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!

‘I’m Still Here…’

I woke up this morning feeling sick to my core, again. This has happened quite a lot lately. I become aware of it in my sleep, when I am dreaming (usually about something painful), and then when I wake up, I feel ill. It’s hard to explain because it’s not the sort of feeling I would usually associate with being anxious/stressed/dissociated/the attachment stuff – you know that familiar deep, tight ache in your solar plexus and a heaviness in your chest? It’s really different to that. It’s like the whole of my torso feels ‘sick’, like a whole-body nausea rather than specific patches of ‘ache’.

I’m not ill (I don’t think…although it would be funny if I am making all this fuss and it turns out I have a bug?!), and yet, there’s nothing major going on in my mind today – at least not consciously… having said that, the last few days have been rammed with worry and stress – I’d literally forgotten that I just went for my lovely cancer follow up at the hospital which was fine but is always so draining! – so perhaps it’s just a late move by my system to somatise it all and give my head a break? Who knows?! Either way it dragged me out of bed at 6am on a Sunday morning because lying down made it worse.

Rather than wallow in self-pity and achieve nothing, I dragged my family out for an early morning walk by the river. It was really beautiful today. Autumn seems to properly have arrived now. I love the season but hate what it represents – a long slog of teaching until Christmas, dark evenings, and a big dose of SAD! But I still have a day of holiday left before I have to put on my teacher hat and so this morning, I tried to shove the anxiety to the back of my mind and take in- and enjoy- my surroundings. The air was crisp and the sky was that perfect blue that comes at this time of year. It was great to get out and get some fresh air and it distracted a bit from the nausea…until the ride home with the wet dog stinking in the back! Ha.

I’ve been meaning to write all week but every time I think about sitting down at the laptop, I get a mental block. I have stuff to say but at the same time I haven’t had the energy to go there and look at what’s happening. It’s the worst kind of procrastination/avoidance. Instead of sitting with myself and my feelings I have gone all out with avoidance …so much so, that in two days I have completely decorated a big chunk of my house and had a mad one sorting out the garden.

I like to be productive, and the house has been a job I have been putting off for a couple of years, so spending hours mindlessly painting whilst listening to playlists on iTunes meant I didn’t have to be with ‘myself’ too much and that’s what I needed.

So, what’s been going on? What’s prompted this mad phase of action? Well, part of it is trying to avoid back to work dread (and there is a shit load of it – I genuinely feel like crying) but also, I’m half way through a two-week therapy break – the first one I have had with Anita.

Eye roll.

You all saw that one coming, didn’t you?

A hasn’t had a break since I started working with her in January so she certainly deserves some time out but it’s stirred up some unexpected stuff and that’s not easy. The good news is that wheels haven’t completely fallen off just yet! It remains to be seen if I crash and burn as the week progresses and work picks up, though. The heightened anxiety paired with tiredness (oh and PMS week) is sure to throw a few spanners in the works- I already feel a bit wobbly.

There have already been a couple of flat days, but I don’t think that’s purely down to the break, I think it’s my life in general catching up with me and my feeling overwhelmed by it…oh and the hormones of course. They don’t help! I’m beginning to realise that I can’t underestimate the power of the veil that shrouds my rational self when PMS hormone hell is ravaging. I suppose at least I am aware that it’s week where I seem able to blow stuff up in my head to apocalyptic levels of doom: two months ago it was freaking out about feeling like A was ignoring my texts (she wasn’t!), and then last month it was the jealous hell about the walk with the other client…pray for me that I keep my shit together this week as I am really done with overreacting and having the emotional resilience of a fractious three year old!

I didn’t really help myself leading into this break, either. I got to see Anita in person again for our Friday session. Yay, right? Err…yes and no. I didn’t even realise what was happening until about ten minutes from the end when it became blindingly obvious that I had spent the whole session hiding. It was that horrible thing where more than anything I want to connect but there’s that part of me that packs up early and gags all the parts that need to be seen before a holiday. So the needy young parts that are terrified that something bad is going to happen during the break and need reassurance get left high and dry. Then I feel like there is no connection – even though it’s me that has run away from connecting! FFS.

Anita was sitting right opposite me – and we all know how big a deal not being able to be with her in the room has felt during lockdown – but she might as well have been on the moon. I could barely look at her and whilst I was talking, it wasn’t really talking…………….. well it was, but I’m so well practised at filling space with what seems like important stuff, I have such a good disguise, that it’d be impossible for her to know that this ‘stuff’ isn’t the ‘priority stuff’ because there’s just too much fucking stuff! I manage to seem like I am letting her in when actually I am holding her at arm’s length….

FOR FUCK’S SAKE!!

I talked a lot about how bad it’s been feeling in my body; about a horrible dream I had where I was falling towards the earth from space without a parachute, having to fashion something makeshift so I didn’t die, and then landing with a thud on Em’s driveway. She opened her door, looked at me, and then slammed it shut (ouch); feeling like having insight into why I am the way I am is worse than being ignorant of it because I realise there is soooooooooooooooo much wrong and sooooooooooooo much to heal and it feels overwhelming; how internally it’s like a school corridor on change over between lessons – it’s complete carnage…

See, it looks like the important ‘stuff’ doesn’t it?!

And we talked a lot about all these things and A was really lovely but sometimes even her tentatively asking me a question to see what is possible is enough to send my system into lockdown. She asked me if maybe we could ask the parts in the corridor to get in a line because when they’re all stuck together it’s really hard to see who is there and who needs help – especially as there are so many little ones in there alongside the rowdy teens. And whilst that makes loads of sense and is what I need – we need to work with a part or two at a time – it put the protectors on full alert. No way are they going to let that happen ……………..AAAAAAAARRRRRRGGGGHHHH!!!

I so wish that I could take a step forward when I am invited to. I wish I was able to really look at what’s going on but those gatekeepers are so bloody fast and strong. I wish I had been able to talk because there’s the story that doesn’t get told because it just feels excruciating to feel so vulnerable and needy. I wish I could say:

‘I’m anxious about the break because the last therapy break I had was a disaster and ended with Em and I terminating. Our relationship completely disintegrated over two weeks. Part of me is frightened that you might go away and something will happen whilst you’re gone. I’m worried that the narrative will change from ‘I am happy to work on this with you and the therapy will only end when you want it to, or if there are unforeseen circumstances in my life’ (just like she said) and you’ll go away, realise I am too much to cope with, be reminded of how nice it is to not have to see me, and you’ll come back and end it saying something about how you’ve reached the limit of your competency (like she did).

I know it’s mental, but the youngest parts of me are terrified and recent history has really made this feel scarier than it might otherwise have felt. I am not very good with breaks anyway – fear of abandonment was massive before this year but now it’s…huge. Part of me wants desperately to cling on to you but another part doesn’t want to freak you out with the need and then push you to the point where you terminate. I know this is really messy and comes from a really young place – it’s so embarrassing and totally overwhelming’  

So, I guess that’s what I would have said if the words had have been available to me, or if the protector part of me hadn’t have shut things down so that the young parts were locked away.

However, it wasn’t a complete disaster because the light flicked on near to the end and I became aware of what was happening with my inner dynamics, like I came out of autopilot and was in control of the plane again. And there was the realisation: ‘Ooooh fuck, it’s this bloody shit pattern again’. I told A that I felt like I wasn’t there and felt disconnected. She asked if part of me felt threatened and so had taken myself away (when she’d suggested making the parts line up). Yes. Always yes. But not only then…

I managed to tell A that I had disconnected early, because even though she was sitting opposite me, she would be going away. A was really understanding and said how it made sense that part was getting ready because it feels like it’s protecting me. I said I understood this but that it isn’t helpful. I didn’t say it, but I do this so often. I go into shutdown early, batten down the hatches readying myself for the storm, but in doing so I deprive the youngest parts of myself the connection they need and so that actually makes any separation much harder.

When will I learn?!

It was time to finish and A said I could write to her if it would and asked me if there was anything she could give me do for me before I went…

Ha…we know where this is going, right?

The ‘I don’t give a fuck about anything, teen part’ stepped up and was so dismissive (she’s only trying to protect the littlest ones). I don’t think I could have been any more combative in the, ‘like what?!’ answer I gave. Oh god I just want to die of shame thinking about it! But I have to love Anita, she didn’t seem put off and asked if I maybe wanted to take something from the room like a stone or a shell…but after the hell six months with the pebble with Em the idea of a hard transitional object like this just feels awful. It’s too much of a reminder of what happened before. And when the youngest parts are falling apart they just want to curl up in a blanket or cuddle a soft toy that has some kind of link to A– but voicing that just feels cringey.

Anyway, I declined the transitional object because I am a grump, but also because I don’t think it would really have helped the parts that struggle with breaks… I dunno.

Whilst all this was going on there was a total meltdown happening inside with the little parts, ‘What if she doesn’t come back? What if she forgets us?’ Etc. I think A must’ve noticed because as I got up to leave, she asked me if I wanted a hug.

There is only ever one answer to this question!

Yes.

And fortunately, the dismissive, connection severing part of me sat back down and folded her arms and waited for the other parts to get what they needed. As we were hugging, A said, ‘I’m still here’ – and that was so soothing and reassuring.

I don’t think I can really put into words what getting a hug with A is like – because whilst it is just a hug, it feels like so much more than that. It feels like it repairs a little bit of the feeling of being untouchable and unlovable that has been so present in my relationship with my mum (who has only hugged me once in the last 23 years… and that was the day my dad died). It also makes me feel like the feeling of being physically and emotionally abandoned time and again over the last 8 years with Em when I have been distressed and dissociated might have been more about her rather than there being something inherently wrong with me… anyway, it’s a big HUGE area…and there’s a lot of work to be done round it in the therapy – oh god…I can’t wait for that! LOL.

I walked away from the session feeling a bit frustrated with myself but also so much more connected than I had earlier in the session. It really is amazing how something as simple as leaving on a hug can do enough to settle the young parts who worry so much about whether the relationship is real but also who are freaking out about a separation. Anita actually asking me if I wanted a hug makes those parts that feel untouchable think that perhaps she is safe, and perhaps she isn’t disgusted by them… it feels nice.

Physical touch really does help when stuff feels off and I think this is because when young child is terrified and having a tantrum you don’t try and have a big dialogue right in that moment. First, you pick it up, hold it, help it regulate, and then when it’s settled you try and talk things though and make sense of it all. And I think this is where I have got so lost for so long in therapy.

My system is so fragmented and there have been so many times where the attachment stuff has been activated in a session and then I’ve been stranded in a very young, often pre-verbal dissociated state and have been expected to find my way out of that by myself. It’s impossible. It’s abandoning and traumatising being in that state and having a therapist do the still face on you, or tell you that you need to hold that part for yourself.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting for one minute that I see myself as some kind of ‘adult baby’ …it’s fucking mortifying enough experiencing the range of feelings so intensely and having to talk about it – BUT – there are definitely times when words are simply not enough and being physically held really helps regulate the system and bring the adult coping parts back online so that maybe we can work out what’s going on. The work can’t be done when you’re not in your window of tolerance – and as I have said before, my window is more like a letterbox!!

Anyway, that was our last session. I’ve checked in a few times with A via text since then…and that is another thing that has made this break more bearable. For the parts that genuinely can’t hold her in mind she almost ceases to exist and so these little reminders, that ‘she’s still here’ really help.

I feel like A understands how this stuff works, like she speaks my language…and that really is amazing.

The walk that didn’t happen…

I’ve done five l-o-n-g months of remote therapy now – that’s 22 weeks (not that I’m counting) or 154 days (I soooo am counting!) or what feels like 84 years of staring into a tiny screen trying to connect with my therapist, Anita, online. And man, I have felt it! And I think you guys have too as you’ve been alongside for the ride…and experiencing the same in your own therapies.

I mean, to be fair, it is a long time to not be able to physically connect with someone…and it’s an especially big chunk of time, an eternity, for the child parts, who experience time as being almost endless/timeless and so I do feel some compassion towards myself for struggling so much with the disruption (sometimes – sometimes I my critical part unleashes it’s fury on me!). But compassion for myself hasn’t made this time any easier to bear and I have been teetering on the edge for quite a bit of the lockdown.

I think it’s actually got harder as certain parts of society have opened. I’ve struggled to understand how I can get my (getting greyer by the minute) roots attended to, go to a pub (should I wish to – I don’t!), or even go ten pin bowling but not meet my therapist in person when my mental health in the abyss. It makes absolutely no sense.

I wish I was one of those clients who has actually ‘enjoyed’ or ‘preferred’ working remotely (apparently, they exist – see Twitter!), but for me, and for many of us here it’s exactly that – ‘remote’ and has felt quite isolating. And that’s nobody’s fault. It’s just the nature of the beast.

When so much of communication is non-verbal, it’s hardly surprising when you lose the bulk of body language and ‘the energy’ in the room that it’s tougher to connect on screen. Add to that the times when your system takes you back to a pre-verbal state and there just aren’t any words, well then it makes working online really very tricky! In the room those are the times where eye contact, movement, breathing together, or a hug – coregulation – can make things feel better.

And whilst I really really love getting texts like these:

…it’s not the same as the real thing!

I said the other day that I feel like I have been on my ‘therapy break setting’ being away from Anita and the room (and we know how I am with therapy breaks!)– or as K says to me every time we have craniosacral therapy, ‘your body has been in survival this whole time’.

Accurate.

That’s not to say A and I haven’t done good work or we’ve been wholly disconnected throughout this period- that’s not the case at all. Our relationship has definitely deepened over lockdown and the fact that I have said some of what I have said shows how much I am starting to trust her. I haven’t been ‘left’ or ‘abandoned’ by her– far from it. Anita has been pretty incredible, so responsive to my needs, and I am so fucking grateful that she’s my therapist now, and not Em!

A friend of mine was trying to make me feel a bit better the other day when I had the meltdown over the walk. I felt ashamed and embarrassed by my response but also just so sad that I am so sensitised now after being on my own for such long while that it really doesn’t take much before I am throwing my toys out the pram. I am so dysregulated so much of the time.

Anyway, I was really struggling knowing that the reaction came not so much from being jealous of ‘the other client’ but actually from again coming crashing face first into the reality of how hard it has been holding on, waiting, wondering if and when I might actually get to see A again when so many parts have been hanging by a thread.

I was complaining about missing A but also saying how online doesn’t feel ‘enough’, and they said, ‘but Christ, can you even imagine what it would have been like trying to navigate lockdown with Em online…it would have been fucking horrific.’ And it really would. I mean can you even begin to imagine?! I can feel myself internally shuddering just thinking about how it might have been – no willingness to adapt to the situation, firmer than ever boundaries around ‘no outside contact’, and she would have watched me disintegrate… because that’s what she did. Always.

My friend got me to notice how quickly A was able to repair the rupture and make me feel like I was not overreacting or in some way deficient for being upset and, if anything, I’d come out the other side feeling much more seen, held, and connected – rupture and repair in action. And that’s really positive. Yay.

Anyway, yesterday was meant to mark the day Anita and I finally met up and got to spend some time together in ‘real life’ not through the screen and I couldn’t wait. Honestly, it felt like Christmas had come early (not even joking)! Sure, I felt a little bit apprehensive: would she still be the same after all this time? Would she like me now she’s seen more of the real me (the one that’s all needy and reacts by losing its mind over her smallest mis-step)? Would she be disgusted when she saw me in person having gained 5lb over lockdown and laugh at me for having spoken about having an eating disorder and then gaining weight? Would she be poised waiting to give me the ‘boundary talk’? Was she going to reject me?

Man it’s tough being in my head.

I mean even just thinking about how hard it was to arrange the walk… There was the meltdown, then all the bloody push/pull shit:

A: Shall we arrange a walk?
Me: No.

And then me actually reaching out and saying how I missed her and again A inviting me to come meet her. It’s fucking cringeworthy. I am really am the bloody rescue dog needed to be coaxed out with sausages and a soft voice…although maybe it’s more like this?!

Still, despite all this, when I got off the video call on Monday I was really looking forward to meeting up the next day…

In true classic me style I spent a lot of time on Monday banging on about people not being sensible in public spaces – I’d been into town and was shocked by how no one seems to social distance and are hanging about in big groups. I think over recent months I must have come across as having a really militant stance on ‘the rules’. It led A to say that having thought about one walk, another might be better because the paths are wider and on the first one she had suggested there were parts that were single track and did I want her to wear a mask?

It didn’t really sink in as she said it, I find that online – that stuff doesn’t seem to land in quite the same way and it’s not until afterwards that the dots start to join up – but I wondered whether she had suggested going to the other venue, further away, because of my perceived level of caution and my not wanting to be close to her.

Ughhh….no!!! Cos that’s not it at alllllllllll.

So I sent this message:

Whilst it’s in my brain… I’m really not at all bothered about us walking down single track paths or any of that, or feeling like I want to wear a mask with you. I’m cautious out in public places because it makes sense to be because I don’t know the people but I am not completely OCD with people I know. I mean technically we could go ten pin bowling or for a coffee or lunch or to the cinema tomorrow so I am really not stressed about a walk. I’m not even especially bothered by the walk and would be fine sitting in a car part on my camping chair or under a tree! I just want to see you.

Not too clingy/needy right??

The irony is not at all lost on me, that here in the UK we have been experiencing a massive heatwave for the last few weeks – wall to wall sunshine – indeed on Thursday it hit a sweltering 36 degrees here and I was melting! So, imagine my dismay on Monday afternoon when we got hit with what can only be described as monsoon rains. I mean it was properly pissing it down, flooding down the street, out over the gutters…it was proper, big, fat, torrential rain.

I mean come on? Really? You have to be fucking kidding me.

I looked at the weather forecast for the next day and – deep joy- over the period from midday to 3pm there was a 76% chance of rain and thunder.

Whoop whoop.

You cannot make this shit up.

I could feel the young parts start to shut down, anticipating the cancellation. I mean the odd shower is one thing but the rain we’ve had has been biblical…like start building the ark and call me Noah! Not being able to see A was never going to be easy to absorb, especially as she is on holiday for the next two weeks…first break since I’ve worked with her…and ugh…you can just see where this was heading in my brain!

Tuesday came.

Rain.

Lots of rain.

Thunder.

Lightning.

Then it started to clear a bit.

And then more rain.

And then a text…From Anita:

I have been thinking. I’m happy to use my counselling room this afternoon if you are?

OMG. Honestly, you can’t even imagine what happened inside… but you know… play it cool RB, play it cool…:

Sounds fine to me. See you at 1 x

But really it was more like this:

So…we didn’t go for a walk…instead I think I had the best therapy session I’ve ever had… and I have had a lot of therapy over the years!

And given this is already 1600 words I’ll leave it on another cliff hanger!! Haha! Sorry! x

Another Rupture…Over A Walk!

It’s certainly been an interesting couple of weeks in my head. And when I say ‘interesting’, I really mean a complete emotional shit show at times! It’s safe to say that all the attachment stuff has gone fully live in the therapeutic relationship with Anita and all the parts are starting to jiggle about for attention!…and (over)reacting left, right, and centre to the smallest of things. Eek!

Give me strength! … and moreover give my poor therapist strength as she’s certainly earning her money at the moment!

Anita has been so great, I mean really, she is just bloody amazing and is doing such great work trying to help me repair the damage done by Em…but she accidentally dropped the ball on Monday and it sent me into freefall for a bit. But I’ll come to that drama in a minute! 

I don’t think it’s any secret that the last few months have been a challenge so far as life and therapy goes. Everything with Em completely destabilised me and then just as I was settling into work with Anita, the pandemic hit. It’s hard to believe that the last session I had face to face with A was the 16th March although in all honesty I feel like I have been aware of every slow second of those five l-o-n-g months!

Despite working online, I have felt a bit like I’ve been in hovering in ‘break territory’ (and we all know how well I do with therapy breaks!) – in so far as I have been holding a lot of stuff that I simply can’t process properly if we are not together in the room. The main issue has been about not getting the regulation and connection for the young parts that happens face to face – the non-verbal stuff that you get from being with another person, absorbing their calm energy, making eye contact, seeing them breathe etc…all the cues that the youngest parts tune into in order to feel safe. And because I haven’t been able to access this stuff my system has just got more and more wound up as time has gone on.

I understand that COVID has been a nightmare for everyone. I mean honestly, whoever imagined that we’d be living through a fucking pandemic in our lifetime?! For those of us in therapy trying to work through complex trauma and histories of childhood neglect and abandonment it’s been huge, I mean super huge having our routine disrupted. Suddenly going from face to face therapy to working online away from our attachment figure has been such a shock to the system and it’s sent my system into a tailspin (and to be fair it was already in freefall after what happened with Em!)

I think because I have been in survival for so long now, my nervous system is just totally on edge but also kind of stuck in flight mode. My body is so overwhelmed from having to ‘hold on’ that when K came for the first time, a few weeks ago, to have a craniosacral session she walked in my gate, saw me, was standing about 5 metres away and the first words out her mouth were, “I can feel your nervous system from here!”.

Months of holding myself tightly in order that I didn’t completely fall apart has left me in a right state. I am so sensitised to the slightest thing now, my hypervigilance is off the chart and I am expecting something bad to happen. So of course when something in the field of rejection comes up I am on it in a flash.

Sigh.

Anita and I have been steadily building up trust in the relationship. I have been sharing quite a bit with her in my sessions but also reaching out outside them with various things and she’s been faultless with her responding – i.e an emoji or a quick reply. It honestly, has helped so much, especially as we’ve been working remotely.

I sent her a link to an article I had read online on the 5th that a friend had posted up and it really resonated so much that I wanted A to see it along with the caption:

Uggggh this resonated so much 😞 I can’t believe how much grief there is – my whole body is hurting x

For those that are interested, here’s the link to the article:

https://www.elephantjournal.com/2020/08/dear-therapists-stop-with-the-testimonial-injustice/

Anita, replied:

Wow, it’s as it you had written it. Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help. I know it’s hard to trust again and I will always try to be there but like everyone I don’t know what life holds in the future, but even if my house falls down we can always work online. I also know you have heard all this before and it’s daring to take the risk again.

I mean, she really is great, right? Like just nails it. And this is why I struggle looking back at what happened with Em. It doesn’t take ‘War and Peace’ to settle the anxious young parts – it’s not hours of time to formulate something holding…and yet she just couldn’t/wouldn’t do it.

I responded with:

Thank you. I just need a hug. I feel like I am going to cry but it doesn’t come. It’s like there’s a tsunami on the way. So exhausted. And I really hope your house doesn’t fall down  😬 x

And then she sent this and oh my god, the little parts inside melted:

It was all going so well!

Then it was Monday morning and I was scrolling through Twitter and saw a couple of brilliant things from Beacon House that I forwarded to her – one was a graphic with a swan that said, ‘Inside even the most composed and competent adult is a little child who is still learning to trust, love, and be loved.’ Like really, that’s totally me…

Anyway, the session was largely fine. I actually can’t remember any of it apart from the last ten minutes! But I know it was ok…

We got talking about work and how I feel like I might have overextended myself in September. She asked me how I was thinking about managing face to face sessions (tutoring) and I explained my plans. All very adult. All very competent. I said how not all students will return straight away as some are happy working online but that some of my students absolutely need face to face. I mentioned again one particular student with whom I resumed my sessions just before the summer holidays and how beneficial it had been to him….and then this is where the shit hit the fan with a minute to go…

Anita said:

I have a couple of clients who have really struggled and so I have done walk and talk therapy.

BOOM.

Cue internal collapse.

I hid how I felt – mask on – and fortunately that was the end of the session but SHITTTTTT everything went up in smoke. I was totally distraught.

Like really?

Honestly?

How could she not see that I have been hanging on by a thread? It’s always the same shit.

I text my friend about it. She talked me down a bit but was able to understand why this news was such a shock to the young parts. She asked me if I felt able to let Anita know what had happened when she said that? Whether I trusted her enough to tell her how upset I was rather than spiral out of control.

It was hard to see a way through the painful feelings of feeling unseen, rejected, abandoned it just felt like ‘here’s another therapist that just doesn’t care and doesn’t get me’ but I also realised that I was responding from a really hurt place that Anita isn’t even responsible for. She’s just tapped into the mother wound and the hurt around what’s happened with Em.

I didn’t feel able to construct a new text to A. I was overwhelmed, sad, and tired. So I just copy and pasted my text to my friend and sent it to A. I was hurting but when I thought about it there was part of me that believed she would respond kindly and not just ignore me in the way Em would have:

I’m trying to side step an internal meltdown before it plunges into total collapse. So I’m sending you this … which is what I sent my friend when we got off the call. I’m drowning in the shame and embarrassment but actually if you don’t know then it doesn’t help:

Argh. Bloody therapy has just triggered a landmine 😩. I was talking about how I was planning to manage face to face working in September in my office and said that some students will likely stay online through choice but there are a few that absolutely need face to face work, and how transformational it was going back to face to face with boy. This was end of session and with a minute to go Anita tells me ‘yes, I agree, some of my clients need face to face work and there are a couple who have really struggled so I’ve done walk and talk therapy’

Like wtf?? 😭

How is it that I come across as a person that doesn’t need face to face even when I’ve said as much as I can about how much I’m struggling? Why, because I’m articulate and controlled and ‘together’ enough do people not hear my words when I say it’s felt bad and like I’m hanging by a thread? I’m never going to scream or meltdown or cry
or beg because that’s not how I am- especially after what happened with Em I’m
terrified of being seen as too demanding or needy.

I’m so upset that she didn’t even have me on the radar as ‘having that need’. I know you understand the stuff I wrote in my blog the other week about how hard it is for someone with disorganised attachment, childhood trauma and neglect, dissociation, parts that struggle with feelings abandonment and rejection to work online because all the usual cues are missing and the coregulation just doesn’t happen – I’ve said it enough times… I know I’m like a broken record.

You can guess exactly how that information feels to young parts- confirmation of the narrative ‘she hates me, she doesn’t care, she doesn’t really see me’ and all I want to do is run away now because I’m so over trying to teach people about me and my needs. I can’t be any more explicit than I am.

And yes I am hormonal 😳. But I just want to cry. It’s the same stuff playing out time and again – ‘she’s a good girl, seems fine’ and people never noticing that the walls are crumbling because the mask is glued to my face.

I just feel like a bomb has been dropped internally on the youngest most vulnerable parts… I get it’s an overreaction but it’s tapped right into that thing about not being seen, not mattering and being left to cope. And I totally get that there’s tonnes of evidence to the contrary but these little ones don’t understand – it’s been like an ongoing re-enactment of how it was when my mum was away … just hanging on til she came back. Only I don’t know when Anita will be back 😕

I wish I was a rager who could express what I am feeling rather than a quiet person that takes everything underground and inside. 😞 Maybe I should just give up. I’m clearly fucking rubbish at therapy.

I don’t have the resources or energy to deal with this right now.

I miss you.

——

That’s the rant.

And within half an hour there was a reply. Not a three day radio silence…or a complete lack of acknowledgement which is what I have come to expect from a therapist:

Thank you for your honesty. I am so so sorry for my complete blunder. I honestly have only done one walk and talk just once with a client that won’t work remotely at all not even over the phone. I have been working with them for years. This is no excuse and I don’t know why I hadn’t thought about offering that to you. I think because we have been connecting on line. But I am more then happy to arrange one. I can not apologise enough. With regret, Anita

Then I saw I also had a missed call from her.

Damn.

By the time all this came through on my phone my period had arrived (!!!!) and I felt slightly less insane. I was still hurting a lot but I had got a little bit of my adult online and could see that whilst it feels enormous to the young parts who are so badly hurt it’s not really the end of the world. It just feels impossible when it’s like this. It’s evidence of my system at work – this is the work I need to do with A.

I responded:

It’s fine. I understand. I’m just tired and overwrought. It’s like an overflowing bath and I can’t work out how to turn taps off.

I thought that would be it. We’d talk later in the week and sort it out. I felt much better just that she had acknowledged that I was hurting and didn’t try and blame it on me or tell me I was overreacting, or that she’s just my therapist or any of that other gaslighting shit that used to happen with Em:

It’s not fine and what I have said is the truth but don’t know how to say it without it sounding like a lame excuse. Let’s sort out a time for a walk and talk. 💜

I sent her three GIFs that basically summarised my internal response from different parts and she replied:

Yes I understand all of those reactions and wish I had done things differently. Like in all relationships ours will have bumps because humans don’t always get it right. I believe it’s how we grow and own our mistakes that really count. Where trees fall foxgloves grow.

We’ve messaged back and forth quite a bit this week. Just short check ins, emojis, GIFs etc but it felt really connected and helpful – holding. Later in the week I sent her a link to one of my old blog posts about therapy being a bit like and emotional rollercoaster and she told me that when she read it she just wanted to give me a hug… which again made me feel like she really is there, gets it, and is committed to helping.

So you would think my session yesterday would have been a breeze after all the mini bits of repair and settling since Monday wouldn’t you? Well, sure. that’d make sense. Only no. That’s just not how I work! haha.

By Thursday night I had started to feel really ashamed and embarrassed at my reaction to finding out she’d seen another client face to face. Like proper internal cringeing. I started to panic that Anita would think I was too much like hard work, too needy, too mental…and would just think, ‘fuck this, it’s too much effort’ just like Em.

I really struggled to answer to video call yesterday. It must have rung for nearly a minute. And when I did pick up I felt myself freeze. Child parts were there and my words just weren’t. I told her I felt embarrassed. Anita quickly realised what was going on and worked really hard at trying to reassure me that my reaction made so much sense and that she was so sorry for hurting those vulnerable parts and how scary it is to them because they are trying to trust and then they get let down by her. 

A few weeks ago I drew an analogy between me and her dog, who is a rescue, and it seems to have really resonated with her. She said that she can really see how traumatised I am and how like the dog I am and how much care I need because of what I have experienced at the hands of others. I’ve explained that terribly!! haha.

Anita genuinely really cares. I know she does. I can feel it. She understands how painful this kind of thing is (with the walk) and did everything she could to make amends. I could feel myself slipping further into the young parts, the toddler part and even the baby. She talked to them a lot and I could feel them crying inside. I just really wanted a hug. I could feel tears pricking in my eyes but I shut them down…another part moved in, an older part. She noticed the change.

I was able to tell her that I felt like I was trying to protect myself – like a tortoise in its shell. I said that this kind of protection is also really disconnecting and not what I need and when it happens in the room that distancing feels shit, but actually online it’s really shit because not only am I locked away inside myself, she is also locked away in my phone and it’s so hard to connect and it feels horrid. I don’t think I’ve been as explicit as this before. i.e I have told her I am struggling but not actually how hard I am struggling with the constraints of online therapy. We have talked about how different it is and how hard it is not to have eye contact but I haven’t expressly said “I can’t reach you”.

I think it was a bit of a lightbulb moment for her alongside the events of the weeks and she asked me if I wanted to book in a walk.

What do you think I said?

Go on…I’ll give you a prize for the right answer!

Well, of course, that’s the moment when the petulant, angry teen came up and just said, “No”.

Like WTAF?! I make all that fucking fuss about her having a walk with a client who hasn’t had any therapy at all in 5 months and then I get what I want and I refuse it. You literally cannot make this shit up!

Anita didn’t push it. I think she could tell there was a lot of internal conflict going on. So she told me then that she is actively working with the guy that owns the therapy room that she works out of on Wednesdays in my city to see about how viable it is to go back to face to face work when she gets back from her holiday on the 7th September.

I usually see her at her home but I can understand why she might want to extend her working in the rented room for now. Tbh it’s a ten minute drive to that venue rather than the forty to her home. I am just not massively keen on the idea of a new place, it won’t feel so ‘homely’ (I’ve seen the pictures) or have her stuff in it but to be honest I need to not let those picky parts start splitting hairs. Being able to meet A in person in a room, after what will then be six months, is really what I need to focus on.

She says she won’t know what the plan is for a bit as it depends on lots of things like insurance etc and she also said that she doesn’t think that working in masks or visors is really appropriate to the kind of work we do because facial expressions are so important and particularly for clients with childhood trauma because it’s just like the still face experiment.

I am glad she is aware of this and is thinking carefully about things. I am not going to get my hopes up too much as there are so many factors that need working through, but for her to tell me that she is trying to get back to face to face was helpful and for her to ask me if I would want to come back…well internally I was doing a happy dance but externally I gave absolutely nothing away….

FFS!

The session was coming to the end and she asked me again to think about the walk before she goes on holiday at the end of next week and coming back to the room and let her know what I think.

After the session, I was scrolling on Facebook and a video came up of a challenge where you go and sit with your toddler whilst they’re watching their favourite show and film their reaction. They were lovely. All the kids stop what they are doing and kiss or cuddle their parent – and connect. It made me cry…because I know this was never my reality.

Anyway, I decided I wanted to see A for a walk, but equally was terrified that because I want it but there is only a week until she goes on holiday there would be a strong chance we wouldn’t be able to find a time. I sent this:

Thank you for being there and trying to be reassuring today. It’s so hard. I just saw this video https://www.facebook.com/199098633470668/posts/7821700421210413/?vh=e&d=w and it properly broke my heart because this is what it feels like inside – and even younger still – and yet there never was anyone there. There was never this kind of experience – no ‘I love you’ no holding, no attunement. I look at the connection and love in this video and there’s nowhere in my internal experience to hang it on and I just feel immense loss. Like I know that child is there inside, wanting to love and to be loved and instead is spiralling out of control in the dark, alone. The grief feels completely overwhelming.

I am beyond terrified of being rejected and abandoned for being too much, too needy, annoying. And It’s really huge because it’s happened recently (with Em) not just in my past. I really really do want to see you in person – for a walk, back in the room, whatever … but there’s also a part of me that doesn’t want to need or want that, or for you to know how hard it is. Also, I was wondering, can I send you something in the post before you go on holiday? 

She messaged me back and said that she knows that lots of therapists would say no to me sending something but to her that feels rejecting so I could send her something if I wanted so long as it wasn’t a bag of 💩😂!

I laughed and said that it definitely wasn’t a bag of 💩 and then told her I missed her. She sent me a hug and then asked me if I was able to get childcare anytime this week to have a walk. Anyway after a bit of back and forth we are booked in for a walk on Tuesday afternoon… I’ll let you know how we get on! The good news is that at least a part of me is excited!