came down enough that I let out a huge sob and my body convulsed. I couldn’t hold it in anymore. Anita moved over to me instantly and held me for the last ten minutes of the session whilst I sobbed and convulsed in her arms. It was so fucking painful. I needed her, that holding, so much and yet I had deprived myself of it for 80 minutes. WTAF?

I settled just as the session was coming to an end, which is something at least, but what a fucking performance! I left the session feeling so confused and upset with myself. What had just happened? I drove home trying to work it out in my mind and wrote this email to A first thing on Wednesday morning:

Hi A,

I’m trying to work out what happened last night so I can try and put it to one side before the craziness of the day kicks in. I feel really sad about it.

Driving home last night all I could come up with is how when I feel overwhelmed, I disconnect from myself just to survive day-to-day life because it’s too much for me…and that’s how it feels right now. I feel like I am hanging on by my fingertips. When it’s like that I want more than anything to feel safe and to feel connected to you, but my autopilot kicks in and some part of me feels it’s safer to go it alone than let you in or reach out.

In the past when I have felt scared and stressed and anxious there has never been anyone there to help me. No one has seen how hard I struggle – of if they have, they’ve ignored me and left me to manage on my own or shamed me for my need. And my brain hasn’t updated and got the memo that I am not completely on my own now, and that you aren’t going to shame me or reject me. I get that the isolation I feel is created by me, now – not because it’s real anymore but it doesn’t make it feel any less real in the moment.

When I disconnect from myself it’s meant to be protective. I am numbed enough to get through the days. Only I’m not quite cut off because I feel like my senses are being attacked even with my armour on. My nervous system is on alert. I get jumpy and feel unsafe – last night even you speaking sometimes or moving in your chair made me physically jump. It’s nothing you did – you were nothing but gentle and kind but my system is on overdrive. It’s crazy hypervigilant. Everything is heightened – my sense of smell is off the chart at the moment. And I understand that this is a somatic response to feeling threatened (as in life is too hard right now) but it’s hell to be in it. My brain works overtime trying to work out what’s going on and if things are ok – so even something as simple as you sitting in your chair gets filtered through my distorted lens and gets read as ‘she doesn’t want to be near you’.

There is definitely a part that is trying to protect me from being/feeling abandoned. Change and disruption is just about the worst thing for my system (that’s not new news!). Seeing you last night, at night wasn’t all that big of a deal – yes it felt a bit different but it wasn’t that that destabilised me. It was the realisation that, when I stopped and stepped out of my life for a minute that I feel like I am not coping and actually it was going to be ten days until I see you again in person. That feels like a lifetime right when every day is a struggle – especially to the young parts. And I know this is not your doing, this is my life and my commitments getting in the way of things but try explaining that to the young parts that just don’t understand it at all.

I know it’s counterintuitive to stay away, not connect, and not let myself get what I need when you are sitting there in the same room with me, but there’s a part of me that feels as though if I get close to you then it’ll be harder when it’s taken away again and I think this is also part of the hangover from the last lockdown and Christmas break.

You’d think, by now, I would know that this actually doesn’t help at all but it’s not conscious when it’s happening. I am not deliberately putting myself in a prison cell. I want to get out but as I said it feels like I have my hands tied behind my back. I can’t override that part because it’s so powerful. I know you were there, you kept telling me, and yet I can’t hear it when I am like that, I can’t feel it, but even when I do start to hear it, I can’t move towards you because I’m frozen. The only thing that seems to break through that numbness is when you touch me.

I wish it didn’t feel so painful and exposing to say, ‘I feel shit, things are hard, it feels like it’s falling apart inside can you sit next to me and can I just cuddle you tonight to try and make things feel better?’ I get that was what you were trying to tell me I could ask for, but it’s impossible when I feel gagged and bound.

I know that what’s going on now really isn’t helped by the events of this time last year. I feel like my level of need has ramped up again…(how much higher can it get?!) and I really, really don’t want that to show…I mean I know it does…so I am wasting my time…but actually I really, really don’t want you to reach your limit and tell me I am too much and send me away. I can’t get that ‘tick’ comment out my brain and the critical parts has latched onto it.

Anyway, that’s about it.

Speak to you on Friday and thank you for persevering with me xxx

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And so that’s where we are at. Online session tomorrow and eekkk…I don’t even know where to start!

Three Weeks Online…

I knew that the return to online sessions, after so much deep work and holding had taken place in the room, was going to be challenging but even I couldn’t have predicted quite how difficult it was going to feel being back on screen again with Anita. Oh, the irony of the pre-emptive message I sent at the end of our last face-to-face session!:

The next few weeks is going to be really tough and I’m going to try really hard not to have another meltdown over it, but I’ll just apologise in advance for myself now just in case. Please take elephant with you and don’t forget about me xx

Eek! Let’s just hide!

During the first lockdown Anita and I worked together from mid-March through to mid-August online and whilst it wasn’t ideal, it wasn’t a complete train crash either – well not initially, anyway. There are a few reasons I can think of as to why this is.

Firstly, in March we had only been seeing each other for a couple of months. We were building the relationship and it was feeling good but I was still very guarded, still very much in my adult- the really vulnerable parts hadn’t made their way into the room yet.  

Secondly, in March I think a lot of us were just in a panic about COVID, we really didn’t know what to expect, or how bad it might be- I mean people were bulk buying bog roll and stripping the super market shelves of pasta for goodness sake! (Not me personally, but you know what I mean!) Everything stopped: we were properly locked down – not this bizarre non-lock down that we’ve had the last month where B&M and all sorts of places have managed to call themselves ‘essential retail’!

The rules and guidance were so strict last time round that there wasn’t any room for manoeuvre. It was online therapy or nothing – it was as though mental health provision was completely overlooked and therapy was lumped in with hairdressers and nail bars. I mean, my hairdresser is fab, and I certainly needed my roots doing at the end of lockdown but not getting my hair done didn’t send me over the edge, whereas not getting to see A did, in the end.

I think the government has maybe learnt a few lessons this time round and has made it clear that mental health services can run face-to-face because actually even ‘normal’ people have struggled this year. Of course, this guidance doesn’t really help people who have been stuck online throughout, or whose therapists think they are doing fine online (when they really aren’t!), or don’t feel willing or comfortable to return to the therapy room just yet…or go and bubble somewhere else! I get a lot of emails from people with C-PTSD saying how bloody awful working online is – and I get it. I really, really do.

Anyway, online therapy only started to feel really tough at the end of June although I have friends who have been in therapy for a long time and it was hell from the start (which is what’s happened this time for me). Even when the relationship is built and the attachment is strong not getting to be in the room is really traumatising for the young parts who haven’t yet developed object constancy. Most of us struggle from week to week, or certainly on breaks, so a protracted period of disruption to therapy is hard. I actually don’t think therapists realise how bad it has been.

Things only started to feel difficult for me in the summer when the attachment stuff really kicked in and the child parts were now present and invested in the relationship. As I said to Anita in a text, at the time, up until that point she could really have been anyone, I needed a therapist to process what had happened with Em but I wasn’t attached to her yet. I liked her a lot. I thought she was a good fit for me, but my protectors had been taking it slow and so working online felt ok, the distance was manageable because I was distanced anyway – to an extent.

But then suddenly it wasn’t ok anymore. Like a switch had been flicked. Suddenly those online sessions felt painful and distanced and not enough. Nothing had changed from Anita’s side but EVERYTHING had changed from mine. And it was from that point that the mini-ruptures started to happen. I felt disconnected over some text exchanges and cancelled a session (for about half an hour until we sorted it out!) and then I had that epic meltdown when I found out A had been for a walk with another client.

All these big reactions stemmed from those young parts feeling hurt and abandoned. I had spent so long being cagey and disconnected, ‘talking but not really’, protecting those vulnerable parts that when those parts felt safe enough, they attached in the biggest way to A. It must have been like witnessing a change of seasons from summer to winter overnight. Watch out – here comes the crazy tantrums!

I know I am lucky because eventually I could resume face-to-face sessions but that six weeks or so where things had shifted felt like an eternity for those little parts who just wanted to be close to her and hug her and who got triggered by the screen.

The return to the room was so great in August and it’s been mind-blowing, really, how much things have moved on and the level of vulnerability and emotional intimacy that has happened. I almost don’t recognise myself…or…I do recognise myself but I am staggered that I am letting someone else see these parts of me.

The fact that I have been able to cry with A is huge. All those years with Em and I never felt safe enough to connect with my feelings like I do with Anita. It was only in our termination session that tears came with Em– how on earth can you sit in a room with someone for all those years, talking about the stuff we do, and not be able to let it out?

It wasn’t safe.

Simply that.

I had suspected all along that if I cried, she would leave me high and dry and, on that day, when my heart was breaking, she saw my pain and looked away before walking away. It was utterly horrific. It felt cruel, actually.

Anyway, ugh, enough of that. What a lot of preamble to get to the point where I talk about the last few weeks online with A.

Where to start, though? I mean I guess I’ll begin by saying I’m not proud of how I have behaved at times. As I said, whilst I knew it was going to a challenge working online, I had no idea that I was going to lose my shit in the way I did, as frequently as I did. Fuck! Poor Anita!

This is going to be a sort of summary because I actually can’t remember what happened in each specific session or even what happened in a chronological order. It’s kind of a blur. My system was so dysregulated and triggered that all I can say for sure is that RB was a handful and Anita deserves a medal for putting up with me….and also that I am so, so glad it’s over and we are back face-to-face. Well, that is until Christmas break which is imminent.

GROAN!

Please pray for me!

I think, probably, as I can’t remember what was going on it’s probably best to describe what happens online and why it’s triggering because it’s pretty much always the same. Basically, the screen goes live and immediately my system inside feels a million miles away from A. It’s a painful reminder of how far apart we are, or how alone I am. I so badly want to see her, and feel connected but it just feels like there are so many barriers. I struggle enough with Anita sitting in her chair in the therapy room and feeling like it’s too far away so being in completely different locations behind a screen is just a total nightmare.

As I said in the post the other day, remote working hooks back into the separation of being away from my mum between the ages of 5-11 and then I guess my dad being gone 11-16, or even when I was 9months-3.5 years. My whole life has been punctuated by caregivers not being there. Although I do think it’s the bit from being 5 with mum that is the biggest trigger.

I used to speak on the phone on a Wednesday with my mum and it was rubbish. Never enough time and always disrupted by the beeps. It just felt like I was perpetually hanging on to feel safe and connected (not that this actually happened when she was home but I guess that’s what I hoped for). This is exactly how it feels online with A. We both know it’s not the same online. We both know it’s triggering for the young parts. There’s not a great deal we can do about it other than sit it out. I guess the positive is that when we do actually see each other in real life there is sense of re-connecting and holding… but the waiting is horrendous.

If I can manage to stay in my adult then online is just about ok. The last/final session of this lockdown we had online was like this, but at the same time I just feel like I am disconnected from myself and actually kind of hiding from A. At least, though, if I can do that and talk about stuff that is hard but not impacting the child parts I don’t get the rage and hang up the call…which happened a few times in the last few weeks.

So, yeah, the feeling of disconnection online seems to get worse and worse as the calls go on. No matter what A says or does, no matter how much she tries to reassure me, tell me she’s still there, or that she’s coming back, or loves me – none of it goes in, it just bounces off. I can hear it but I don’t feel it. At all. It’s so painful. The longer this goes on, the harder it becomes, and then eventually the teen part comes online because those child parts are in agony. This is where the fun really begins. Jesus.

The teen’s protective anger is like lighting the touch paper and…BANG! Everyone take cover!!

It was Friday 13th November the day that everything went off the rails…I mean omen or what?! I can’t even remember what Anita said on that first day I put the phone down on her but I think it was something really innocuous like, ‘you’ve survived this before (as a child) and you’ll survive it again now. Sometimes it’s hard to keep know what’s in the here and now and what’s in the past’. Adult me knows what she meant but, unfortunately, I wasn’t here then and that sentence was like a red rag to a bull.

Eek!

Like, ok, sure, I survived this stuff as a kid – but look at the damage that it’s done!! And now you’re saying I’m supposed to be comforted by the fact that I have a fucking great survival skills and can tolerate just about anything because I have learnt to? But the detrimental impact on me is enormous: my nervous system has been totally battered; I can’t sleep, and when I do sleep I jolt awake at 2am feeling sick and like there’s a black hole in my chest; I’m dissociated to the point that I am burning myself by putting my hands in the oven not realising I haven’t got a tea towel or oven glove; and I feel tearful and unsafe ALL THE TIME…but sure, I’ll get through it because I have no other choice…

It just gave me the rage because, yes, this is familiar territory – but let’s be clear here, this was triggered because A had gone away (which she is totally entitled to do btw!)! And, ok, yes it was hooking into all sorts from the past, but I was hurting in the here and now because she was gone and I had thought she wouldn’t be.

We’ve since talked about how these kinds of statements- ‘you’ll get through it’- don’t help. I don’t want her to fix it or tell me I can cope with it, I need her to sit with me and accept my feelings and validate my experience of what’s going on. Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself…

I think I said, ‘I don’t want to talk to you’ – we were only about ten minutes into the session- and hung up. I think in person I would have been able to say why I was so upset by that comment but when I don’t feel connected online I just can’t. Everything feels wrong. It feels like everything is falling apart and the relationship isn’t real.

There was so much conflict going on inside as a sat in my living room – I felt so angry, but underneath that, just really hurt and unseen. The little parts were distraught. What had I done?

Fuckkk.

The reality of this, for those parts, is if the teen expresses anger is that’s the therapy finished. I did this just once, last January, and look what happened. GAME OVER. The absolute terror that flooded my system when I realised what I had just done with A was huge.

Then a message came up on my phone:

I’m still here if you want to talk. I can hear you’re angry and that’s ok. I still love and care about you and am ok to hear your anger. I accept you as a whole, good and bad xx

I stared at my phone for a minute. What on earth was I meant to do with that? The shame that was building felt huge. I felt like such a fucking idiot. How many times does A need to prove herself for me to understand and be able to hold onto the fact that she is there with me and is safe?

I wanted to talk to her, I didn’t want to be hanging onto this crap all weekend and so I rang her back and pointed my phone up to the ceiling. I couldn’t bear to be seen – not after this performance. The child parts were right there and it was so hard to talk.

I can’t remember if it was on this occasion where I disconnected the call or the next time I did it on Zoom…

(OMG I JUST WANT TO CRAWL INTO A HOLE AND DIE THINKING ABOUT HOW IT’S BEEN!)

…but it’s all one and the same, the teen part was so angry – and said, ‘you have no idea what you’re dealing with’ and Anita responded, ‘not up to the job?’ and I replied ‘yeah’. Oh, fuck me! I cannot believe I said that. Because let’s be clear, if she’s not up to the job then there is no one out there who will be and I don’t want to do this with anyone else!

I told her I was angry. ‘At me leaving?’ she asked. Yep. Of course. But we quickly understood that the anger is just Sad’s bodyguard. Things started to feel better and I apologised for pushing her away. I think this might have been the day where A told me she wasn’t going anywhere, ‘I’m like a boomerang – you can push me away but I’ll keep coming back until you decide you don’t want me anymore’ but like I say, I have totally lost my chronology because it’s generally felt like one long drawn out struggle all about the same thing – I don’t do separation well!

I wonder what it feels like to them (therapists) when are like this? Because I know I’m not pleasant. I know that really, when I push away it’s because I need connection so badly and I can’t feel it, so it feels safer to run away then sit in the discomfort of feeling alone/abandoned and find out that what I fear is actually real. I’d sooner cut and run than be dumped. But how must it feel to be trying your best to be there for someone and nothing that you do be good enough – and then get a personal attack because of it?

I really hope Anita knows that I value her, love her, and am so grateful for everything she does for me because honestly working with her has changed my life.

I might have fallen on my arse this month but, actually, overall things are SO MUCH BETTER!

I do generally apologise in session, or text afterwards when I have had a meltdown and I feel really lucky that I can send her a message as sitting on this stuff feels hard, because that part that fears abandonment will run riot if I feel like I have left things on a rupture because I’d convince myself that she would leave. This is one of my many, many messages over this period:

A, I really love you and I am so sorry that I push you away. It’s just utter hell. As I said before, the more I need you or miss you – but feel like I can’t reach/feel you – the harder I push away. It’s a desperate self-protection strategy. If I say I don’t want to talk to you or do this anymore, please don’t agree with me and say that’s ok because it ISN’T OK and just adds to the feeling that there is no connection and you’ll just let me go which is what that part is testing – do you actually care enough to reach out and stop me hitting self-destruct? … and that triggers all kinds of hurt from January. ‘I don’t want to do this’ / ‘ok fine’…it’s too painful. Anyway, I need you to know that I am sorry and I do understand and see what you do for me, I get you’re human. And I don’t want to lash out because I am hurting. When you come home can we have a long session and just cuddle please x And then these…

It’ll come as no surprise to you guys that A always responds warmly and shows how much she really gets it. She has this amazing way of just draining the shame and embarrassment I feel away:

Of course, we can have a longer session. I know it’s your defences that push me away and I respect them for the job they are ‘trying’ to do. That’s why it’s ok for me but that doesn’t mean I am going to go! Just like I called you back the other day and didn’t leave today when you tried to push me away. My saying ‘it’s ok’ means it’s so understable you’re feeling the way you do. Not ‘ok I will leave then’ because I know that’s not what you really want. I want to be with you for the whole journey, through the storms and the sunny days.

You’d think that getting messages like that and multiple hug gifs and little demonstrations that she’s still there would have been enough for me to not have any further meltdowns.

You’d be wrong!

By the 23rd of November my system was totally tanking. Talk about walking, talking, pile of disaster and need! I just really needed for A to come home and to cuddle her. Or at least to know when she might be home. I had started to panic that lockdown might be extended and that I might not end up seeing Anita until the new year. It was catastrophising 101 in my brain but it was a product of the panic and feelings of disconnect that were swirling inside. I know December and January are going to be hard this year. My brain is already serving me up flashbacks to what it was like in those final sessions with Em last year ☹ and so the thought of online on top was just awful for the little parts.

I haven’t the feintest clue about what triggered me into disconnecting the call that Monday. I have absolutely no recollection of the call at all. All I know I can see on my phone records that A tried to call me back twice and I didn’t pick up. The only reason I know what’s gone on is from the texts we exchanged afterwards. I was so triggered that I text her and told her that I didn’t want to do this anymore… it felt really, really bad.

As usual A was there, solid, supportive, reassuring and somehow it came out in the texts that she would be back next the next week whatever happened, lockdown or not. The relief I felt was palpable but there was also anger. Why hadn’t she told me this before? She genuinely thought she had, but somewhere along the line things got missed. Either way, it was enough to help me just about get a handle on myself – and for the distressed young parts to see some kind of light at the end of the tunnel. It was like counting down sleeps until Christmas – not even joking!

These online sessions have been hard (understatement) in lots of ways but I guess one thing I would say is that if Anita was in any doubt of the terrain we are working on before this lockdown she isn’t now. I suppose if I put the shame and embarrassment to one side and try and find the positives in what’s happened over the last month, it’d be that I must trust and feel safe enough with A to be able to express myself in this way…i.e whatever is there comes up in whichever way it needs to. Part of me must know and believe that she is what and who she says she is, and is in for the long haul otherwise there’s no way I would let this stuff out. I’d still be ‘a good girl’ and not a show her the ‘hurt, angry girl’.

Anyway, this is bloody enormous again – and not even that good of a summary of the last month or so! Thankfully we’re now back face-to-face which has been awesome but also … exhausting. I guess almost a month of holding everything in (or at least trying to) means it has to come out now!  

p.s I’m sorry about the GIF overload!! LOL!

Rewind: Fantasy Becomes A Reality

Ah man! Things are a freaking mess! Anita and have been back to online therapy for the last two sessions and all I can say is that it is going even worse than I imagined it would – the fact we also had a 40 minute check in midweek (woeful Wednesday) before we’d even gone online should tell you how it’s been. Help!

The youngest parts of me feel like they are spiralling through the abyss. I can’t seem to ground or find safety and staring at my computer screen trying to connect to A is just horrendous. The child parts feel unseen, invisible, trapped (even though A is trying to reach them and reassure them) and then they feel more and more disconnected, more and more desperate, and then just really sad because the moment the call ends that’s it – I am left dealing with the fallout of that painful disconnect in the time between sessions. Again, I am not actually alone because A has been there, really been there, but to those parts anything short of physical proximity just doesn’t cut it.

It’s so noisy inside: my system is having an epic meltdown. It’s so frustrating. I feel so sad inside. So alone. But also these last few days I’ve felt grumpy and angry (raging) and generally just out of sorts. I am snapping at everyone. I can’t seem to keep my cool. I can’t tell you how many times I have muttered the words, ‘Please just shut the fuck up!’ under my breath.

I don’t want to be like this. I don’t like this version of myself but I know it is a product of being stretched and stressed beyond my limits and so am trying to exercise a bit of compassion towards myself…which is easier said than done.

Really, my rage is just a mask. Actually, I just want to run away and hide so that I don’t have to interact with anyone and can avoid an argument but can also just howl into the void and loneliness. Or, truthfully, I just want to be in Anita’s therapy room, with her, trying to get me back into some kind of window of tolerance…but that can’t happen so for now I swing between rage and avoidance.

It’s thoroughly exhausting being like this. I hate that I am so easily destabilised. I cannot believe that I have gone from feeling so safe, so held, so contained, to completely abandoned and unsafe in the course of a couple of weeks. I should be more equipped to deal with these feelings because this was what it was like for most of the therapy with Em.

The thing is, my system was just beginning to settle, beginning to be a little less on ‘high alert’, it was starting to trust and relax into the relationship with A….and now it’s fucked again! I mean, it’s not totally wrecked, I do trust her, I do believe she’ll come back. I do believe she really cares about me – loves me…but right now there’s parts that are so shook up that it’s hard to hang onto that.

I am so far behind with my posts now that I don’t know what to do, where to start, or even what to say. I’ve been sitting on the floor by my fire all day, paralysed. My laptop has been on the sofa and I just haven’t even known where to begin with it all. I could talk about the two positive ‘repair’ sessions before A went away last week, but as good as they were/felt I realise that now she’s gone we essentially stuck a band aid on a wound that needs stitches and heavy duty dressings. I could talk about the return to online therapy but ugh… it’ll just upset me more. So…what I think I am going to do it post about the stuff that I had the wobbles over.

Loads of you have asked for the password for this stuff and I really thank you for reaching out, sharing your stories with me, and letting me know that you’ve found my blog helpful in some way. Sometimes when I am sitting here in the depths of hell watching words appear on my laptop I wonder if anyone reads it. There’s a few of us die hard bloggers that have been here for ages and actively comment but other than that the only evidence we have are the blog stats- it never makes much sense that there might be seven or eight comments on a post but 150 views each day for the first few days when I post?

Anyway, this hasn’t got a password but I may retrospectively add one depending on how things feel. I am hoping that seeing as I am now drowning in attachment pain like everyone else doing online therapy they won’t begrudge what have felt like some really magical, transformational, ‘waited all my life for this’ sessions.

PLEASE DON’T BE LIKE THIS!

It all started with a horrible dream involving Em…bloody therapy dreams eh?!! I felt so awful that I just couldn’t calibrate. I felt like I was going to fall apart. It made sense to give Anita the heads up in advance so that I didn’t go in and sit there in false adult passing the time when really it was falling apart inside. So I sent this:

Hi A.

I’m all over the shop – and it’s been topped with a really painful dream that’s left me reeling:

At Em’s. It was really calm. I was talking to her about how much she’d hurt me. It was clearly my four year old part speaking and it was like Em could finally see what she was dealing with – a very hurt child, and she changed her tone completely. She let the little girl hold her hand whilst she talked which made it easier to say what she needed. Then Em took the soft pink rabbit that I was holding was me and held it to her. She talked about it, asked its name, and said how lovely it was. Then she hugged it to her, kissed it gently, stroked its ears then handed it back to me. I told her I still loved her (the little girl part). And she held me. I cried. She told me she still kept me in her mind and hadn’t let me go. I asked her about the marble that 11 year old part had given her. She said she still had it. This brought that part out and she asked ‘Why did you reject me?- abandon all of us?’ Em said she didn’t know.

I haven’t dreamt about Em since the dream where I went in disguise to see her and she got angry. I’ve woken up feeling really sad and young again. It’s so painful that I feel like I’m dissociating. Yesterday in my craniosacral session that young four year old child part landed in my body with a thud, K noticed and said that the pain she can feel that part is holding is immense – so much so that I don’t even breathe properly as though that little girl is too scared to take up any room, be noticed etc – it’s hiding in a flight mode terrified.

We need to work with her. I need you to be close today as otherwise I’ll retreat because I feel so vulnerable and sad but am also reeling from the dream and the feelings of rejection abandonment is so live. I feel like I need to cry but I don’t know how to access the tears.

I feel like I’ll try and hide because this stuff is so wounded that I avoid it but it seems like I don’t have a choice but to tentatively look at it now. However the shame that floods in around all this makes it really difficult as it’s like a gag.

X

By the time I arrived at Anita’s there was a text in my phone:

I understand and will really try to be what you need x

I felt hopeful but also massively exposed and nervous as I knocked at the door. I walked in, sat down, and could feel myself disappearing, I was shaking and told her I felt like my entire system was juddering and I felt wobbly. Anita replied, ‘these dreams really impact you don’t they?’ and I nodded. Then she said, ‘It feels like we’re a long way apart, that there’s a lot of distance, and that’s not what you need. Usually we hug at the end of the session but I’m wondering if you’d like one now? And maybe I can sit next to you on the sofa?’ I nodded. She really understood what was happening and I was so relieved that she was so attuned to me.

Anita came and sat beside me on the couch. I have needed this for so many years. I have needed the therapist to take a step towards me when I am disappearing and when I feel unlovable and untouchable – I have needed the presence of the other to help pull me back. I could barely believe that it was as simple as someone coming from their chair to mine. All those years of longing for Em to cross that couple of metres that felt like miles and there was A calm and present beside me. I struggled to make eye contact. I felt so embarrassed by my message before session and despite having A right there, clearly receptive, exactly where I wanted her to be, close to me… I felt like I was drifting away.

Anita asked me, then, what that little four year old part needed? Could she say? I shook my head. There were no words just a cavern of need inside me. I’ve felt like this so many times and had Em just stare at me from across the other side of the room.

And then Anita said she felt like she just wants to hold that part and make her feel safe. She said it felt like there is so much grief to process. I nodded and said, ‘Can I have a cuddle?’ It was definitely the young part who would never use the word ‘hug’. A smiled warmly, opened her arms to me and I snuggled in close with my head on her chest. I could hear her heart beating slow and steady and I kind of had hand my hand resting on her chest – like a baby. None of it was conscious – I was so little in that moment.

It was so different from the goodbye hugs which have been great but also kind of sad because they signal the end of the session and being back out in the world- it’s not really the child parts getting hugs at the end. I lay there barely able to breathe – she gently told me it was ok and I was safe with her and that it’s ok to breathe. I could feel my system really struggling. She said, ‘She really hurt you didn’t she?’ (Em) And I held on tighter, I felt the grief rising and wanted to let her in but was also fighting it.

She kept saying really reassuring things but mainly just held me. Eventually after 5-6 minutes (but felt much longer) I relaxed, I could feel my defences letting go and my body was less rigid, and my breathing matched Anita’s – coregulation in action. I felt like I might fall asleep. It was so calming. I cannot think of a time in my life where I have felt so safe and contained…which is utterly tragic.

Then eventually I pulled away. I told her I felt embarrassed that I need that so much. ‘There’s no need to be embarrassed. We all need hugs. I don’t know anyone that doesn’t like cuddles… especially young parts. It helps them to feel safe. I think you needed a lot more than you got.’

I reached out and I held her hand for the next twenty minutes on the couch. It’s hard to describe the level of emotional intimacy that was happening or the vulnerability but it felt so safe that I just said exactly what I was feeling …which is huge! The anxiety and stress and shame of being judged that was so present in the room with Em just isn’t there with A.

I said, ‘I really like you’ and then corrected myself, ‘No. I love you.’ And she replied, ‘I really love you too’ as if it was the most natural thing in the world to say. She told me she wasn’t going anywhere and couldn’t imagine leaving me ever and that even when she’s old she’s going to have a practice because it isn’t about money to her.

Again A was just full of reassurance and care and more stuff about how hard it is to have an adult life when the child is so present and so in need. Whilst cuddled into her I asked her if she thought I was weird. It’s amazing how the young parts can talk when being held in a way that has never been possible before. She said ‘not at all’ and said she thought I was unbelievably brave and courageous and have been so badly let down by so  many people that it’s not surprising I am how I am -so scared of being hurt-but that it’s never been me or my fault. And again that she loves me.

I said ‘you don’t know me. I spend so much time hiding’ and she replied ‘I love who I see. Do you think if I see more of you I won’t like you any more?’ I nodded into her chest. She said ‘I can guarantee that won’t be the case and I think I know you better than you think’. I didn’t realise it but I was crying – little silent tears.

I whispered, ‘Why are you so nice to me?’ and A replied, ‘because you’re lovely. You’re wounded. You’re hurt but that doesn’t make you horrible. People have let you down, you haven’t let them down. That’s the difference. It feels like that to you but it doesn’t to me. It’s not your fault. People have let you down badly.’ She said that she wished she could hold me forever – as long as I needed. And then said she wanted to tuck that little girl into bed, make her feel safe, and take her to the beach and get her an ice cream and just play- be free to be a child.

‘Wouldn’t it be lovely to be a child?’ questioned A. ‘It wasn’t safe being a child’ I murmured in reply. A agreed, and said that she meant that she would like to give those parts the space to feel relaxed and safe now and maybe we can go out one day and spend some time playing at the beach. She rubbed my back gently and I breathed her in. I let out a big lumpy exhale. ‘You need more of this (cuddles) don’t you? Calmness. Feeling safe. Or as safe as you can?’ A soothed.

A tiny voice said, ‘I love you’ again and A said ‘I really love you too’.

Honestly, this woman. Thank fucking god for her!

Then a tiny voice said ‘will you look after my elephant?’ And without any hesitation she said ‘yes’… despite having no idea what I was talking about! I had brought two toy elephants with me – mum and baby – and basically the young part wanted her to keep hold of the baby so she doesn’t forget us. It’s another reverse transitional object.

Anita took the little elephant and held it to her, ‘and you keep looking after the big one’ (clear metaphor there eh?!). I said, ‘you can put him in a drawer – he won’t know’ and she replied, I feel like I want to give him a cuddle and tuck him into bed.’

I didn’t realise I was crying at this point but then I felt the tears run over my lip and gave a big snotty sniff! It was such an emotional release. To be really seen, really held, to be safe.

It was the end of the session. I got up. I smiled. And then asked for yet another hug. I said, ‘Noone has ever cuddled me like you have cuddled me today’ – my god it was vulnerability overload. ‘And that’s what you’ve missed out on isn’t it?’ said A, as she squeezed me tightly.

It felt so healing. I mean if I could have written up a fantasy therapy session this basically would have been it.

And the next session was great too!!

This is why I am trying to hang on tight to these memories as I fail to connect online. But it’s hardly surprising is it? The young parts have become used to this level of attunement, holding and safety and then suddenly have a 2D image on screen and it sucks. There is no heartbeat, there is no touch, there is none of the sensory stuff – like smell that help ground the young parts. It’s so hard!…so hard in fact that I disconnected our first online session after 5 minutes! Tantrum!

Anyway, I will get up to speed over time with this. Man I need to be back in the room!

Some Password Protected Posts Coming…

I’ve been trying to work out how I can navigate blogging about my therapy and still be able to keep some things fairly private, too. As I said in my last post, things have shifted in quite a big way lately but it also feels really vulnerable, so the best thing I can come up with for now is to write stuff but occasionally password protect some of my posts so that I don’t get months behind myself here – as primarily this is my therapy journal. At some point in the future I’ll probably remove the passwords, but for now, I think this is my best plan.

I know there are a solid few of us that regularly read and comment on each other’s posts and so if you want the password for any upcoming protected posts then just ping me a message over at:

rubberbandsandchewinggum@gmail.com

and I’ll send it…when I finally get round to writing something!! Basically, if we have interacted then I’ll give you the password – if not – some of this stuff will be closed for now but there will be other posts too.

Also, I’ve noticed in the past when other people have done this that the WordPress Reader doesn’t show that there are password protected posts when they are written – which is a pain – so what I’ll have to do is write a ‘Hi I’ve posted something over on the website’ to direct those that are interested to it. I realise that by doing this I could alienate some of my followers but at the same time there is just some stuff that I am not quite ready to have out in the world for complete strangers to read.

Hope this makes sense….and if anyone has any better ideas on how to do this I am all ears as literally got no idea what I am doing having been warts and all for all to see for such a long time!

This Is What Healing Looks Like To Me or ‘Why I need Chocolate NOT Pears (Or Ice Cubes!)’

For those of you have followed this blog over the last few years you’ll know that I have poured blood, sweat, tears, and thousands and thousands of pounds into my healing journey. The ironic thing is, it is only in the last year, since I went back to my craniosacral therapist K, and then found Anita in January, (just as my relationship with Em started to properly disintegrate) that there has been any sense of healing – like a proper felt sense that things can and are getting better on that deeper level.

I have done years of ‘therapy’, religiously going to see Em week in week out, two sessions a week and repeatedly being triggered into a place of huge pain and dissociation. It has been so hard to endure. Part of me wonders why I stayed for so long when everything felt so off. My attachment to Em was so strong, though. My child parts were completely invested in the relationship (or wanting to feel like there was a ‘relationship’) that I put myself through emotional hell – a familiar hell – of feeling so deficient, unlovable, and untouchable.

This experience of therapy with Em just poured salt in an already gaping mother wound. It was trauma bonding 101. A complete re-enactment of my childhood and a re-experiencing of the cold, distant, but shaming relationship I had with my mum. Deep down part of me knew that, but I couldn’t leave, it was familiar territory and what I had grown to expect…but just like with my mum, I really really hoped that one day things would turn around and I’d get what I needed.

I wanted to believe there was something better for me and maybe it would materialise if I just tried harder, didn’t ask for too much, and was patient. But this didn’t happen. I was shown time and again that my needs weren’t important – or even acknowledged as being valid- and that I had to take what was offered…which was very little.

It wasn’t until Em likened my young parts to a tick and had verbally rejected the gift (or said that she didn’t want to accept gifts in future and shouldn’t have taken the one at Christmas) that I knew I couldn’t go on any more. Em had hurt me and my child parts so badly that even though I loved her (and still do) I physically couldn’t put myself through it any more. As it was all coming to a head from my side it was clear that she was more than done too – as I had suspected – and she made no attempt to try and work through it with me, willing to let me go on a perfunctory two line email…after 8 years!

Looking back, I just wish I had made a clean break the day I went to see Anita to test the waters about a different therapy/therapist. I knew instantly that A was a good fit and that I wanted to work with her but I also wanted to try for a ‘decent ending’ with Em– that illusive thing! I wish I had have taken more heed of the concerns A raised about Em’s conduct and just cut my losses before things had chance to get any worse.

If only I had just walked away then rather than waiting to see what might happen, giving it one last go at trying to work it through, and STUPIDLY handing her the power back, then the biggest injury would have been avoided. I would have felt rejected and abandoned whatever happened but I wouldn’t be stuck with this sick feeling of people I care about seeing me as a parasite.

Ouch.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing isn’t it? I guess I hoped that she would reflect on what I told her about how hurt I was about the session leading into Christmas, the break, and the first session back, accept her part in things, acknowledge my feelings, and find a way to move forward – rupture and repair in action. But no. What happened was horrific, her response telling her how hurt I felt was, ‘your young parts are like a tick’ and before I knew it everything was unravelling at speed.

Clearly, I am still not over what happened in this therapy and every time I get close to Anita there’s a voice in my head that says, ‘This is dangerous, don’t let her too close, don’t let her see the need because you’ll frighten her away – she’ll think you’re a tick, too’. And I hate that. I hate that what Em said still hurts like hell all these months on, but I also hate that it impacts how I relate to Anita.

I cannot really explain how different it feels being with Anita. She makes me feel safe and cared for and yet even when there is real closeness between us we’re lumbered with the legacy that Em has left. I know it is going to take a lot of therapy and care to repair the damage done because Em has basically shattered all the young parts of me that were trying to trust and heal, but not only that, she’s also taken a huge swipe at my adult self. I am so grateful that A is on my side though, and willing to do the work with me….as slow and painstaking as it is.

I guess in some way I am grateful to Em (am I?!). I learnt a lot about myself in the therapy with her. Parts of myself I didn’t even know existed made themselves known to me through being in ‘relationship’ with her. Unfortunately, these vulnerable young child parts were abandoned in that room. She frequently told me I was abandoning my young parts but if that was true, then so was she. I have so often felt like I am on the verge of drowning just trying to keep us all afloat and taking myself to therapy was not an act of abandonment on my part. It’s hard living an adult life without having to carry the terror and pain of a minibus full of activated child parts too – therapy was meant to help with that (and it does now- phew!).

Over the years, I have spent a lot of time researching and finding out more about my ‘stuff’. I guess I used that well-worn strategy ‘intellectualising’ to try and make sense of the situation! I have read so many books on attachment, trauma, shame, dissociation, and the therapeutic relationship – and, of course, blogs – looking for the answers, learning how to move forward and heal, and whilst that didn’t happen with Em, I feel like I at least know myself now and confident that I am not the only person on earth struggling with this stuff. I know what’s wrong. I understand what the injury is. AND I know what I need to heal it. I’ve always known – I just haven’t been able to get what I needed until now.

After years of being told what I need by Em, like she was some magic oracle that knew what ‘people like me’ need to heal I can categorically say what I need is not what was on offer with her! Maybe her strategies work with some clients, but I struggle to see how anyone with Complex Trauma would have responded well to her ‘techniques’. As I mentioned recently in another post, I saw something by Carolyn Spring that says that when we are in distress, we don’t need strategies or techniques, we need a person. And it’s that simple. It’s not rocket science, it it? Relational trauma needs healing in relationship. Em didn’t really do relationship. She watched me as I struggled and suffered – like some kind of poor rodent in a science experiment.

I have talked and talked and got nowhere and over time replaced talking with more and more dissociation. Simply being in the same room with Em triggered me. I’d feel dysregulated before I even arrived at the session but I was always so hopeful that maybe this time I’d get what I needed having hung on desperately through the week in attachment hell waiting to see her.

I don’t think people that haven’t got this kind of trauma/injury have even the slightest idea of how bloody harrowing it is being stuck in the attachment hell zone – feeling like the world is literally falling apart, like you can’t breathe for the pain of it, and being completely terrified. When it gets bad like that I know, for me, it’s largely pre-verbal and it is so scary feeling completely abandoned, uncontained, and as though you are falling through some kind of internal black abyss. That’s crappy, but then there’s all the other feelings that can come in from other parts- the apathy, the rage, the self-loathing, the wanting to cut and run…it’s just awful.

My window of tolerance became so small in the end that I felt unsafe being with Em. I was always braced for more rejection, more shaming, more disconnection. My body was always so tense – so much so that it would hurt. More than anything I wanted to feel safe with her and that’s why I kept going – the child parts hoped that one day she’d help them and so they hid behind the sofa, peeking out, waiting and waiting to be seen and cared for. Only when she did get glimpses of who was there she freaked out, put walls up, and distanced herself even further. It was though I would sometimes be brave enough to take one step forward and she’d immediately take two (twenty!) steps back.

I don’t know what it is about that young parts that triggered her so badly but I do wonder if there is unresolved childhood trauma for her that my stuff tapped into and she just couldn’t bear to be near it. Or maybe she just didn’t like me and was content to keep taking the money. Long-term clients with attachment disorders coming twice a week are certainly a reliable source of income. We don’t ever not turn up! lol.

There is so sadness about this. At times it got so bad that I came close to destroying myself. My go to coping strategies were so active – some of the worst periods of anorexic behaviour and self-harm happened whilst in the therapy with Em because I couldn’t cope with the pain of the attachment and how alone I felt. I feel so upset about it all because it could have been so different. Handled well, it could have been so healing.

I tried really hard to do what Em said. I wanted to believe that what she suggested could work for me. I don’t want to feel this way forever – that’s why I am in therapy in the first place! I tried to engage with whatever she asked: the visualisations- ‘just imagine holding your distressed child parts’ – but it wasn’t me the child parts wanted or needed at that point– and she knew that and shamed me for it.

When it was really bad and I was heavily dissociated somewhere out in the cold alone, embodying that exiled child part, there was no adult self to help me and Em just left me stranded – sometimes for the entire session. I don’t doubt that someday soon I will be able to hold and contain these young parts for myself but back then there was no chance. I didn’t know how.

When you are terrified and in a child state you can’t just pick yourself up and make it better for yourself – especially if there’s no template to work from. How can you imagine being held and feeling safe if you’ve never experienced being held or feeling safe? It’s not just visualisations, though. I’ve done all sorts; I made my eyes follow blue dots on an I-pad over and over (yet another tool to avoid talking about what was going on between us in the room). I have tried everything Em threw at me and yet none of it worked.

I have tried to believe that being ignored during the week between sessions was for the best, that somehow my massively distressed young parts who feared that she was never coming back (like all those years where my mum was gone in the week when I was little) or perhaps dead (like my dad) would learn that she was there in session. I tried to convince myself that I didn’t need a transitional object, check ins…the list goes on and on …because she was unwilling to concede an inch so maybe I must stupid for thinking these things might help and how dare I ask for anything more than the bare minimum – clearly, she knew best – deprivation and isolation was best?! But I did need more and now that I am getting those things, it really really makes a massive difference.

I have never been able to feel safe in therapy because what I needed more than anything was a person. I needed a relationship in which to begin to build trust and someone to feel safe with. I needed someone who realised and accepted that there were lots of parts of me (some really badly hurt) and they each need something different and communicate in different ways. My child parts were reluctant to come to session with Anita- and who can blame them after what happened in January- but I’ve found they are pretty good at communicating with Gifs and emojis! I have sent more texts in the last week to A than I did in the entire time I worked with Em – eek!

Anita’s willingness to allow those young parts to tentatively take steps towards her from outside the room and for her to have responded in a way that they understand, has meant that now, they have felt safe enough to come to therapy and are well and truly in the room…I could not have done that if we hadn’t spent the last 9 months laying the foundations via text. Em was blank screen. Teflon. She wanted no contact. Anita is present, real, and connected. She actually seems to like me…better than like me (yay!)…which is nice but it means that what and who needs to be work with can safely turn up.

I wish I had been able to advocate better for myself with Em. Deep down we all know what we need to heal. Sometimes that doesn’t align with what the other person can do, it doesn’t fit their training or system of working, their personality – and that is fine – we can’t force a therapist to be someone they’re not (even if they seem to want to force a square peg through a round hole where we are concerned!). I just wish they’d say something early on like, ‘What you need and want is completely valid and understandable as you’ve had so much wounding but I can’t offer that’ and refer us out rather than saying things like, ‘The time for getting what you need has passed and you need to learn to hold this for yourself. I won’t collude with those young parts. If I did what you wanted it wouldn’t help you in the long run.’

Whilst I understand I can’t get a new childhood or a new mum, I can have a relationship with my therapist that is safe, caring, and loving in order that the wounding from my childhood can be gently healed. I can have someone who is on my side ready to hold my hand and support me when I go to the really dark places. It is ok to expect to be in a relationship with someone who you share the most vulnerable and wounded parts of yourself. I can’t express it strongly enough – it is the relationship that heals not the theory.

And so what happened with Em? I stayed, sort of believing her narrative that I was not trying hard enough to heal (even though I work so fucking hard both inside and outside of sessions)– that I was in some way treatment resistant so just need to try harder, let her in more, stop dissociating. And then when I did that, when I gave her my notebooks, her reaction was so bad that it ended.

Here’s a crap analogy for what my therapy has been like…buckle up we’re on course for one of my extended rambling metaphors!:

I think it’s a bit like when you’re a kid and you feel sad and want a treat. You may really want a bar of chocolate – know that a bar of chocolate is what would make you feel better- and yet the parent keeps offering you a pear because ‘they know what’s best for you’. You chew on the pear but really, deep down you wanted chocolate. I mean, of course, there are some similarities between a pear and a chocolate bar- both are sweet- but we all know a pear is not a reasonable substitution for a chocolate bar no matter what they say about the health benefits!

Imagine being a child, and every week asking for chocolate and every week being told ‘No – you can only have pear! You may think you need a chocolate bar, but you’re wrong. Pear is what you need. Pear is all that’s on offer. You’ll soon learn that pears are the best thing for you.’ And that’s hard to take on board because it feels impossible that that can be true…

But it gets worse, alongside this, whilst you’ve got acid indigestion from so much fucking pear, the parent repeatedly tells you how much chocolate you’ve missed out on in your life so far. Then saying that despite having some chocolate right there with them, that they won’t give any to you ever, and maybe you could find some way to imagine what it would be like to taste chocolate whilst you’re struggling to stomach the pear.

The pear is definitely not what you want but you are naturally compliant and so take it and wonder why you aren’t good enough to be given the chocolate. Week after week you’re handed pear but you’re quickly sick of it, the taste, the texture, how it makes you feel sick inside- everything about pear feels wrong. It’s not chocolate. At this point you’d even settle for a cocoa dusted slice of pear…but no…you’ve got pear and pear only.

Eventually, it reaches a point where you just cannot put another piece of pear in your mouth. And the parent keeps on, ‘How about we try this shaped pear today? Or perhaps we could juice it?’ as though it would be any different from all the other slabs and slices and cups you’ve forced down your neck over the months and years. You internally groan. You’re not stupid though, you stopped asking for the chocolate a long time ago because it just got painful being refused it over and over again.

You clearly don’t deserve chocolate and so now you’ve tried to convince yourself that chocolate is bad and dangerous because that’s what parent has said… but it’s never really worked because your soul knows what you need. And part of you hoped that if you kept up with the pear long enough, maybe one day you’d be rewarded with just a tiny square of chocolate. The parent thinks they’ve won the battle because you don’t ever talk of chocolate now, but inside you’re really sad – why is a bit of chocolate so forbidden? How can something that tastes so good be wrong?  

Time goes on and by now you’re so sick of pear, that it’s reached the point where it’s making you sick and you have nightmares about being handed pear. Just the thought of it makes you want to gag and you cry. Until one day you crack. You can’t do it any more, the revulsion to the pear is so severe that you vomit it back up all over the floor, and it’s not just pear, it’s years of emotional pain spewing out, and you scream ‘I DON’T LIKE PEAR! I hate pear. I have tried it. I really have. But it’s not helping me. It actually makes me feel ill. I really just need some chocolate!!’ and the parent looks at you with disgust and coldly says. ‘I don’t do chocolate and if you won’t eat pear then you’ll have to go’. It’s as simple as that.

So, you go somewhere else, a foster home, crying, sad, not really knowing what you need anymore, what you are entitled to ask for. You don’t even really care about chocolate now, you just know you can’t stomach another pear and you pray that this new home doesn’t force feed them to you too.

You walk in the door and the new parent talks to you kindly, it’s bizarre, so alien!… and immediately says that chocolate is completely ok in this house like it’s the most natural thing in the world. Indeed, they offer you a chocolate bar. You don’t even have to ask for it! Apparently a plentiful supply of chocolate bars are what is needed when a child like you has been deprived chocolate all its life. And it’s ok to want that and ask for that. And, furthermore, if you don’t like pear then you never have to eat it again. When you leave the house and look in your bag you see that the new parent has even slid a chocolate bar in your lunch bag. You cannot believe your luck.

And this is what it’s been like seeing Em and A. I mean that’s a bit of an ‘out there’ analogy. My friend actually said I ought to have used ice cubes for Em rather than pears… as she was stone cold and there was no nutritional value to the therapy!! haha. The moment I met A, she was on my page – ‘you know what you need, you’re inside you, and who am I to tell you what you need? I might not be able to give you everything you need but those needs are valid and ok’… turns out she also has a stack of ‘chocolate’ and it’s really good chocolate so my inner child is delighted! Lol.

Anyway, that’s all for now…this is unexpectedly long. I’m trying to work out what to do with writing this blog at the minute. Therapy has gone to a whole new level for me these last couple of weeks -it’s incredible but also massively vulnerable work – and so I feel like right now, I don’t want to detail what’s going on because actually I feel really protective of it. I feel like I need to talk to A about it too. I get it’s my therapy, that the blog is anonymous, etc but I might have to take a bit of time before I publish anything. That’s not an intentional cliff-hanger, it’s just I feel like I need to keep everything safely contained in the room for a bit. x

System Crash: Defences Breached

Well, blimey, it’s been hard this week. I knew things were approaching the ‘danger zone’ but I genuinely didn’t think the wheels were going to fall off in such a spectacular way mid-week! It felt like I hit a patch of black ice on Tuesday and then started desperately careering around the road on Wednesday only to crash out on Thursday.

I managed to get through all my teaching commitments this week but I could feel how thinly stretched I was. Half term cannot come quickly enough. The child parts inside were all activated and I just wanted to cry most of the week. It felt desperate. Everything felt too much. Never have I relied more heavily on my rubber bands and chewing gum to hold it together!

By the time it got to my craniosacral session with K on Thursday morning I was hanging on by a thread. It was so good to see her, to be safe in the space with her for that window of time, and to get some much needed care and attention for my nervous system…and myself! She sees right through me – which is both terrifying and a huge relief. It means that there is no point in acting like things are ok or pretending that I am hanging it together because she feels what’s going on in my body whatever I say!

I’ve noticed the harder I am struggling to juggle things, the more I put on a coping front with people. I paste on the smile and say ‘it’s fine’ when actually everything is falling apart inside. The performance aspect of myself, the part that allows to me to teach and exist in the outside world gets jammed on and I feel almost like I am in some kind of out of body experience. I guess it’s a form of dissociation. And it works…to an extent.

However, whilst this ‘coping, high functioning self’ ensures I can function out in the world, it comes at an enormous physical and emotional cost to the rest of me, or should I just say ‘me’? That seemingly extroverted, happy, self that takes care of everyone else’s needs runs on overdrive, draining every last drop of energy, leaving absolutely nothing in reserve for everyone else inside and then, inevitably, the shit hits the fan!

When I am on the edge, running on adrenaline, ‘in role’ I actually do some of my best work. I know my lessons are really good. But it’s insane. When I need to dial it down to my conserve energy I ramp up. Panic. Panic. PANIC! I can’t let anyone see how desperate things are, so here, have the all singing all dancing version of me. I’m fine…it’s fine…fine…FINE!!! (It’s not fine…not fine at all)

ARGH!!

And so when that manic, crazed, state is on and I find it quite hard to land back in myself because the distance between appearance and the reality is immense. When I stop and really stare into the truth of the situation I know I am on empty. Burnt out. And the young ones are beside themselves. And it’s too scary to go there…because if I stop, and acknowledge the reality, the vulnerability, the fact that I need someone to help me and I am left open and exposed…what happens if I can’t get what I need? What happens if I can’t pick myself back up and get going again? I’ll have a proper breakdown… and I CANNOT GO TO THAT PLACE AGAIN.

I told K how crazy it’s all been and she invited me to take time to land and then asked what was going on inside/underneath. I felt so exposed. But also so pleased to be able to remove the mask for a bit. I told her that my four year old self was terrified and I feel like I am falling apart. There’s been a lot of adult life stress going on recently with my family that taps back into old wounds and triggers the child parts so it’s been feeling tough. Adult me can just about cope but the child parts are not doing so well.

I have this image that frequently comes up when Four is around. She’s standing in the middle of a country lane in just her nightie. It’s grey, wet, dark, and cold. She has no idea where she is. She is totally lost. She’s scared. She’s hungry. And yet she doesn’t make a sound. There is no point in screaming for help because she’s learnt that no one ever comes. Was there ever more fitting an image of an exiled part than her?

It’s really painful when this little one gets live and it’s no wonder that I spend so much of my time trying to outrun this stuff. I mean, all these little parts are always there in varying states of distress and need, but most of the time I can hold it together enough to not be floored by them. I can function alongside the internal hell. But not this week.

I don’t know what happened or why, but I felt really held by K in the session. I mean physically. And yet there was absolutely nothing different to any other session. It’s a body-based therapy and so I am physically held every week. But for some reason it felt different on Thursday. All I can think is that my usual defences just weren’t there in the same way? I had nothing to armour myself with and so just felt it all. I couldn’t quite hold myself and so sunk into being held. I don’t know.

I know it sounds bonkers that even with one of my safest, most trusted people my system still has a degree of armouring. I guess it’s all about survival and protection. No matter how badly I want to trust that things are properly safe, my system just can’t fully let go. I’m so terrified of being rejected or abandoned that the closer I get to someone the scarier it feels – well, at least to some of the parts. I guess there’s so much more to lose when you really care about someone and need them. I know K isn’t going anywhere. I am safe with her. But this stuff is unconscious…it’s the internal autopilot doing its thing and it’s going to take a while to reprogramme.

Still, it felt like my system was more ‘trusting’ than it has been in a while or just so tired that it couldn’t function which meant that the young stuff was right on the surface! I had been complaining about a pain in my hand and wrist and K asked if she could hold my hand. I said yes. It was bizarre. When she took my hand it was like little Four landed with a thud inside me. I was no longer watching her from a distance, that poor tiny child, isolated, bare foot on a lane. Instead she was in me… and oh my fucking god it was so painful. I just wanted to burst into tears, get up off the couch, and cuddle into K.

K noticed that I was barely breathing and asked about the little girl. Did she feel like it was dangerous to take up space? Was it safer to her to not be seen and stay out of the way? Yep. K asked if I could try and take a few deep breaths. I couldn’t and just shook my head. She asked if I could allow myself to feel this stuff in the moment, allow Four to be there just for a minute…and I froze. It was so overwhelming. Being so consciously aware of the pain that is there, that I have been holding for so long is just so hard….even in the presence of a trusted other.

At the end I sat up on the couch, drew my knees up into my chest, buried my face in the blanket and hid behind my knees. I just didn’t have it in me to be ‘fine’ because I was not fine. That little part was right there. K came over and hugged me and rubbed my back until I managed to get to get enough adult back online.

K said I had gone really deep in the session. Of course, she was right. As I left she asked if she could hold me, and we hugged. It’s so hard leaving though…because it’s in those moments where my system starts to relax but then the reality hits… it’s time to go….back out there…and somehow I need to put the mask on when I really don’t want to.

It’s really a double-edged sword. Because this is the work that absolutely needs to be done (exposing and working with the young parts)…and yet I can only access this stuff, be open and vulnerable when I am on empty, when my defences and protectors can’t function enough to hide everyone. So it’s a pain. I can’t function as I am long-term but equally I need to be able to access the parts to be able to heal and move forward.

I spend so many hours in therapy hiding/protecting these parts and feel frustrated with myself because I know what I need. I know what needs to be done. BUT the reality of being so vulnerable, so exposed, is hard. It feels dangerous. It’s no wonder my system has built up such strong defences! It fears total annihilation of the self.

Only what I think I am learning, slowly, is that some people can be trusted with my most vulnerable self. And whilst I have been hurt…a lot…and recently too (with Em) I can be how it is and that be ok. Some people don’t need my performance and love me just the way I am. It’s going to take a while to get my head around that. But I think what happened with K on Thursday enabled me to take a massive risk with Anita yesterday…so that’s good right?! – spoiler alert…it was sooooooo good 🙂

I’ve been here before but this time I have the A (and K) Team on my side!

My battery warning light is flashing red now. Power saving mode has been engaged for months but despite this, I’m still reaching that near dangerous level of energy depletion. The weekend is almost gone (noooooo!) and it has felt like the hours have rapidly slipped through my fingers. Like trying to cup water in my hands, each minute has just trickled away and now tomorrow everything starts up again and I simply haven’t had enough time to relax and recharge. I feel like I could cry as I stare down the tunnel into what I have to get through in the coming week.

For the first time in a very long time, I have taken some proper time out this weekend – literally spent the entire time in pyjamas sitting by the fire (apart from a rainy tip run this morning!) but it’s not enough. I still need more time to recover…not just from the last couple of weeks, but from 2020 as a whole (and there’s still 3 months to go!! FFS!). Actually, I feel like my body is crying out for me to hibernate until April – and honestly if I didn’t have a mortgage and bills to pay then that’s exactly what I would do! Imagine having six months off but still being paid. I can’t even begin to imagine what that would be like.

My friends who have been furloughed since March and who don’t have kids are bursting with life despite the pandemic. They have been living in a protected bubble and are ‘so chilled’ and ‘fit’ and ‘happy’ having finally had time to meditate, do the couch to 5k, read endlessly, cook, and basically practise self-care on an epic level…and yet I feel like I have been slogging away since lockdown began (and even before that – with the therapy termination with Em) trying to juggle my regular life of work, transitioning to online teaching (and therapy), my wife being made redundant and the stress that entailed, all alongside home-schooling my kids. And whilst the children are thankfully back in school and my wife is back in work there has been no break, no holiday, and I we/have simply run out of steam now.

I so need a spa day!

I get being furloughed won’t have been stress-free for everyone, far from it, and the above statement about some of my friends (and my flippant spa day comment) probably highlights how privileged, middle-class, secure, and sane they are/I am, so I apologise if that felt blinkered. I understand that as furlough ends it’s going to be hard for a lot of people. I guess, really what I am trying to say is that sometimes it’s hard not to compare oneself to others and wish for a moment that you had what they had.

I suppose, really, I am jealous. Jealous of the carefree photos, the texts about ‘relaxing coffee’ and screen shots of the latest book. Jealous of the holidays. Jealous of the fact that it is only now that work is coming back onto their radar. My jealousy is really a symptom of the burnout I feel – both physical and emotional. I don’t begrudge my friends these things – far from it. I just wish sometimes my life felt a little easier.

I need some time off without the worry of what happens if I don’t work. I was really sick a couple of weeks ago. So dizzy that I couldn’t even stand up without falling over, and repeatedly vomited from the motion sickness associated with the dizziness. I had to cancel all my students that day – 5 hour’s worth of work. It’s one of my biggest working days. Being self-employed that’s money that is gone for good – can’t claw it back. I don’t get sick pay. Simply taking one day off work massively impacts the finances for the month and it’s so stressful.

Time has literally flown this weekend which feels so bloody unfair, too. When I am in the middle of the week (woeful Wednesday) it feels as though time is almost standing still, like I am suspended in some kind of awful, endless nightmare. I have to coach myself through the day, work on an hour by hour basis so that I don’t hit complete overwhelm.

It doesn’t help that the young parts of me are always massively activated in the middle of the week – it feels such a long way from the safety of the therapy room and adult me just hasn’t got capacity to look after those small ones when it’s taking every ounce of strength to survive my adult life! I feel so blessed to have both Anita and K on my team now, though.

In the past when I have felt in this kind of area (stress, anxiety, and overwhelm) I have also had to navigate the added stress of having a therapist who was unresponsive, unavailable, and if we are honest about it, totally uncaring. I felt perpetually triggered and dysregulated both in and outside of the sessions. It was agony. Torture, actually. And I don’t have that now.

What I have now is so much better. Therapists who see me and all my various parts. Care about me. Support me. And love me. Sometimes I have to pinch myself. The other week at the end of an amazing craniosacral session with K she quickly scribbled some notes about some pain in my shoulder she pulled out a card from her folder and said, ‘You gave me this in 2010, do you remember?’ – I couldn’t believe she’d kept it.

I was a bit embarrassed knowing that I was so defended back then, but I’m guessing I must have said something unfiltered (as is usually the way when I write!) and actually back then she was one of the few people I let in and allowed to see the pain. To be honest she can feel it anyway so there’s no point in hiding! I think I said something about being intense even back then, and she laughed and said she is honoured to work with me and thinks I am courageous. As I walked off down the street she shouted, ‘I love you RB!’ from her front door. I turned around and smiled, feeling so warm inside and said, ‘I love you, too, K’. It was so easy. So natural.

And to think I got myself in knots for so long with Em, never once being able to tell her how I felt. I suppose maybe it’s easier to express feelings when they are in some way reciprocated. It feels much more dangerous and exposing having feelings for someone who is clearly struggling to tolerate you and sees you as a parasite. Ugh. Never mind. That was simply the most spectacular re-enactment wasn’t it?!

Anyway, what I think I am trying to get to in a round about way is that I feel so supported having K and A in my life. When things feel tough, or activated, or just plain bloody attachmenty, I know it’s not a big deal to either of them if I reach out and text them something and that they want to help me. More often than not it’s some kind of GIF. My best friend teases me about this. ‘RB is feeling something: send the therapist a GIF!’ And it’s so true. But these communications are mostly coming from the young parts and it’s their way of checking in – ‘Are you still there?’ So when they reply with a GIF back it really settles those parts. They both seem to understand that they’re dealing with my most vulnerable, needy parts and aren’t disgusted or put off them. In fact they both understand what I need and it’s really helped build the trust and safety.

What I’m trying to say is that despite feeling completely knackered I don’t feel like I am on the verge of a breakdown when I know in the past I would have been teetering on the edge because the parts are more held. I am more held! Therapy now feels therapeutic, helpful, and holding which in turn is modelling how to hold myself.

In fact, the other day my wife even asked me if I was even going to therapy anymore. I asked what she meant. She explained that I have been so much more settled in myself, and even though I am clearly under a lot of stress and pressure I haven’t fallen apart or been hard to live with. She said that it used to be really difficult when I was seeing Em because for the two days leading into therapy I would be so wound up and snappy that it was like treading on eggshells with me. And I saw Em twice a week!

That wasn’t easy to hear but I know she was right. I thought I was doing a better job of hiding it than I was, but clearly that level of intense pain and dysregulation was just too much to contain and still function. It was exhausting – for all of us. Anytime my wife questioned whether therapy was actually helping me I’d get defensive and shut her out. I didn’t want to believe that Em and I weren’t making progress. I didn’t want to acknowledge that the level pain I was in about the relationship was unusual in therapy. I thought it was just the nature of the transference.

I would say that ‘things have to get worst before they get better’ not knowing that actually it’s supposed to feel safe with the therapist. I know that sounds dim. But what I mean is I have a huge mother wound so I kind of thought it all feeling so painful with Em was the work…and it was…but you can heal the mother wound in another way. Withholding isn’t healing. Shaming isn’t healing. Pathologising isn’t healing. Empathy and care is healing. Acceptance is healing. Love is healing.

Anyway, I had to concede that my wife was right. What Em and I were doing wasn’t helping me. In fact it had really hurt me. And I told her that, yes, I was still in therapy and that my new therapist is great and I feel much more contained. She said it really shows and is so happy that I am finally getting what I need because she sees how hard I am trying to heal. My wife was the one who encouraged me to go back to K last year. And it was K who gave me the strength to question what was happening with Em. The contrast between seeing them in a week was so stark. Without K I would never have considered seeking out Anita.

Earlier this week I sent both K and A a variation of this message after making some tough choices about my estranged family with their support:

I hope you know that you’ve been instrumental in helping me move into this, still wobbly, but much more solid place in the last year. I know for certain had I not been seeing you I’d still be stuck with Em and letting people be horrid and believing that’s all I was entitled to. Thank you for showing me that I deserve better and have value because it’s helping me make better choices for myself. x

They both replied with hug GIFs!

I literally don’t know how got through to Friday but I was so relieved to see A. It was a crappy day. Stormy, cold, wet and the drive had been horrid. I arrived at therapy, promptly took my blanket out my bag, wrapped myself up in it and told Anita that I can’t do ‘it’ any more I really feel like there needs to be eight days in the week. ‘In order that you can actually get a day off?’ she questioned. I nodded.

I think I start nearly all therapy sessions with, ‘I’m exhausted’…and it’s true. Only I am really really exhausted now. Hence taking a fleece blanket to my session and basically curling up on the sofa for an hour. It was an ok session. Very adult. And in the past, with Em, I would have felt like that was somehow ‘crap’ because my child parts were always hiding behind the sofa on alert waiting like heat seeking missiles desperately trying to lock onto some semblance of warmth and care. I would always leave feeling disappointed when there was none and believed that because I had kept my child parts hidden that the session had fallen short because Em didn’t get to see them. I mean let’s be fair if they did creep out I would dissociate instantly and then things were bloody horrific.

Anyway, what I have realised with A is that it doesn’t matter who is there, who fronts, because actually I feel safely held and contained both inside and outside of the sessions with her. So even if the child parts don’t make an appearance it doesn’t matter because they feel safely held in mind by her. I’m not explaining this very well. I guess it’s something like therapy doesn’t feel so ‘high stakes’ anymore. It just is. I don’t get the therapy shits any more. I don’t feel like I am going to gag brushing my teeth the morning of a session. I don’t feel my heart racing as I walk up to A’s front door. I just feel content and happy that I am going to be in a room with a safe person who can handle whatever I tell her.

I feel like my blog has reached a level of beige these days – but oh my god I am so glad to not have the drama. Don’t get me wrong. My child parts are totally in the mix, there have been (and undoubtedly will be more) ruptures but now I have the confidence that my therapist/s can handle me, are invested, and because of that my youngest parts don’t feel ashamed for existing now.

Thank god!

‘I love you too’

After promptly diving down into the black hole of shame on Friday and then young parts suffering with all the attachment stuff and fear of being left over the weekend, I decided to send my blog post about expressing loving feelings and being the Queen of Avoidance to Anita shortly after I’d written it on Sunday.

I figured I had nothing to lose, really, because whilst parts of me were in a tail spin about being so vulnerable and worrying massively about being rejected for being ‘too much’, there were other parts who know that A and I can work through whatever I bring to her. Enough of me trusts her for me to be able to tell her I am struggling and knows that she won’t shame me for my feelings. And because it’s ok for me to communicate with her outside session, and she’s been happy read my blog posts when I have shared them with her in the past, it seemed silly to continue suffering when actually I could give her the heads up and then we would be on the same page for our session the next day.

I didn’t expect her to read it until Monday or reply but I felt much better for just getting it off my chest. When I am dysregulated, I find expressing how I feel in writing much easier than trying to explain it verbally and Anita really understands this. That’s not to say I don’t talk in the room (I really do!), or that the therapy is taking place outside the room and not in it because I write to her or blog.

A knows there are parts that will take time to trust, need to test her and the relationship (repeatedly) and by allowing me to check in outside those two contact hours a week, those tentative, vulnerable, scared, flighty parts of me are able to do what they need to do, express what they need to, and this has enabled them to make it into the space face to face more often.

I am certain that it is Anita’s flexibility and presence outside the room that has actually allowed me take more risks and do more work in the room. I haven’t developed some unhealthy addiction to her because I check in during the week and she hasn’t bred some terrible dependency because she acknowledges the child parts need something more (which is what Em was certain would happen).

A understands that the attachment happens regardless. If the feelings are there lying dormant then they’ll be ignited in the therapy, but how this is all handled definitely impacts on us as clients. We either feel seen and held or abandoned and rejected…and I know which one is accelerating my path to healing!

I mean it’s not rocket science, relational trauma needs healing in relationship.

I saw this on Carolyn Spring’s Twitter the other day which totally summed it up:

When we are in distress, whether as a baby or as an adult, we want a person, not a technique. Human beings don’t respond to techniques. We respond to feeling seen, and feeling heard. and feeling felt.

And this is where the problems were with Em, a clinical psychologist. She had so many techniques but refused time and again to let herself into the relationship. I’ve never experienced anyone more blank screen in my life. And for those of us with CPTSD that way of interacting is so traumatising. I mean honestly if I could imagine my way out of my trauma with visualisation then I’d have bloody done it!

Anyway…A is not Em. Thank god!

A is brilliant.

Have I said that before?

As I said, I wasn’t expecting a reply to my blog on Sunday and I didn’t feel stressed worrying about a reply/or not getting one because ultimately I knew A would understand, so I was just getting on with things when I got a message later that morning…like the best message. I have literally waited years to be told something like this:

O my goodness. I am not going anywhere. You really aren’t too much. I care about you sooo much and I love you too, in a caring loving way 💜🧡💛. I am aware Em saw the love in a romantic way. I don’t think she got how the love between client and therapist is so different but can definitely be there if the relationship is allowed to grow x

I couldn’t believe me eyes. All the parts inside, even the critic, just melted. I felt so reassured. So accepted. So understood. So cared for. So loved. And that outside communication that some therapists seem so scared of entering into, and A actually being real enough to express love in a clearly boundaried way, well I can tell you, that alone has done more good and been more healing than the entirety of my therapy with Em. My child parts took the risk, expressed vulnerable feelings, and have had them accepted and reciprocated…and that’s therapy gold. And I feel so much more able to bring the really hard stuff to her now, because I believe she’s in it for the long haul with me, and she genuinely cares.

Did I mention that I love my therapist?!

The Queen Of Avoidance

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It’s no secret that when it comes to expressing difficult feelings – or even positive ones like the ‘L’ word – in therapy I can sit on my throne, The Queen of Avoidance, for weeks or even months (years!!!) on end not really saying what’s going on for me! I think I frequently come over as aloof, stand-offish or perhaps even cold and unfeeling – because whilst I can be ‘feeling all the feelings’ inside, I’d sooner sit in stony-faced silence than admit that I like you, care about you, or say that you are important to me. Considering how much I hate the still face experiment it’s kind of funny that I sit with my poker face glued on so much of the time in therapy.

I’ve spoken at length with my friend (who kindly drew the illustration above) about this, she’s one of the few people I have truly let into my inner world, and have lamented how sad it is that to me it feels more dangerous to express love than it does to express anger or rage in therapy. Revealing and communicating loving feelings feels so risky. I guess because when we do that, the armour is off and the protectors are standing down. When we express love we are wide open and vulnerable to being hurt and this is even more the case if the feelings being articulated are coming from a young part.

Whilst it’s what I crave, it’s also not surprising that I avoid this kind of emotional intimacy. We all want to be loved, need to be loved, but there have been a couple of significant times in my life where I have finally built up the courage to tell someone how I feel and it’s gone badly. I am programmed expect the worst, ‘you’re too much’ or to get no response at all – especially after growing up with a mother who does not show any warmth whatsoever. And so any time I enter the arena of feeling the BIG feelings and wanting to express them, it triggers those really painful feelings of rejection and abandonment and so I’d sooner say nothing at all and sit in my own discomfort rather than be negatively judged or rejected by the other.

It’s funny, I saw a tweet months ago that I sent to Anita at the time which said:

All I ask is for you to get to know me on a deep, intimate level while I resist and obstruct your every attempt to do so.

And this absolutely nails it. Queen Of Avoidance! I tried so hard to break this pattern with Em but actually working with her cemented my fears and doubts about being unlovable, increased my levels of dissociation, and crushed the youngest parts of me… which is unfortunate to say the least.

Wow – that’s a massive understatement!

I’ve been working with Anita for 8 months now. I see her twice a week so I guess we must have had about 60 sessions over this time. I noticed towards the end of June a shift in how I felt with A. I guess it was around then that the child parts who had been so much in hiding after being so badly hurt by Em attached to her. And of course this signalled the start of ‘react like a baby to the slightest thing’ time. It was like having a scab torn off and the open mother wound exposed again.

Once the young parts (including the teens) activate in therapy it’s a whole other world of fun isn’t it? And when I say ‘fun’ I really mean ‘shame’!

A has been nothing short of amazing with me in the time we have been working together. I know I am not an easy client to work with (another massive understatement!) but she’s been so calm, consistent, and validating of my feelings that it’s hardly surprising that since returning to face to face sessions it feels more intense. After months working online, and having had the break, being back in the room feels so nice. I feel more seen and more connected which in turn settles my system down.

Only it also does that other thing…SHAKES IT UP!!

Argh!

Because A makes me feel safe when I am with her it activates all the attachment stuff and young need. Like I feel so grateful to her for what she does for me but now it feels like all the little ones are wanting to rush forward and hug her especially after the break – stampede style!

The children inside have all been left unattended for so long that it’s a shit show. In January the little ones were abandoned, screaming, and the teen part was left babysitting. She had no idea what she was doing and basically spent the food money on litres of coke and sweets to bribe the little ones to shut up- and now the littlest ones are hyper but also overtired and need a story and to be put to bed!

This last couple of weeks has been really hard going. I have barely hung it together in my adult life and it’s massively impacted my internal system. Everything feels overwrought and I feel like I am spread way too thin. My resources are massively depleted. My nervous system has been off the chart…and generally it’s felt really awful. Like I have wanted to cry but haven’t been able to let the tears come – although crying is not something I find very easy. Apparently the average woman cries 3.5 times a month…I barely manage that in a year even when I have been terminated my by attachment figure! I have felt like I have wanted to self-harm but haven’t…but because I haven’t gone to my ‘go to’ coping strategies there has also not been any release.

I think I have come over as a complete basket case in my sessions. Manic and repetitive. I’ve done nothing but moan. And then underneath the immediate everyday life stuff there’s been this swirling terror that I don’t talk about, can’t talk about, because I just can’t hold that too and keep going with the day to day.

I feel a huge panic in my system that any minute A is going to go. Part of it is I think COVID dread. I am really worried about us ending up in lockdown again and not being able to see her… but this then spirals down into the feeling of her being ‘gone’ like properly gone. And I guess this is something to do with what it is like working online for the young parts. I think the preverbal stuff is really difficult to work with online and so because that littlest self can’t really get what it needs on screen it feels like its been abandoned… I dunno I need to think more on that.

Despite everything feeling massively precarious – being in the room with A has been the glue that has held my pieces together lately… or, maybe the scaffolding around my renovation project. And getting a hug at the end feels like the parts of me that are crumbling are momentarily held in place before I go back out into the world and try not to disintegrate.

I outdid myself this week after my session. I felt so seen and held that I sent A a message afterwards – basically saying just that…but then ugh…I rounded it off with a GIF that said ‘p.s I love you’.

Because I do.

So what am I left with after sending that? Well, I feel embarrassed, ashamed, and like I want to run away. My protector parts are ready, my armour is on, and my avoidant self is back online. Like what was I actually thinking? Why on earth did I bloody open myself up to being hurt amd rejected again?

I feel sick inside.

And this is what’s really depressing. Surely it should feel ok to tell someone that they are important to you and love should not feel bad. But this is where my wounding is and I feel like I’ve just run back into a burning building and it’s hurting like hell…which is kind of ironic given how burning myself was a go to method of self harm!