Finding My ‘NO’

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Well. it’s safe to say that I have totally overloaded myself again this academic year and have been, frankly, exhausted and drowning in shit I hate! I don’t think I actually hate my job (do I?!) I just think I have taken on a little bit more than I can chew and so am suffering with an uncomfortable reflux right now…although it’s not just work that’s the problem.

I am both physically and emotionally exhausted from trying to embody Dory from ‘Finding Nemo’. I may be a piscean but I’m so over being an upbeat (and rather confused) fish! My mantra has always been, ‘just keep swimming!’ but the reality is, right now, I just want to get out the water, dry off, and lie on a sun lounger for the next decade or so! (I get that that mightn’t work out so well for Dory!- but luckily I am a human and not a fish!)

It’s been so instilled in me from a young age that I should just keep going ‘no matter what’ that I have felt that the only viable option has been to keep swimming against the tide, at all costs, even if I am not getting anywhere, even if I am near to drowning (because I am overwhelmed and exhausted), even though I know, deep down, that it isn’t good for me and is completely at odds with what I really want and need…

AND, NOW, I AM DONE WITH THAT!

I CAN SEE HOW DANGEROUS AND DAMAGING THAT IS TO ME!

Hoo-bloody-ray!

Finally eh?!

I guess until now I have always worried what would happen if I don’t ‘do what I think I am supposed to?’ What happens if I ‘don’t follow the script?’ And I don’t have an answer for that BUT what I do know is that continuing as I am isn’t an option because whilst it’s ‘known’, my current modus operandi it isn’t working for me AT ALL.

And so a change is gonna come – and it’s coming now.

These last three weeks I have been AWOL here on the blog. I have wanted to write but I simply have not had a minute to do it. Actually, really, for the last six months or so I haven’t had much time to write or reflect here in the way I’d like and that’s sad for me because I do find writing really helpful. I enjoy it. The thing is, I don’t have a clone of myself and there are only so many hours in the day; blogging or anything that isn’t completely essential has been wiped from my weeks.

This neglecting of myself and not ‘finding time’ (because there is none!!) for ‘self care’, of course, has huge consequences in the end but this time the consequence is something entirely unexpected and new. Instead of the negative sinking further and further into a kind of acceptance that this is ‘just how my life is’ and feeling hopeless and helpless to do anything about it, I’ve found my ‘NO’. The ‘no’ is positive and this ‘NO’ is extremely LOUD!

I don’t know how, or why the time is now, but this is what’s happened:

Because I have been back in filo pastry mode (spread so thinly you can almost see through me!) I have edged closer and closer to burnout and that drop off where everything looks really horrible – like potentially having a breakdown terrible. Everything has felt overwhelming and too much. The attachment stuff with Em has been really activated and I have felt really precarious in myself.

I have kept going, because that’s what I do, but knowing that it couldn’t last forever. Something was going to give way, eventually. I was just kind of hoping I’d get to half-term and then be able to regroup again. I am always hanging on for the holidays and that’s really no way to live.

Lately, I have been waking up in the night feeling sick with anxiety – even before I have any conscious thoughts and not because of bad dreams just because my body has been overwrought and tense. I’ve felt as though I’ve had an electric current coursing through my veins all the time. I have been perpetually wound up and because of this I have felt so so tired. I’ve basically been mega stressed out…but sort of ignoring it…because it’s kind of just ‘the norm’, it’s ‘what it’s like at this time of year when work starts up again and the nights draw in’, and because, ‘I’ll get used to it in a few weeks’.

That’s pretty standard for me. I have gone through this in cycles for almost as long as I can remember so I don’t know what’s happened in the last couple of weeks, but basically the biproduct of me overdoing it, having no time for myself, and descending into a pit of misery is that somewhere deep inside the little voice that usually gets ignored, the one that is desperately pleading for things to be different, the one who is desperate for me to listen to her because whilst she is little and vulnerable and carries so much shame (that isn’t hers to carry by the way!) she is the one who knows exactly what I need… well, she has evolved her little voice into an almighty fierce roar that is so powerful that you can hear it miles off! I can’t ignore her anymore.

So what’s she saying now she’s truly found her voice? Well, she’s yelling, ‘FUCK THIS SHIT! I AM DONE!!! NO MORE!! I am not living like this anymore. I AM THIRTY SIX YEARS OLD – IT’S TIME TO LIVE AUTHENTICALLY! I need to be who I truly am, and if people don’t like it then they can fuck right off because I am tired, so fucking sick and tired of draining myself dry living in this cycle and feeling like I’m at odds with myself, hiding myself, making myself smaller than I am because I feel that how it should be. I am important and my needs matter too! I deserve to be loved. I am worthy of care. And I will not put myself at the bottom of the pile any more! I cannot and will not keep abandoning the youngest parts of myself because that’s what I have learnt to do. I believe in myself.’

And wow, there’s a lot of oomph in there!

I have known for a long while now that a lot of the work I need to do to move things on with therapy is body based. I have talked and talked and talked in my sessions and that has certainly helped me get to this place- especially as Em has really got me to notice my body, what’s going on with it, the changes that can happen in session – especially around the dissociation stuff.

I can track my body really well now. I know my patterns. I know what gets triggered emotionally and where it manifests in my body. I am not closed off from my feelings in the way that I used to be. But now I am more in touch with it all I have a problem. It’s that thing, you know once you see something horrendous you can’t unsee it? Well, that’s what it’s like inside. Now I see and feel all that’s ‘wrong’ in my body I can’t unfeel it.  I know my nervous system is wound up like a spring and yet I haven’t been able to discharge that energy.

No amount of visualisation or breathing or whatever has helped. No amount of thinking about the pain that the young parts of me carry, or knowing more about that feeling of abandonment and deep grief really helps. And it is so hard to trust Em when my body is screaming that she’s not safe, and doesn’t really care. Adult me knows she is safe and cares but underneath there is so much fear and they just can’t seem to reach a place of safety when those feelings get activated.

There is a part of me that knows that some of the healing that needs to take place requires physical touch and connection with another person because the ‘injury’ is so early. There are no words to help this. And because that can’t happen with Em, because that’s her boundary, it feels like it just perpetually retraumatises those young, vulnerable parts because they are essentially sitting six feet away from someone who chooses to keep their physical distance and they can’t understand why.

I haven’t, yet, worked out how to hold those parts myself and I often feel like a toddler screaming out for a cuddle and being met with intellectual speak. I know that’s partly my fault. I hide behind my intellect to save myself from being vulnerable or exposed and I really need to work on that but whilst my body keeps freaking out I don’t really feel like I can get the next level of work done.

So, anyway, to the point. The anxiety felt so fucking awful a few weeks ago and the attachment stuff had flared up so badly with Em’s second break of the summer that I got in contact with a craniosacral therapist that I had seen before I got pregnant with my daughter about nine years ago to organise a session. I mean, what was there to lose?

Every interaction I have ever had with this particular therapist has felt so full of warmth and care. She’s the sort of person that just exudes calm and care and love -a typical matriarch if you like. She always makes me feel like I matter and as though she genuinely cares about me and she gives amazing hugs. And I really need that right now. I also need a full body reset!

So, on Thursday I went for my session and I can’t even explain how amazing it was. Soooooo different to before. I definitely benefited from this kind of therapy in my twenties but this time around it was transformational in just one session. I think that, in part, has to be because of all the work I have done with Em.

Last time I saw K I inherently knew something was wrong, and I knew I was grieving the loss of my dad, but I had no real understanding of all the childhood stuff or the impact it had had on me. I don’t think I was ready to do the work I needed. I know that now. I feel all that pain and loss from the most vulnerable parts of me and I am more open to it. We all know I have my defences and who they are (!!) but I really want to work on helping get them lowered or feeling safe enough so I can once and for all truly help what’s underneath. That’s actually really terrifying and it means coming home to my body…but I know it’s possible and I believe that somewhere inside my body has the resources to hold all this for itself it just needs some help to learn how.

The session on Thursday was so good. I could feel myself coming back into my body almost immediately. At times it felt like being in an elevator and steadily descending down through the floors in stages, like waves of coming back into myself until I reached the bottom and grounded. At other times it felt as though there were concentric circles expanding and contracting in my head. It was almost like a pebble had been dropped in the water in my head and the ripples were moving outwards and then back inwards over and over again. I could really feel the baby part of me in that session too but she wasn’t screaming and uncontained – she was held. Once the session had finished I felt immediately calmer and more in my body and as though  I suddenly had a protective space/forcefield around me sort of like a bubble.

Usually, I am affected by every little stressful thing because I have no defence against it but with this protective field around me…well lots of the usual stuff can’t penetrate it. It’s like a huge weight has lifted! I simply don’t care about lots of the things that have always bothered me before. It’s almost like overnight I have found an important part of myself again and see my value (where work is concerned at least. There’s still a VERY VERY long way to go with the attachment stuff, the trauma stuff, and the mother wound!!). Still, at least with work I don’t feel the need to people please anymore. I have stopped saying ‘yes’ and I have already exercised my ‘no’.

It was kind of fortuitous timing today, really. Mentally I have been practising my ‘No’ (I know exactly how I want things to look in the new year with my job) but sometimes when I’m face-to-face and someone asks me to do something my ‘No’ becomes a ‘Yes’ and I can hear that little voice inside crying, ‘Why???’

Today has been a bit of trial, day one of a period from hell (I was certainly in my body!), my mood was not good, and I unexpectedly ran into the guy I do some tutoring for in the supermarket.

I couldn’t even muster my usual ‘upbeat’ smiley face or any deflective humour. He said I looked tired and then asked me how things were with one of the jobs I do for his company because apparently one of the challenging groups I teach had been particularly difficult for the Maths guy yesterday. I said that whilst it had been largely ok on Wednesday and the sessions so far, once my current students and commitment on that course finishes in November that I won’t be running my side of the course again and that he’d need to find someone else to do it.

He looked surprised and said, ‘I don’t think there would be anyone else who could do it’. At one time I might have felt an internal pressure to continue, go against my gut which says, ‘no more’ but instead I said, ‘I just can’t do it anymore. I am so over filling other people’s leaky buckets when they aren’t at least trying to stop the leak themselves. This kind of work takes a huge toll on me and I have more than enough work that I enjoy and that is rewarding, where I don’t have to absorb that level of shit. I’ve reached a point in my career where just because I can do something doesn’t mean I am going to. I am going to be far more selective about what I take on from now on’.

I could see the surprise on his face but he could see I wasn’t going to be moved and told me that he would pass the message on to the organisation that has been running the course and accepted that whilst he knows they intend to run another cohort straight after Christmas that they’ll need to do it without me and find another English teacher.

Do you know what? I thought I might feel a bit guilty or whatever – but I don’t at all. I feel relief. Because I have listened to my inner voice and heeded her calls. I have hated Wednesdays the last few weeks doing that particular session with that particular group. It’s only three hours long, and I already have my course plan because I delivered it earlier in the year to another group so it’s not exactly a huge challenge BUT my heart just hasn’t been in it. Emotionally ‘armouring up’ just to get through has been requiring more and more energy. All the young people (18-25 year olds) have a lot going on – mental health issues, care leavers, drugs etc – and I just can’t absorb them anymore.

I don’t know if it’s that I care too much about people but I am massively affected by their stories and I feel so drained after each session then of course there is always the challenging behaviour that can come from some of these people too. And I just can’t do it anymore. Part of me feels sad because so often these groups get overlooked and with the right support things can change but I can’t do it anymore because everything else in my life suffers when I keep putting work above everything else. I am not as good a parent as usual because I am so worn out. When I am worn out my mental health suffers…and we all know where that leads… wobbly child parts and attachment hell.

My therapy session with Em on Friday was mixed. The first part was fine as I recounted the positive impact I felt from having the craniosacral session, Em said it sounded brilliant and asked what I felt that was left for us in the room in therapy. Suddenly I got hit with a wave of full body sadness as the more vulnerable parts came to the front – something had shifted again and I just really struggled to talk because there is a part of me that doesn’t know what is left for my talk therapy.

I wanted to connect and yet that overwhelming fear of being rejected and abandoned was massive again and I just couldn’t go there. I managed, in the end, to say ‘you feel really far away’ but that was about it. Ugh!

I really want for the craniosacral therapy to sit alongside the talk therapy and want for it to be able to give me the grounding and containment that I need to do more of the work. I feel ready to go down into another deeper layer with my healing journey and that why things are going to change in other areas of my life. I need to make adequate space and time for myself so that I have some resource to actually go do what needs to be done!

I know it’s going to be a slow process but I’m in it for the long haul! I think this may be my life’s work!

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Easing Back Into Therapy…

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So, that’s the summer breaks done and dusted…thank goodness for that! To be fair, these recent breaks in therapy have been pretty good compared with some other times (but it’s all relative and by all accounts I am still pretty shit at breaks! – hence texting Em two days into the last break!).

I won’t lie, I am really relieved that it’ll be a while now before there is another holiday/break in therapy. I can’t even really think about Christmas just yet because I have managed to make the break MUCH longer than it would usually be. It’s going to be nearly four weeks long because I booked a holiday the week before the break would usually start. Eek!

Don’t get me wrong, the idea of some all-inclusive sunshine just before Christmas definitely appeals but…argh…I’ve had some humdingers of Christmas therapy breaks over the years. I really don’t want to end up spiralling into the depths of attachment doom again. Ending up in a big rupture is never fun and so I am really aware that a longer break might pose some issues. Having said that I am usually pretty good until New Year and then that’s when the shit hits the fan!

I guess the positive is that Em and I are aware of this fact, now,  and will ensure we spend some decent time putting things in place so that (hopefully) things don’t descend into emotional Armageddon. Well, that’s the plan, anyway 😉

Having just glanced back over what I have written I just wondered something. Does anyone else usually try and time their holidays to coincide with their therapist’s breaks in order that there is no so much disruption to their therapy? Until this year I have ALWAYS taken my holidays when I’ve known Em will be away because the idea of a therapy break being down to me and not her has been a hideous idea! I did find May half-term quite hard this year because USUALLY Em takes a break then and this year she didn’t… and I was away in Lanzarote. Two missed sessions all down to me. Groan!

Anyway, I’m sure it can’t just be me that does that…can it? Lol! Sometimes I wonder if therapists have any idea just what hideousness goes on behind the scenes with us. I mean take the ‘therapy toilet stops’ en route to session? I mean does anyone ever tell their therapist the effect that therapy nerves can have on their bowels pre-session??? I’m guessing not many of us would sit down and say, “Crikey, it’s been hideous today, I’ve had several bouts of diarrhoea on the way here and had to stop twice! Thank god for the Tesco round the corner!”

I’d hazard a guess to say that most of our therapists do spend quite a lot of time checking in with us about what’s going on in our bodies during a session. I for one have never answered, “I feel like I might shit myself!” when Em has asked me to check in with what’s happening on a physical level. Usually I complain about feeling sick. Having said that, interestingly, the dodgy tummy evaporates once I get to session and the nausea kicks in instead. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not EVERY SESSION  that I suffer with ‘therapy tummy’ but it’s certainly more often than not – especially when I have ‘big things’ to say.

Anyway, enough of the shits. Let’s get back to breaks (which are also shit!). I know it’s insane but I tend to find that once May half-term break has happened I almost retreat a bit from therapy. Of course I still turn up to my sessions (because duh! I can’t not go because I am sooooo attached) but the knowledge that the long summer break/s are imminent makes me go into a kind of self-protection zone. I rarely do deep work in the lead up to summer…unless it’s the final session before the break and then months of stuff comes flooding out in desperation.

The good news, I’ve been in therapy long enough to see patterns with how I seem to work and the good news is this next three months is September-Christmas is generally when I do the most work and things  generally move forward. Ironically, I have been back with Em for three sessions now and I’m pussy footing around and not really going to the hard places. Adult Me has been largely in the driving seat (apart from a few moments when the young parts moved in) but it’s been ok. Sometimes adult me has stuff going on that needs attention too and it’s a good way of easing back into the room. It takes the younger parts time to build trust again and believe that Em is safe and will stay (and isn’t disgusted by/or hates them).

I’m far less concerned by this slow dance that happens after breaks than I used to be. I used to be impatient to get on and do the work then moment my bum hit the sofa on session one. I was frustrated that I couldn’t just open up and go the vulnerable places after a break when I had clearly been ‘feeling all the feelings’ when I hadn’t been able to see Em. Now I understand that it’s all part of the process. My system takes time to adjust. It is what it is and I’ll get there eventually. I am not going to beat myself up about ‘all the things I haven’t said’ or worse feel like Em in some way hadn’t done enough to make it so that I could talk.

There was definitely a good period of time where I would feel disappointed by how a session had gone because it didn’t follow what I had wanted in my mind before I had arrived. I was annoyed when Em suggested that I was trying to script things a couple of years ago but I see what she was getting at now! So, when a session hadn’t gone to plan (from my pre-worked script!) I would feel almost let down by Em because somehow ‘she should have known what I needed and didn’t provide it’. I don’t get that now, really. I see just how bloody hard she works with me and know that whatever happens in the room is what needs to happen in that moment. You can’t force it.  That’s progress right?!

I am aware that whilst Adult Me might want this process to hurry the fuck along so I can do something else with £450 a month I have to accept that parts of me can’t do the work yet or need to do it ‘bit by bit’ as therapists so like to say! Working with so many parts is tricky. I can never know for sure which part of me is going to show up in session – sometimes it’s none, sometimes it’s loads and we just have to work with what comes up! … and let’s not forget there’s a good chance of dissociation at some point too. Joy!

Soooo, I don’t really have much to say. Whilst I have had three sessions there’s not a great deal to report because I’m in the thick of working through a few things so I’ll wait til it’s all resolved before I post anything as I haven’t really got any ‘lightbulb moments’ yet. It’s been so nice to be back in the room with Em. I know I don’t like breaks and they are tough but sometimes it’s actually being back in the room when I realise just how much I have really missed her – it’s like there’s an extra level of realisation – and that, of course, has set the cat amongst the pigeons!

The attachment stuff is swirling about again (despite being partly settled by her text reply to me on the break) and I wonder if this is because I can’t allow myself to fully feel just quite how awful it feels being away from her when she is gone and so it flares up once I can see her again. I suppose the positive is I have two sessions a week to see her and work more on this core issue: the mother wound and am not left hanging now. I do feel like I want to sit across from her and gush just how much I love her….but hey, this is me, and we all know I won’t say it out loud.

Right, that’s all for now. Take care all x

 

 

Reaching Out

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The last time I posted here I was circling the pit of attachment pain hell and I won’t lie, it was complete agony. I know these feelings well, but they aren’t constant any more (thank god!), and the intensity of them is not full on all of the time and so it takes me by surprise just how debilitating it feels when they hit full force again after a period of being pretty ok.

I was both surprised and disappointed that I had started to struggle so hard the moment the therapy break kicked in. I mean I basically had my session – a hard one – and then boom straight into the bowels of hell! Nooo! I had done relatively well with the therapy break at the start of the summer and yet within two weeks of one ending I was already starting another and I think that’s probably got a lot to do with how bad things felt starting the second.

Anyone who’s been reading my blog for a while will know that I don’t always handle disruption very well but to give myself credit, I do cope much better than I used to – or at least I had been! My benchmark for ‘break from hell’ came at Christmas 2017 when I basically lost my mind – I am so embarrassed about it now (especially as I rage/breakdown typed it all out on here and then made Em read it in our next session! Not surprising that after that she said she would be reluctant to read another of my posts because she didn’t need to be “that masochistic”- ouch) but it was all part of this messy process, I guess, and that’s why I don’t take it down/delete it. I do internally cringe a bit (a lot) when I think back over all the times I have ranted at Em for doing nothing wrong but feeling like EVERY WORD SHE SAYS IS WRONG and lashing out at her!

So, sure, I don’t really like disruption but I can largely cope with the breaks now without becoming some wobbly attachment jelly creature/raging text psycho but not this time it seems! So that leads me to wonder: how much disruption is too much disruption (for me)? And based on recent evidence it looks like two separate two week breaks in a six week period is the threshold! I said last time that Em more than earns her breaks and I understand that breaks are part of the fabric of therapy it’s just not easy explaining that to all the parts that get so affected by holidays. Like part of me wants to cheekily (but kind of seriously say), “take a holiday but just one per calendar month, please.” 😉

I have been wondering whether I would have handled a break of one solid month better than this? I doubt it! Or maybe if there had been a slightly longer intervening period between the breaks it may have been more manageable…I just don’t know. I suspect it’s not just about the number breaks it’s the fact that this second one came just at a time when my life has got a whole other level of stress come in from left field and so really it’s more about timing – which can’t be helped because life doesn’t work like that!

Thinking about how much this break has disrupted me has also made me really grateful that Em is not a sickly person – she seems to have the constitution of an ox and has only cancelled one session, at short notice, in the entire 4.5 years we have worked together. That happened in the very early days when I was seeing her in the NHS and I really wasn’t bothered back then because I hadn’t really allowed myself to feel anything towards her at that point, and was grateful that I didn’t have to get myself and my new baby out the house and into a 9:30am session! How things change eh?!

If she were to text me to cancel the day before or perhaps on the morning of a session, now, there are parts that would struggle not to feel abandoned, upset and (probably) a bit angry. I know this is because my need for her feels massive and a lot of the time those younger parts seem to exist on some kind of countdown until the next session. However, alongside this young needy part, there is another older, more nurturing part that would also really want to make sure she was ok and was being looked after if she was unwell and not care at all about not having my session.

Recently, when I could tell she wasn’t quite right (physically – lol!), I bought her the gem stones as a gesture to show her that I care. Therapy had been difficult for quite some time and I didn’t feel able to just ask her if she was actually ok despite knowing that she wasn’t. I was shutting her out because I was feeling shut out by her (not because of her being ill!) and it had become a vicious cycle.

Having worked together for so long I wonder, now, why I couldn’t just ask her at the time if she was ok even though it was a rough patch? I suspect part of it was something about not wanting to be intrusive and being fobbed off or ‘kept out’ whilst another part of it might have been about not wanting her to confirm that she wasn’t ok because so many parts of me need her to be ok. I want her to be human – but not so human that she gets poorly! Oh my god I’m such a walking contradiction! Lol!

The therapeutic relationship certainly is weird isn’t it? Our therapists poke at our core issues time and again (not always on purpose – we just sometimes don’t see the open trap door as we’re walking along and plunge into darkness) and yet also offer some of the most powerful healing we’ve experienced. It is a relationship it is set up to benefit us, not them….and that feels odd, particularly to those of us that have had a lifetime of trying to meet other people’s needs whilst sacrificing our own!

I hate that Em’s absence affects me but I also really struggle with the fact that she doesn’t need me in the least. She doesn’t miss me when she’s away – or certainly not in the way that I miss her (which is a very good thing because I don’t think she’d be the ideal therapist if she did)! When she is sick she has other people to care for her. If she is struggling in her life I would never know about it. I am not a friend or family member and so I am completely ignorant of what goes on for her outside that room – unless it impacts me in some way and then she lets me know what I need to know.

The whole thing is set up to help me and focuses on me…and that is actually alien in most of our relationships. It’s not a reciprocal arrangement and that’s why we have to pay for it. That’s how we meet their needs. I know for a lot of us paying to maintain one of our most intimate relationships feels weird but paying for it doesn’t make it any less of a relationship, it’s not fake (the teen part and inner critic are off somewhere else at the moment so can’t argue with that!).

I know that this is how it’s all meant to be but it is hard to find a place to put all that sometimes – other than ‘this is a therapeutic relationship and it’s different from other relationships we have’. Ironically when Em says that to me it makes me bristle, like I get a proper kick back, because I’ve always seen that comment through the lens of ‘limitations’ ie what the therapeutic relationship ‘isn’t’ or ‘can’t be’ for me. “This is a therapeutic relationship and so x, y, z and that might feel rejecting or like I don’t care…” In the past I have felt that this means the therapeutic relationship therefore ‘has less value’ than other relationships and it must be ‘meaningless’ because it doesn’t fit the mould of other ‘meaningful’ relationships. That deduction instantly fills me with shame, though, because this ‘nothing’ relationship is so hugely important to me. So on the one hand I am like ‘fuck it, it’s nothing’ and on the other hand I am like ‘oh my god this relationship is killing me because I need it, and HER, so much! It’s so important to me.’

Whenever Em has said something about our relationship being ‘therapeutic’ I’ve often heard that as her attempt to distance herself from me rather than her trying to show me that the boundaries that can feel so difficult sometimes are there to protect us both even when they feel rejecting. She can’t meet all my needs but she can meet some. She can’t be there all the time but when she is there she gives me her undivided attention. I’m beginning to see that I actually need and want the therapeutic relationship (even with its limitations) because what I am SLOWLY learning is that Em is committed to the work with me and I get the best version of her in the time I have. I suspect in real life she’s probably just a dick like the rest of us!

Anyway back to this therapy break. I joked at the end of my last post that I hadn’t text Em ‘yet’. And despite flailing about like a fish out of water I really had no intention of reaching out to her. I mean let’s face it, what’s the point? Pretty much every time I have sent a desperate connection seeking text and she has responded it’s all gone belly up anyway. Our hit rate of her replying to a text and me responding in a triggered state is about 90% Ugh. And let’s not even talk about the times I have text her and she hasn’t replied or acknowledged it at all. Ha. Let’s face it outside contact has been a minefield. I’ve wanted it and it’s pissed me off when I have got it and pissed me off when I haven’t!!

Em’s boundary on outside contact has always been that she would prefer it if I didn’t text or email unless it’s something to do with scheduling but that she does generally respond if she has a concern for safety. So in theory if I text her to tell her I am struggling and need an extra session she’ll respond but if I send her something but without an overt request then she’ll leave it til session– unless she thinks I’m properly not coping. To many parts of me this no outside contact rule has always felt incredibly rejecting but as time has gone on I (adult) can understand why she wants to keep communications in the room as she often say, “therapy happens here” and it’s “live” and “between us in the here and now”.

I am living proof of why outside contact can be such a minefield. I have got used to occasionally sending messages and not getting replies. It’s not great. It upsets me a bit but it doesn’t send me over the edge because most of the time whatever it is I have said can wait. It’s almost like when I am struggling I want her to have a heads up so that if things go silent in the session she has something to work with. Ie I’ll send a link to something and put ‘can we look at this in session on Monday’. I don’t require a reply in the moment I am basically just forwarding her the map.

I try really hard not to reach out at all because it fills me with shame when I do. Most of the time I don’t text or email Em. I don’t need to. I don’t actually want to either. Things are contained enough in the sessions and it’s fine…I mean it’s not fine, but I can hold things for myself until I am in the room. It’s only when the wheels are falling off inside the sessions and things are not contained enough that outside contact becomes a problem. If I can’t touch base and connect in sessions then part of me goes all out to try and connect outside them. It’s bloody embarrassing.

So, no prizes for what happened on the Wednesday following my Monday session – only two days into the break.

Yup.

I sent a text.

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IDIOT!!!

Why? Why? Why?

Do I never learn?

Clearly not.

I mean honestly. WTAF?

I hate that my feelings of abandonment and rejection (just because there is a break) make things feel so difficult. I hate that when I do cave in and contact her I feel as though I am breaking the rules and disappointing her but sometimes I just can’t not. I know how daft that sounds.

Why would I knowingly walk into a situation where I am going to be left feeling rejected and abandoned for more than two weeks? I guess, the answer to that question is that there is a desperate little part of me that hopes I won’t be, hopes I will get a response, hopes that something will come that is enough to be soothing and settle things down…

… And perhaps this, too, when I am drowning, and I mean DROWNING in attachment pain and feel like I can’t breathe or function perhaps hitting the big red button where I don’t get a reply from her and thus can prove she doesn’t give a shit about me actually shifts me into anger and rage and I can instead focus on how shit Em is, and how neglectful, and how I hate her and that is easier than sitting with the feelings of just really fucking missing her. Don’t they say that anger is just sad’s mask?

As I sat full of that deep deep aching empty pain on Wednesday morning it dawned on me that in the past I was so triggered by the pain I felt when Em was gone (yeah yeah, the mother wound it’s not all about her! I know!) that I was unable to see that when I had reached out to Em in a state she had generally responded to me outside session. She has, on multiple occasions tried to connect with me when I have asked for it. She had proved that she was still there. And yet on these occasions I was in such a triggered state and so programmed to feel rejection and abandonment that was all I could see in her messages. I had one narrative ‘she doesn’t care’ and part of me was looking for confirmation even though clearly another part was reaching out hoping for connection.

The messages she sent me were never ‘good enough’. They never said quite the right thing. They weren’t right for me. I guess at that those times I have such a clear idea of what I need that I don’t see that she can’t give me word for word what I want because she’s not a bloody mind reader – and in addition to that she is her own person in the relationship with me and she has to reply in a way that feels right to her. Oh, and let’s not forget that actually what each part needs can be wildly different too and so getting a bullseye is like walking round blindfolded and trying to pin a tail on a donkey!! OMG it’s a disaster!

She said, after the Christmas 2017 debacle that she had felt like I was trying to script her and that she did reply to me and that she did care but I just couldn’t take it in… and I understand that now, whereas at the time I thought I was showing her what I needed to feel better and felt so indignant about it all when I didn’t quite get it. You’ll laugh now, that I read those messages and they are ‘fine’!!!

On Wednesday, then, I sat on my bed and was fully pissed off with myself. Why? Well, because basically it seemed to me that Em stopped responding to me in April 2018 and perhaps it’s because I have always criticised what she’s done for me and our ‘crisis’ communications just weren’t working so she stopped them to stop more ruptures. I mean sure there are probably a whole plethora of other reasons for what’s happened and I guess I will try and have this conversation when we meet on the 6th September but on Wednesday that’s where I was at.

And so this is what I sent:

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I didn’t expect a response, although I did hope for one.

The day dragged on and on.

I kept checking my phone despite knowing that she was at work in the NHS and so wouldn’t reply to me during working hours (or at all).

I knew she had an hour’s drive home.

I know she has a child and would have things to do in the early evening…because that’s what my life is like too.

But at 8pm I had given up hope and had resigned myself to another break of feeling like she doesn’t care, that I don’t matter, and then cycling through all the associated feelings.

Fun times.

That evening I was talking to my wife about her new job and didn’t look at my phone until 9:34 when it lit up.

And low and behold there was a message from Em.

OMFG!

I didn’t read it straight away as I wanted a quiet space to take it all in. But actually, just seeing that she had responded felt amazing. Like properly amazing. I really didn’t care what was inside the text. As I said earlier, I’ve kind of gone past worrying about the specific words, and wanting to unpick every tiny bit of a text searching for what I need in the moment, and rather have decided that seeing the bigger picture is a better idea – ie she has text me out of hours and that must mean that she cares – and try and take that in and absorb it instead. And you know what it really worked.

I opened the message. It was fine. Really similar to the one I got my knickers in a knot about two summers ago. If anything it’s ‘less’ personal than that one. BUT the big difference is I can see that she’s trying to help me AND THAT, MY FRIENDS, IS PROGRESS!

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I felt my whole system calm right down after reading the message. I still miss Em. I really want it to be our next session because I feel like there is loads and loads to say and work through. I want to know what it was that made her reach out to me again in this way after so long. I want to tell her what a huge difference that message made. I want to express how being willing to stretch her boundaries a little bit has made me feel much safer and settled in the relationship again BUT importantly it HAS NOT made me want to keep contacting her or reaching for her. I need her to understand that I am not someone who ‘if she concedes and inch I’ll want to take a mile’ – far from it.

I’ve been really ill this last week with a viral throat infection and tonsillitis and despite feeling mega sorry for myself (and little) I have not wanted to text Em at all. I can handle those feelings of longing to be looked after for myself. I can adult my way through it until the 6th because I know she’s out there. Right now I am able to hold her in mind and I haven’t always been able to do that.

Anyway, it’s just over a week til we meet again and in the meantime I need to get my arse in gear and get school ready – both my kids and me! I’m sure the time will fly by… well, I hope so because I really want to go in and smile and say, “thank you!” And you know what? I think I am gonna survive this break!

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Summer 2019 – Therapy Break #2

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Ok, so buckle up because here we go again! Yesterday signalled the start of therapy break number two of the summer. THERAPY BREAK TWO???!!! WHHHHYYYYY DOES MY THERAPIST NEED TWO TWO WEEK HOLIDAYS IN A SIX WEEK WINDOW????!!! (whispers: ‘because she’s more than earned it working with me!’) Let’s be completely clear here (in case you struggle to read between the lines) this break is ALREADY a total shit show and I am only 31 hours into it! The feelings and emotions I am experiencing now compared with what I was managing for most of the last break are as different as night and day (and not in a good way!).

FUUUUUCCCCCKKKKKK IT!!!!

And…. breathe…

..breathe some more…

…it’s not working!…

Seriously, though, as I said in my last post the last break was pretty good by all accounts. It didn’t feel like Groundhog Day from day one and I didn’t fall into the depths of attachment pain the moment I left Em’s house on the 19th July. For the most part I kind of just got on with things, actually had an ok time despite my day-to-day life stresses and it wasn’t until the second week when I started to get the wobbles a bit so far as missing Em went. Given how things have been in the past with breaks I take that as a significant win. Shame I can’t continue the trend now, though, eh?!

The first break of the summer wasn’t perfect by any means but for a two week disruption I was pleased with how I managed especially as therapy hasn’t been exactly easy for a while now. Basically, what I am saying is, compared to what’s already going down now I did a bloody amazing job! I guess getting wiped out with a week or less to go to the next session is more manageable, there is only one Monday or Tuesday or whatever left to get through and tick off whereas right now I think it’s three Fridays until I am back in the room and I am already on my arse…help me!

I was certainly looking forward to seeing Em again as the break came to a close but I wasn’t desperate to see her, it didn’t feel like life and death (which is how it feels now)- I had not been engulfed by the gnawing ache in my stomach for the entire 16 days she was gone. I missed her but it was ok. I wanted to reach out for her but I didn’t. I could hold stuff for myself and could wait til I saw her again in person on the 5th. I think it was all helped by the fact that I took a risk in my last session leading into the break and told her how I was struggling and not ok about the break which enabled us to do some work on it and settle some of the niggling doubts before I left. I was able to connect to her in that session and that carried me through for a good bit.

The return to therapy was great too. I have had four really really good sessions where I have done nothing but talk – no awkward silences, no dissociation, none of that horrid stuff that usually happens. I have had so much to say to her. BUT it’s been so much to say about what’s been going on in my current life which is to say stuff that affects me as an adult. There’s been some really nightmarish stuff happening the last couple of weeks here and I have even had to talk to the police about the harassment I’ve been experiencing and so there’s plenty of grist for the mill in session.

It’s been a relief to go in to my sessions and just talk and be able to make eye contact and to laugh and just be NORMAL. It’s been nice to see Em be angry on my behalf, to swear (she almost never does that) and to feel like she’s genuinely on my team and really cares that someone is trying to make my life difficult and is annoyed by it too. I guess, if I am honest, I like it that she seemed to be protective of me…it’s all felt connecting and positive. I have felt more able to cope with what’s been directed at me because I have been able to talk with her about it… and now she’s gone again and I feel like a wobbly jelly.

It was almost inevitable that everything would come to a crashing halt yesterday, then. Session five and the last one before the second break and boom – welcome back child parts! They’ve not been seen by Em for weeks and weeks…and they missed her on the last break … they have been dreading this second break too and it all just got too much. I knew it was getting a bit dicey inside and the system was getting agitated so I mentally planned out what I wanted to say in session. I was all prepared to go in and talk about how I was worried about the break – I had even drawn a picture and written some notes around it to start things off:

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But of course I never showed it to her because the moment I got in the room I completely dissociated. I’d felt it starting to happen as I was driving to session. We ended up having a painful session where I was almost completely silent throughout. Em tried really hard to help me talk but it was just too hard. I couldn’t do it. The feelings around being too much, too needy, and potentially bombarding her with my suffocating feelings felt horrendous. I desperately needed to connect and yet I found myself stuck behind a glass wall unable to reach out.

I needed to tell her that I was anxious about the second break because things were so unnerving with the harassment stuff and I feel like without her regular support I wouldn’t cope as well especially if I received any more communications from the person in question. I wanted her to know that I have my cancer follow up next week and I am scared about it. I wanted to tell her that the young parts were going to really miss her too and that whilst the work we have done in the last couple of weeks has been essential and helpful they felt like she’d forgotten about them and would therefore not have them in mind whilst she was away this time…and they are terrified of that.

Anyway, basically I needed some tangible words of reassurance about us and the relationship and I stopped myself asking for them/getting them because I AM A MORON/I WAS TOO SCARED OF BEING REJECTED. I am so frightened of Em rejecting me that I couldn’t even tell her what I needed. It’s so frustrating. I am so angry with myself because I have basically plunged myself down into the belly of attachment pain by failing to be brave and trust that Em won’t deliberately hurt me. How much evidence do I need from her that she is safe and is not going to shame me or abandon me??? Clearly a load more – ugh!! The problem isn’t as straight forward as choosing to talk or choosing to withhold. I don’t deliberately sit there thinking ‘ah ha, I’m not going to say stuff!’ actually when that very young part comes in she is just utterly frozen and terrified she can’t talk.

I left yesterday’s session feeling totally steam-rollered and it’s been agony ever since. So, needless to say, because I am in the grips of the fucking hideous pain where my chest aches and my stomach hurts and my whole body feels like it is crying out to be held, today has felt as though it would never end. I have achieved next to nothing and struggled to even get out of bed til after midday – which is not like me at all. I have felt so flat and ugh and depressed it’s been really horrible. I have thought about writing here but haven’t known what to say – I still don’t really but am just seeing what comes out – diarrhoea by the looks of it! I thought about doing something creative/arty but have just sat on my bed staring into the middle distance. It’s been shit, really.

Anyone who regularly reads this blog will know that usually I am really busy, productive, whizzing about… but to be honest that has its own pitfalls and doesn’t always mean time goes quickly on breaks, it just means I get more burnt out when trying to navigate the fall out of the mother wound. Being still today and moping about has really shown me (again) how hard the feelings I have actually are because I feel as though I am drowning. I hate it. I want to run away. I don’t know how to make them stop. I don’t know how I am meant to help the young parts of me that feel like they are going to die because Em is gone. I know this isn’t about Em, or not wholly about her, but the little girl that was abandoned all those years ago is still hurting…what on earth do I do for her when it all seems to be happening again?? How do I self-soothe??

My best friend told me this week that she thought I was the most feeling avoidant person she knew…which is a great accolade 😉 but she’s totally right. I am so terrified of sitting with the overwhelming feelings that I literally do anything I can to not have to experience the full force of them. The other day I was experimenting with feeding my feelings (rather than starving them!) but that just made me feel like I was going to puke. I don’t think binging is my thing! It’s occurred to me today that perhaps I should get on the treadmill and focus on exercise…but I am so lethargic/down/sad that I can’t be bothered right now. The Critic isn’t here just yet but give it a few days, if things continue to feel this desperate then no doubt I’ll be lacing my trainers and putting myself through my paces.

(I know that none of that is self-soothing btw!)

I literally don’t know what else to say. It’s all just a great big pile of crap. On the plus side I haven’t sent any desperate texts to Em (yet) which felt like a very real possibility this morning!

17 days to go.

It can only get better right?

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Summer 2019 – Therapy Break #1

 So, here I am, back in the here and now and writing about my (mental health) life in 2019! My last few blog posts have been blasts from the past (old diary entries) tracking the horrible crisis period that saw me finally start therapy with my therapist Em in 2012. I haven’t seen her consistently through that time – there was a three year break between 2013-16 where I was doing okish, had a baby, got myself together a bit… and then unfortunately got diagnosed with cancer and had to go through all the treatment for that which sent everything off kilter again.

Ironically, there’s not a lot to say right now about therapy because, yes, you guessed it, it’s the most dreaded time of the year: SUMMER THERAPY BREAK!

ARGH!

This year Em has raised the stakes for triggering my feelings of abandonment  (#sarcasm) and is taking not one but two breaks of a fortnight each over the summer. To be fair, I did get months and months of prior warning about this year’s holidays (in order to give me plenty of time to dread and brood about the inevitable separation! 😉 )  but no amount of mental preparation ever really helps me feel ready for the reality of being in therapy limbo in the summer.

I find longer breaks (anything more than a week) quite challenging at the best of times and so two separate two week breaks falling almost back to back at a time I historically find incredibly challenging due to my dad going away on his holiday and never coming back is really tough. Every summer I get a knot in my stomach in the lead up to the holiday. I panic that Em might just go away on holiday and die, too. I know the odds are very slim but PTSD brain doesn’t understand that does it? It’s happened once to someone I love so surely it can happen again.

These days, at least, I can talk about these anxieties in my therapy and Em is very aware of just how hard July and August are for me. In fact this year she has regularly brought up the topic of the break and we have spent time talking about how it feels especially in relation to everything that happened a decade ago with my dad. I think regular checking in has made it feel a bit better although I do still struggle to really say exactly how I feel about her holiday.

These days I feel like I should be ok about breaks because we’ve been working together for such a long time now and she always comes back. I should see that she does return… and yet I still can’t quite believe she will be there in the room after a holiday. That massive panic is never far beneath the surface. I can’t imagine how I would cope if one day I was told she was gone gone not just away. Eek.

There is still a very active part of me wants to beg her not to leave me, to promise that she will definitely come back, and to tell me that she isn’t going away because of something I have done to push her away. I want her to reassure me that she’s not going away because she’s had enough of me. I have said this stuff to her before on more than one occasion and she has reassured me many many times!!  I know how young these thoughts/feelings are and so that’s why I struggle to articulate them – it’s mortifying – but these feelings are completely understandable based on my history and Em has helped normalise them and washed a bit of the shame coating off them.

The last session before holiday (Friday 19th) she asked me again how I felt about the break. All week I had been stressing about the final session. Therapy (and life) has been hard lately. I have been talking about the very real stresses of the here and now in my sessions  – my wife’s job loss and the quickly diminishing savings can’t help but take centre stage.

I haven’t been avoiding the other big things I just have been more concerned about the possibility of having to move away and downsize than the attachment stuff. Actually, maybe that’s not quite right – I haven’t had the capacity to allow myself to feel and explore the attachment stuff and so have had to sideline it for a while. It’s still there, swirling about, but I can’t manage it all if it’s not active. I can’t invite in those difficult feelings because I don’t have enough reserves to safely contain them. I know they always catch up in the end, though!

I feel really sad that my therapy has gone off on an unexpected tangent even though the work we have done has been connecting and helpful. I feel sad because the two sessions before we got the shock of my wife’s job loss I had really started to open up to Em about the eating disorder and it felt like we had really started to tackle a very delicate area that I have avoided looking at head on for a long time. It was big work and scary but felt like it was going to be ok and helpful. It’s work that has been waiting to be done for twenty years. Still, there is time for it and it will happen eventually.

The last session before the break began with more of the adult talking about being an adult with adult concerns. It was ok. Useful even. BUT. Not for all of me!  When I arrived at the session I was already in self-protect/shutdown/adult mode and replied and so when Em asked me after half an hour about how I was feeling about the break, I replied, “It’s fine.”

(It’s not fine – NOT FINE AT ALL!)

It almost comes out on autopilot doesn’t it? ‘Fine’ Such a well-worn response. There have been many times I would say that and then quickly change the conversation because frankly I don’t want to admit to being a big wobbly pile of need when she’s leaving. She’s more than earned her break and surely I can just suck it up and let her go without disintegrating every time she does.

The shame and the embarrassment around acknowledging that her absence REALLY impacts me is just unbearable despite how often Em tells me there is no need for the shame. That’s why I think I had decided to try and keep things ‘light’. Last week as I heard the words come tumbling out of my mouth I could feel the betrayal of my young parts. I could feel that sadness as they realised they were going to have to suffer in silence again over the whole break. I felt the physical ache in my chest and stomach hit.

Surely, I wasn’t going to do this to them again?

Why is it so easy to starve myself of connection and an opportunity to maybe make things feel a bit better because part of me finds it easier to be aloof than vulnerable?

I didn’t want to be vulnerable. I wanted to continue with the ‘fine’ – but as I said in a previous post fine is really just code for ‘Fucked up, Insecure, Neurotic, Emotional’ anyway … so maybe I was fine after all!

I looked up and met Em’s gaze (man sometimes it feels like her eyes are burning holes into my soul). And tried again, “It’s fine, but for some parts it isn’t fine at all.” She was really gentle and kind and acknowledged that for the younger parts any separation is really hard. Basically she did the reassurance thing about how she fully intended to come back, and that everything is ok between us, then talked about my dad dying and what it was like being left when I was little by my mum – and it felt ok, good even despite the painful feelings that were swirling – so much loss.

Then I said, “I hate this” (meaning still feeling so affected by her going away even after so much time) and she said she understood how hard it was and asked what was the hardest part. “I shouldn’t feel like this” I moaned. “Why shouldn’t you?” she questioned. I sat there mentally listing all the reasons I mentioned above – basically that she always comes back and so I am wasting my energy feeling shit about her going away and that she is just a therapist so why do I even care?

I didn’t say any of it aloud and merely replied with “I don’t know” because there was another part that realised there really isn’t a ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ about the feelings I have – they just ‘are’. Why beat myself up about it? I miss her when she’s gone and that’s how it is.

We talked a bit about how it is ok to have needs and feel loss and miss people. She said that as I child I wasn’t kept in mind and had to hide or shelve my needs and so it’s no wonder this all feels crap because it feels like I’m being abandoned and neglected all over again even though that isn’t the case – and so expressing feelings of sadness about my needs not being met is something I am not used to doing.

Em is really good at making things feel a bit better. She doesn’t fix it. She can’t. She can’t stay. She can’t promise to come back because life might deal an unexpected blow but she always says that it is her intention to come back on whatever the date is – this time 5th August. She can’t fix what happened in the past but she can bear witness to my story.  She normalises my feelings (the ones that make me feel like I am crazy!) and in doing so she removes a bit of the shame that acts like toxic layer of fog around me.

Yeah, I’m gushing again! ha! I love my therapist 😉

The problem is, when I can’t see her, when we are on breaks, the shame that surrounds me gets thicker. It distorts my view again. I lose sight of myself and her. This makes the system inside panic. Young parts feel terrified. Everything feels scary and shit. ARGH attachment pain!! Then critic steps in and then I’m done for: I feel stupid, weird, abnormal.

A nightmare.

So, where am I at now? Well I’m halfway through the first break of the summer. One more week until I am back in the room. I feel like I have so much that I want to say. It’s not a long time to wait and yet it feels an age because in the last couple of days I somehow got unexpectedly steam-rollered by the attachment ache – a couple of ‘therapy dreams’ and the young stuff activating and boom it’s all a struggle again! I had been doing fine until then and yet now I am in that place where I am desperate to reach out in some way – frustrated that I can’t – and sad too. Bloody minefield isn’t it?!

I’ve been trying to do things to take my mind off the horrible empty feeling that sits in my chest. It’s glorious weather right now and I am lucky enough to live in a beautiful area so this morning I went off to the river and woods for an early morning walk and since then I’ve been relaxing in the garden watching the kids play and generally trying to enjoy the fact that I am not teaching until Thursday. I guess I am trying to do self-care even though it really doesn’t come naturally to me. I feel like I don’t deserve to be cared for and so looking after myself really seems an odd thing to do. I know it’s insane.

Anyway, I will get through the next week. I won’t lie, though… I am really looking forward to the 5th.

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Old Patterns: Part 3

I wrote what follows back in early 2013. I’d recently stumbled over the writing I had done in 2009 Old Patterns: Part 1  and Old Patterns: Part 2 which recounted the time of the big breakdown and the scary interventions and decided to start writing again having not put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard in the whole intervening period. I was in therapy and beginning to feel ‘all the things’ with Em 😉  and so this leads up to June 2013 which saw the end of a 16 month period of psychotherapy on the NHS.

This is the last long blast from the past instalment on the blog. Loads has been going on in the here and now lately and I have just started the summer therapy break so I will get to catching up on 2019 soon!

Anyway, here goes!:

Nearly four years have gone by since I wrote here and rereading what I have written makes me so sad. Sad because right now, all this time down the road, I feel totally out of control again. It’s like I’m still circling the pit of doom. I know this isn’t completely true. I have not been stuck in a consistent state of depression since dad died- far from it – but I seem to find myself back down in the depths of despair wondering how, once again, I find myself in such a mess after so much time has elapsed?

How on earth can I be here again?

I have done the therapy – but it’s not enough, I know there is so much more left to process and I do not have enough time.

Still, let’s bring things up to speed before I get to what’s happening now.

After the seven month long nightmare with the breakdown Dr M wrote to get me put on a waiting list for psychotherapy in the NHS. I knew the wait would be a reasonably long time and so in the interim I had been recommended a private counselling service to try. I didn’t really know what I was looking for in a therapist I was just desperate to not feel so bad and went with the suggestion.

I went religiously to weekly sessions with my therapist N for two years but really made no progress on the big big things, not because I avoided talking about them (that’s progress right?!) but because I was told that my issues were too complex for her as she was just training. You would think I would have jumped ship then and found a more suitable match but after so long I didn’t feel able to kick my crutch out from under me. I liked her a lot and just being in the room each Monday night felt helpful. I think the ritual of going and talking for an hour was at times all that kept me going, even though I didn’t really gain anything other than stability. Not that I am underestimating the need for stability.

I terminated the therapy in the end. I was doing okish. Good enough. The eating disorder was quiet. The grief was still there but I had sort of learned to live with it. I was functioning! Life felt pretty good, really. I was back at work full time and enjoying it. I’d moved house. I’d travelled a lot. I’d got married. I was doing ok at adulting and still not yet 30. Win! I had kind of accepted that maybe the stuff I carry around in the shadows was always going to be there and I should just learn to live with it.

To be honest by the time the letter finally came through inviting me to attend 12 months of psychodynamic psychotherapy (30 months after the initial referral!) it came as a bit of a shock. I’d almost forgotten I was on a waiting list!

About six months after my GP had made the initial referral I had two appointments with a Clinical Psychologist in the Psychotherapy Department in the same scary building where I had seen the psychiatrist that wanted to put me on lithium. Same god awful waiting room. The bright yellow woodchipped walls still giving off a luminous glow of doom. Ugh!

When I went to these sessions I didn’t know they were only assessment interviews, no one had told me and it certainly wasn’t clear from the letter. I thought it was the therapy starting. I didn’t really like or warm to the therapist but given there’s not much choice in the NHS I thought I should seize my opportunity and start PROPERLY talking especially as N couldn’t help me with the ED. It would probably take a while to warm to this new therapist because she wasn’t N.

At the end of the second appointment the therapist told me that she definitely thought I needed psychotherapy and that I would now go on a waiting list for long-term therapy. I felt like I had been hit by a bus. What did she mean, go on another waiting list?? I had just spewed some serious bits of a lifetime of shit at this woman and now I was left hanging again. For fuck’s sake! Still, I’m good at shoving traumatic memories down into boxes and pretending they’re not there (you should see my loft!) and so that’s what I did. I went off and got on with my life – and I still had N even if she couldn’t help me with the anorexia.

So skip to January 2012 – As I said, A LOT had changed since my breakdown. For the first time ever I felt pretty grounded, happy, excited about the future. Now really wasn’t when I needed the therapy but I was wise enough to know that the issues that I’ve been struggling with since my teens hadn’t gone away, they were just dormant. And so I arrived at my first psychotherapy appointment 37 weeks pregnant and feeling quite on top of things.

It must have been a shock to Em my therapist.  I suppose reading my notes she might have reasonably been expecting an anorexic falling apart person to show up in the room and  instead she got a blossoming heavily pregnant woman…how did that happen?!

The moment I met Em I liked her. It was a completely different response to the therapist I had seen for the assessment. I felt comfortable with her from the first session. I don’t know what it was…I just really liked her. She had a nice face and smile, her body language was open. I dunno. I can’t explain. BUT it was good news all the same. I hadn’t really thought much around the logistics of therapy with a baby on the way but Em said that we could wait to start the sessions til after I had the baby and as soon as I felt able I could ring and let her know and start coming to see her.

She said that of course it was fine to bring the baby as she’d be little and need feeding etc. Basically she made the whole thing feel really easy – I didn’t lose my place on the list because I couldn’t start that week. So two weeks after my gorgeous little girl arrived I found myself in the room talking and breastfeeding. Turns out my baby needed feeding EVERY SESSION for the first four months.

So.… skip forward again.

I’ve been going to my sessions for a year now and I have made some good progress and uncovered some issues and set a few of  them at rest. But despite Em being really great there have still been things I have felt unable to address with her. Some of this is because I know my therapy must end soon and I feel like I have run out of time.

It’s taken me three months of mentally psyching myself up to tell her that I am really struggling with my ED again – it’s been especially bad since I have gone back to work after mat leave. I think I have passed the glow of having had a baby and now feel like the baby weight is just fat.

For months I have skirted round the edge of this issue, repeatedly being lost for words or filling my session time with insignificant garbage…. I am distracting myself from what is really important and something that is slowly taking over my life again.

Why?

Well, I guess it’s for many reasons. After giving it a lot of personal thought time- the time when the lights are out and the demons take root in my mind- I think I have reached the conclusion that I haven’t felt able to talk about my eating disorder because I am embarrassed and ashamed about it.

I am ashamed that for 15 years I have been secretly starving myself, on and off, when I can’t cope with my life. I am scared to admit that apart from my pregnancy, I have never achieved a healthy BMI and that I consider anything close to 18 fat whilst still knowing that it is at the bottom end of the healthy.

Part of it is that I don’t want Em to judge me.

I judge myself harshly enough already.

But today I realised with only a few sessions remaining I had to say something otherwise I will be 45 and still battling with these issues which doesn’t even bear thinking about, especially when my daughter will look to me as a role model.

I need to change.

I know it’s going to be really hard.

I know I cannot do this on my own.

Today, I sat down in the chair and soon realised that I couldn’t even speak. I felt myself getting angry with myself. How could I have mentally planned what I wanted to say, dreamt it every night for a week, and yet again find that I was mute? What was stopping me just telling my truth? Why is it so hard to open up and trust someone with this stuff?

I know she could see I was struggling again and, thankfully, I just sat there and she filled my silence and led me along. She told me that she felt like I was holding back and that the need to cry was really strong and that she could see that everything was too much.

She was right.

Somehow, I falteringly began to get my words out. I told her of how I hated myself and how I had become really self destructive and how I didn’t see the point of being here. She asked me if I felt suicidal. I said yes. She asked me if I had thought about ways of ending it. I said yes. She asked how. I told her: crashing my car, overdosing, cutting myself. She asked me if I had ever done any of those things before. I told her yes. She asked what stops me from acting on it, and I pointed to my baby girl. And from there the words kept coming, albeit messily and not always coherently.

I told her about how people have told me I look ill, that I am too skinny at work. I told her how I felt like I am losing it. I told her how I feel I am battling with myself all the time. I never know if I want the part that wants to be well to win or the critical self-attacking part to win. I told her that I struggled to talk because I have been in the situation before and been told I did not have an eating disorder after skilfully answering questions that meant the end score did not add up to ‘anorexia’.

She seemed to understand and acknowledged that I am skilled at letting people see what I want them to and understood hard it must be. I told her how I was sick of always falling into similar patterns, how every time things get overwhelming I start hurting myself rather than helping. She asked what I want to look like and I told her I didn’t know, only that I can never see how bad things are at the time and it’s only afterwards when I look at a picture that I can see how thin I am. I told her that the more weight I lose the less I see how thin I am and focus on the areas I perceive as fat and the number on the scale.

I was inarticulate and confused but I did it. I FINALLY told someone what I am carrying around and now the door is open to deal with it…. I feel nervous and exposed and know that next week I will have to keep myself in check and stop myself from playing what I have said down in a defence and actually let myself remain open. The embarrassment is ebbing away and I feel finally like I might get the help I need with this….I just hope I have enough time. That’s what really frightens me. For the first time I have opened up, but I think maybe I’ve left it too late.

I am scared of being left hanging in June, in crisis and having to leave the security of the room and the weekly safe space I have to unburden myself. I am worried I will not cope. Things are bad already without the only support I have being removed. Truthfully, I am terrified.

A week on, another session, and another mild failure in my ability to build on what I said the previous week. I am so painfully aware that in a few sessions my safety net is going to be completely removed that I think I’m probably withdrawing into myself a bit trying to protect myself from another loss. I have lots to say but don’t think there’s time now and as such I think I am wisest trying to put my armour back on and get ready for life ‘out there’ without my weekly check in.

Interestingly, today, Em commented on how I seemed different today than last week (where I was completely flustered and anxious but just about able to talk). I was behaving differently, but actually, in the last week, nothing much has changed for me. I am feeling anxiety about leaving my job, my brain is in a million places and actually what’s happened is that I have ejected my emotions out into space to allow me to function. I have been obsessing about my weight, I even found an app that allows me to track exactly what I am eating and how this will or will not impact my desired weightloss.

I now spend time inputting what I eat into the app and watching the calories go down….I’m aiming for 1000 a day at the minute which is manageable and won’t draw any attention. It also allows a steady weight loss. I am currently 7st 5 which gives me a BMI of 16. I am not happy with my body. I am not happy with myself. I never am. I guess next session I should address this deliberate food restriction. Oh but the shame. God.

I wondered today about something she said to me. She commented on how despite everything, I’d still been able to function and things hadn’t fallen apart and I should be proud of that. Why would I feel proud? I’ve succeeded in reigniting my fiery eating disorder, I’ve taken sick days when I’ve felt unable to cope, I’ve been struggling to sleep, on more than one occasion I’ve had suicidal thoughts, but I haven’t fallen apart. What does that even mean? I haven’t physically harmed?

In the build up to termination today she said that a year of therapy is not a long time and that there are organisations that I can use to find another therapist in the future if necessary. It felt like the rug was being pulled out from under my feet. Something inside felt really painful, like I had been kicked in my solar plexus and my chest went so tight. I felt sick. It felt like I was going to fall apart. I sat there still and tried not to look affected.

I really am going to lose her in a few weeks. I can’t even go there. The loss feels too huge. She is just my therapist but for some reason this ending feels immense- so much worse than ending with N. It was never my intention to let Em matter to me. I knew this was a relationship that had a time limit and yet here I am faced with the reality that somehow or other she does matter to me, I do need her, and oh the fucking irony I can’t stay.

After years of therapy at different intervals, I really can’t envisage starting over again with another therapist. Let’s face it, it takes me an eternity to truly open up and I don’t want to start the process with another person in the future. Maybe she isn’t allowed to promote her own private therapy practice (I looked online this week to see if she exists outside that dingy room!- and she does!) but I would really like to continue working with her if I could.

The PCT dictates that the maximum time available for therapy here is a year, and I have already had this extended by two months because things have got so shit lately, but I know that realistically, had I been in private therapy, we would not be terminating right now.

So school is finished. I cannot believe I have walked away from teaching but I know right now this is what I need. I need to regroup and rebuild. I want to spend time enjoying my baby and focusing on my family.

Today I had another therapy session. It always takes me by surprise on a therapy day how I wake up buzzing as though there is an electric current flowing through my body. It’s not a pleasant feeling. It’s as though I am adrenaline filled and there is no outlet for it.

I noticed, as I sat in the waiting room that my hands were shaking. This was not due to low blood sugar, but rather, nerves. Was I nervous? I suppose so. I worry sometimes that she’ll think I am wasting her time. I always feel like I am waffling my way through and not saying what I should be.  I feel like I am boring.

We talked today about ending work (school not the therapy) and how I don’t ever feel calm. I mentioned how I so easily forget positives about myself and fill myself with doubt. I talked about the tutoring that I have been approached about and how I have felt unable to respond to the email despite knowing it will generate income. I know it is because it feels like work is still there and all the negative associations I have about being judged and failing despite never having performed badly in my work.

She broached the subject of food today. I didn’t build on that opportunity but did talk about obsessive behaviour patterns like running at 5am and how I have had to reign myself in, knowing that one run will become alternate days, then daily, then add in a bike ride etc. I suppose I could then have talked about the food and the app – another tool for me to berate myself with.

I have 4 sessions left now, one of which will be closing up and I have to address this fucking albatross ED. I know it’s tied to self-esteem, perfectionism, sexuality, lack of control….the list goes on….the thing is I need to unload it. Perhaps if I can let this secret out it will make it less of a monster and more of a mouse?

Something else that’s new: I feel more in my body lately. I feel more. I’m not stuck in my head or dissociating. That scares me a bit because what I feel in my body is horrid and overwhelming.

I talked today about remaining firm when people ask me what I am doing and telling them that I don’t know, and that it’s ok not to. She said this is known as ‘negative capability’ where a person can challenge the norm or go against convention and that it can be really healthy and shows that I can assert myself.

Oh man. I like her. I think maybe, if I am honest, I love her. She sees me as I am and doesn’t run away. To feel accepted as I am is novel and addictive. The more time goes on the more worried I feel about the termination of therapy. I really don’t want to be the tortured anorexic but I don’t feel able to be any other way at the moment. I don’t feel like I have the coping strategies to deal with what feels to me like another enormous loss and not eating is a way that I have always coped with emotional pain. I feel like I am losing H and Dad all over again and added to this, someone who has not flinched when I show them who I really am.

Walking into my session today I felt like I didn’t know what I would say or where it would go. I sat down and immediately felt the loss I am beginning to grieve before it has even happened. I could barely look at Em. I did, however, outline just how bad things feel right now. I told her how I take to my bed when little girl is asleep and lie under the duvet just to hide away from the world. She totally seemed to get the need to feel safe and she understood how I never feel soothed.

I explained that hiding in bed allowed me to be safe and not to harm myself. I told her about how I worry about hurting myself and I haven’t done that in years. She asked how and I told her about cutting and burning. These methods have been running through my head for a few weeks now. I have been looking of self harm websites. I guess that is a visual outlet rather than actually hurting myself.

Towards the end of the session more and more came out, as it always does and she picked up on that. I wish it didn’t take so long for me to get to what I need to say. We talked about the impact of ending and how I felt. She suggested that maybe I would feel angry or let down. I don’t feel either of those things, particularly. I just feel lost and sad that I don’t have more time to really unpick this….this self-destructive part that rears its head periodically. I didn’t say this.

I came home and tried to cut myself. The knife wasn’t sharp, though, so there are only superficial lines. No real damage done. I also heated a metal spoon and burned my skin. That really fucking hurt. Neither of these acts makes me feel like I have been able to find an outlet for how shitty I feel, though. I almost feel like I have failed and can’t even damage myself successfully. I feel pathetic.

I had no idea when I started this process that I had so many attachment issues. Em has suggested I have trouble with intimacy – well duh! I had no idea that so much was tied up in abandonment issues and dependency. I guess what has happened in the therapeutic relationship is that for a long time I have held back from allowing myself to get close to Em because I knew that the relationship would come to an end and I didn’t want to feel like I was alone and abandoned when the time finally came.

Fortunately or not, in December I guess I began to experience transference with her and then began to shut down a little for fear of frightening her and replaying issues. As it turns out this has happened anyway. It feels a lot like H, not being able to tell her about how I feel. I suppose what happened last week was the bit that I was terrified of, suddenly being so needy and dependent that I feel like I can’t function without that safety net. Argh. I know I have a lot to work through now about how this has all come about and why. We have a month break now and then it is the last session.

I decided to send Em an email to her private practice email asking if I could see her privately when we finish. She replied that she’d be happy to work with me but that she’d have to find out what the rules are and will let me know in our next session.

June 5th 2013

So today was the last session with Em. I went with a feeling of dread and nervousness after the email and also knowing it was the last session. I was worried that I had overstepped a boundary contacting her. She thanked me for my email and quickly told me that I could see her again but that it would have to be in 3 months or so in order for there to be ‘an ending’ with the NHS and fresh start with her privately. As much as I don’t want a gap, I do understand the theory behind it.

The session today was a bit bizarre as after a month away I felt like I couldn’t just open up and do it, particularly knowing it was the end and I would have to manage. I did talk through some superficial stuff and tried to remain upbeat and together – my outer world persona. I talked about how I have been trying hard to look after myself but that I don’t find it easy and it is easy to be critical. I know that that is the big thing I need to work through next time. I can’t avoid it anymore.

I have come away from today feeling numb – I know I am just shelving how I feel because I know I can’t deal with the idea of being alone with myself for a quarter of a year.

So – that was way back in 2013. I didn’t end up going back to Em until three years later (June 2016). When I finished the therapy I had six solid weeks of horrific nightmares and then one night I had dream where I was night swimming in a lake. I was feeling suicidal. I was cold and tired. I decided to drown myself. I calmly put my face down in the water and floated on my front. I waited. Just as things started to go black someone pulled me up and out of the water and into a boat. It was Em. She quickly wrapped a blanket around me. She said ‘you don’t have to do this to yourself anymore’ and held me close. And that’s when the nightmares finally stopped.

I picked myself up after that dream. I didn’t contact Em when the three months wait was up. Part of me wanted to but part of me was scared of ending up back in that dependent, unsettled place. I had another baby in 2014 and life actually was really very good until I got cancer in 2015 and then had to go through a year of treatment…cue a complete meltdown when that had all finished! The wheels really started falling off. All the old stuff started to become live again. So I approached Em and since then we have been working together solidly for the last three years working on so much shit. We’re still not done yet! But I am so glad I have her reliable, calm, non-judging presence in my life. And even though I am still trudging through trauma I can really see how far I have come.

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Old Patterns: Part 2

Here’s the next instalment of ‘writing from the breakdown 2009’ you can read the earlier post here . This jumps all over the place, but reflects how hard everything was back then. Reading this back I feel so desperately sad for myself. I was in such an almighty mess and yet desperately clinging on to the belief that if I appeared ‘normal’ enough I would be ok and not end up being sectioned. My fear of mental health services prevented me getting the help that I so desperately needed. I wish I could go back in time and advocate for myself properly rather than being dictated by the fear of losing all control:

Here I am again, another appointment, sitting across from my doctor inwardly crying out for help but outwardly showing that I am totally pissed off at another intrusion into my life. I am reacting badly to having been referred unexpectedly and without consultation to the Crisis Team or as I fondly renamed them ‘The Nut Squad’.

The Nut Squad is quite a step up the crazy tree in mental health terms where I live. This time I had bypassed the ‘Access and Wellbeing Team’ which is where you go when you are maybe only partly crackers: I’d been there before, but this time, whatever I had said to my doctor, or maybe not said,  had been a real cause for concern and I had ended up with a psychiatrist and mental health nurse sitting in my living room asking me a series questions. Things have been really bad, but knowing how stretched mental health services are to have  the NHS send people to see me in my own home feels unnecessary.

Questions I can cope with, though. In recent months I’ve answered the same set of questions on multiple occasions and my answers never deviate:

“On a scale of one to ten, one being the least and ten being the most, tell me where you feel in terms of happiness at the moment” (or something along those lines).

“Three” I respond mechanically.

“Still three?” they exchange concerned looks. I had just reported feeling ‘better’ whilst talking in a measured fashion so as not to look manic. How could it possibly be three? My definition of ‘better’ was that I had started to notice the spring buds and had read a book, which were markers in my mind that things were improving for me. It had been months since I had been able to direct my attention towards anything or look outside myself. I thought this would be ample deflection for the fact that I’d been out and blown almost £45,000 in two weeks and pretty much decimated my entire inheritance in less than a year since my dad died.

I think it was probably this insane spending that had led my GP to refer me to the Crisis Team. It had all followed an appointment where I had splurged at the GP that what I was doing wasn’t normal. I left feeling like I had been honest for the first time, and then shat myself with ‘what ifs?’ and devised my plan of action. How I thought I was helping myself, I have no idea. I think in hindsight it was something about being absolutely terrified of being carted off in a straight jacket and being sectioned so I told them what I think they needed to hear and it seemed to work.

To an outsider that would seem like an incredible leap of the imagination that feeling wobbly could result in incarceration. A person exhibits slightly unusual behaviour and so steps are taken to help them, right? Doesn’t mean they’ll end up locked up on a psych ward. I’m sure this is the case, but I have a fear of mental health services. They terrify me. Why? Let’s just put it this way, growing up with a close family member being perpetually in and out of mental health institutions doesn’t do wonders for your confidence in the system.

I would sooner die than end up in a mental hospital. Although looking back on this, perhaps it’s where I belong? I’m sure if I had have been completely honest with all the professionals from the start I would be in much better place now – but it’s hard going from being someone who on the outside appears successful, confident, and independent, to admitting to someone that all of a sudden you feel a failure, have no self belief and feel unable to participate in life. That is the truth of my situation. When I got ill at Christmas the wheels fell off in a big way. I could not cope and yet, instinctively I felt like I had to, to pretend that I was at least managing on some level.

I know, now, that I came across as resistant and inconsistent bouncing from uncommunicative, to dismissive, to out of control, to needy and back again – often all in one appointment. Hats off to my doctor, if the roles had have been reversed I would have given up long ago.

So, back to the psychiatrist and nurse house visit. They looked around the room and commented on how immaculately tidy it was, asked me about all the books on my shelves and noted that they were all placed in alphabetical order (surely this is normal for most English graduates?!) Of course the out of control spending came up in the conversation and I tried to justify the totally abnormal behaviour as if it was normal – cue ‘telling a lie like it’s the truth’ again. Bingo. It seemed to be working:

“If you had the money wouldn’t you go and buy things you’ve always wanted?” I asked, looking at them both imploringly. It’s sort of like the question which you mull over time and again. ‘What would you do if you won the lottery?’ The thing is, I haven’t won the lottery and this money I have doesn’t make me happy. Money can’t make you happy and it can’t fill the void left by a human being. No amount of spending eased the depression or the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness but god, I was willing to try anything to take me out of that dark dark place.

The camper van I had just purchased I did want, but the £8000 diamond ring, first class airline tickets to New York, mountain bikes and snowboards for me and my partner, new windows and guttering, laptop, multiple pairs of shoes, a surfboard, and enough clothes to open my own shop were more what you might call ‘impulse buys’ – funnily enough I didn’t think now was a good time to mention any of that.

I thought I had managed the Crisis Team fairly well.  As my consultation came to a close there was a shock. I was told that I couldn’t drive. Not that I can’t drive, I am a competent driver; no, I had been advised not to drive. In that moment I stared at the psychiatrist in disbelief now stripped of my independence and my wheels. The Nut Squad had clearly taken one look at the Jaguar supercar (another part of my inheritance) outside and thought ‘no way– this one is a liability’.

As the psychiatrist left my house she told me to keep my life “boring”. “Not a problem” I replied with a wry smile. In recent months my life had become mundane and really fucking boring. At least this was one promise I could keep.

It was eventually agreed with my GP that neither of the antidepressants that I had tried had worked for me, if anything they had been to my detriment, the first killed my appetite and my will to live, the second sent me on a hyperdrive where I was like a bee in a jar buzzing around out of control and spending like I had a shopping addiction. It was decided that I should not take these pills and I was given a prescription for a different type of drug, from a different family of medications.

I was to be given a mood stabiliser or anti-psychotic. Yes, when I heard the phrase ‘anti-psychotic’ I did panic a little, which I am sure anyone would. It sounded way more intense than ‘anti-depressant’. I dutifully took the pills and slept soundly for the first time in months. As well as this, there was a further but less desirable side effect: the munchies.

It is a well documented side effect of this particular drug that you feel like you are starving all of the time. It’s like stoned munchies without the relaxation of a joint. For two weeks I swear I did nothing but eat. It was totally uncontrollable which did not make my anorexic self feel at all happy and so, I took to cutting myself to regain some of my control and exorcise my self-loathing. In that two week period I gained a stone and hated myself for it.

My body image is completely screwed anyway and this rapid weight gain really sent me into free-fall emotionally. That is the only sensible way of describing it. I have never in my life been overweight, but the moment I hit the region of 7 stone I start to feel bloated and fat. I am having a battle with my 15 year old self right now. I am determined to hold onto my body mass. I am determined to prove my GP wrong and keep myself away from the anorexic label.

Part of my new ritual is each day looking in the mirror at my naked self and telling my reflection that I am not fat. I then go to the fridge and eat my way through something highly calorific to spite my teenage self and then continue with my day. It may seem like a totally insane approach to healthy living, but right now I have exhausted ‘sane’ and this, although not healthy in the long run it works for me and it has stopped the doctors asking me about my eating! Thank god!

Awareness of physical self is something I have always tried to avoid because the moment I become aware of my body I fixate on all that is wrong with it. I know that anyone reading this will still see that I am in denial. Just because the weight is back on does not change the ideas that swirl inside my mind. I have an eating disorder, only right now it is in the stage where I have it hidden again and that is a relief. I am not a skeleton anymore but I hate myself now more than ever.

Some time elapsed after the Crisis Team’s intervention and I eventually received an appointment with another psychiatrist in the mental health hospital. The building which houses mental health services is a gothic style grey stone Victorian affair with a central staircase leading up to the entrance. It has a certain grandeur which is imposing and more than a little intimidating. It is a beautiful piece of architecture, the sort of place that a developer would have a field day with and could turn into some great apartments. But today, for me, it is still a mental health hospital and walking up the steps and into the jaws of the building saw another panic set in.

The interior of the building was dark and depressing and was exactly as I had imagined – ‘Girl Interrupted’ has a lot to answer for! It was as if something had sucked the life and light out of the place. It was eerily quiet and seemingly unoccupied except for the few staff that walked with purpose along the echoing corridors. There was a clinical, hospital smell, cold metal on metal, disinfectant, and I hated it. I have always hated hospitals. The moment I walk inside one I always feel sick to my stomach and as though I could pass out at any second, this is not because I am actually ill, I just cannot stand them and what they signify to me: illness and death.

I was directed by the receptionist on the desk to take a seat in the waiting room a little further down the corridor. It was a tiny, claustrophobic room with four chairs on each side of the door. I took in the sunny, yellow wood-chipped walls and fading green carpet and felt the tendrils of anxiety creeping over me; like a smog it saturated my being and I felt suffocated.

Someone had clearly thought that a bright colour would make depressed people feel optimistic and ‘light’ inside. The colour made me feel chaotic and overstimulated and I wanted to get out of the room as soon as was humanly possible.

As I sat there, watching the clock ticking down to my appointment I wondered what I should do?: Tell the truth about how I felt: flat, sad, depressed, anxious, sometimes suicidal or to rationalise my feelings and make light of the situation. Perhaps I should  tell them that I’m sad but I am managing it and I don’t need pills to grieve.

I was eventually called into the psychiatrist’s office and the nice male doctor sitting opposite me began asking me questions. It was those same questions that I had become so used to over the last few months. A few days before this meeting I had had a particularly dark day which saw me sitting in my doctor’s surgery bereft with depression and as close to suicide I have ever felt. For the first time I felt as though we had made progress, I showed her the depth of my pain and she seemed to get it. She insisted I kept my appointment with at the hospital and made a further time to see her to discuss the outcome. She commented on what she perceived as my lack of self esteem and I thought ‘finally, she sees me for me, minus my front’ .

I alluded to this dark day and my lack of confidence with my consultant when he asked me if I felt gifted. ‘Gifted?! Me?! Are you serious?’ I shouted inside my brain. I told him of my feeling like a fraud, like someone who by fluke had got where I had got to, and someone who was on the verge of being found out all the time. My truth.

He then proceeded to read through the notes of the psychiatrist who had visited my home and who suggested I was, in her opinion, very confident and had good self-esteem. In that moment I felt abject disappointment. I guess I should have felt pleased that my acting skills are so good that I can even fool a mental health professional into believing I am in control and happy with myself; but that wasn’t the case at all. I felt like at a time when I needed someone to see through my defences, all that they had seen was the persona.

I have become so skilled at presenting a confident, together version of myself that no one can see through it. I know it’s my own fault.

The next shocker came a little while after this bombshell I was still reeling from the notion that I was a confident person when the doctor suggested that because I was ‘a lesbian and wouldn’t be having children’ that he recommended putting me on lithium. Suddenly alarm bells started ringing in my head. I recognised this drug – my aunt having been on it for years and years. I also was shocked that a doctor would make a judgement that I would not have children because of my sexuality. Most of all though, I was staggered that I had clearly had a breakdown and rather than refer me to psychotherapy it seemed more appropriate to offer me a cocktail of pills. How can that ever be right?

I left the appointment feeling stunned and proceeded to write a letter to my GP. I outlined exactly what had happened when my dad died because no one had ever asked. I explained all the complications: dying abroad, the body being in heat of 40 degrees for a week on a remote island because there was no hospital or morgue, battling with insurance company to move him to the mainland and start a process of repatriation, the unexpected post-mortem, finding out that it could take up to six months to get cremation rights in the UK even if we flew the body home, opting for a cremation abroad and the time being moved, the ashes being flown home and then left outside on a driveway for me to collect along with my dad’s backpack, my family refusing to attend the celebration of life….and so the story poured out of me including the stuff about not eating and self-harm…in the end there 14 pages of it!

I received a letter in the post shortly after this from the GP inviting my in for an extended appointment before the surgery opened. As I sat down, she thanked me for my letter, and said how sorry she was to hear what I had had to go through and that actually she now believed that I was experiencing PTSD. She said, “Let’s remove the psychiatric label shall we?” and then  “You are just really unhappy – aren’t you – and I am not surprised. I think we should refer you into psychotherapy because it sounds like you need to talk and there’s a lot to process. You can stop taking the medication because it hasn’t helped and I agree, lithium is not the way forward especially as you want babies.”

So, that’s what’s happened. I’ve had 7 months of bouncing around and now they think I need time to heal and someone to talk to. And this is all I ever wanted, really. I just wish I could have expressed this sooner rather than behaving like a deer in the headlights. I know waiting lists are long for psychotherapy and I plan to find a therapist in the meantime and see what I can do.

x

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Old Patterns: Part 1

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Yesterday I was looking for some writing I had done around the time that my dad had died in 2008/9. It’s coming up to the anniversary and I am very aware that there is still a great deal of work to be done in therapy around everything that happened at that time hence the poking around for info.

Whilst I was searching I actually stumbled across a load of notes from when I was doing psychotherapy with Em in the NHS back in 2012/13, basically I started writing again about the time that I realised there was a massive attachment to her which neatly coincided with the time therapy was just about to end. Not good! I will share some of that over the next few weeks because I think it’s interesting to see how different things were (in some ways) and yet how many issues remain live.

Anyway, I did eventually find the document/diary of the time when I had my actual mental breakdown in 2009 following my dad’s unexpected death in July 2008. I was in denial for the first few months and then basically fell apart at Christmas and couldn’t function thereafter for a significant period of time.

I saw a lot of my GP in the early days because I was being signed off from work and had to visit her on a regular basis in order to check in and get the sick certificate which said ‘bereavement reaction’. In the end I was out of work for seventeen months. After the first six I actually took an unpaid sabbatical because I knew I wasn’t going to be ok any time soon and the stress of having to keep contacting work to explain that I wasn’t fine even though I might look it was really anxiety provoking.

Reading my notes again I am staggered that it took three years on a waiting list to get seen for psychotherapy on the NHS. In the interim I did get offered a lot of pills and had some interesting appointments with psychiatrists and the Crisis Team before they realised I wasn’t actually psychotic and instead was experiencing PTSD and had an active ED amongst other things! Basically my dad dying was the trigger that made EVERYTHING reactivate and fall apart. Not only was the way he died and everything that followed fucking horrific in its own right but all the years of childhood trauma suddenly came alive too.

Anyway, I found this next piece of writing about my interactions with my GP. I think, looking at what I have said, I must have seemed really ‘treatment resistant’ but the truth is, I was just scared and couldn’t trust anyone…ha that old chestnut!

It’s a long read so I’ll break it into parts and a bit (a lot) embarrassing but actually the stand out thing for me was just how entrenched the attachment patterns and defensive behaviours were even then, and my how go to coping mechanisms were alive and well. Ugh.

It’s clear as day to me now that if you put me in front of a caring woman who is in the range of possibly being old enough to be my mother then boom I am utterly screwed. I mean anyone that follows this blog can see what a disaster it can be with Em!! I get attached but I also start behaving in a defensive, scared, ‘don’t hurt me’, ‘don’t leave me’ kind of a way, oh, and try and pretend that everything is just fine!! …AND in the case of my GP I was also massively attracted to her. I know why this is, now, having spent all these years working with Em but I had no idea back then! I was utterly mortified then – now not so much. I see the attraction now as another desperate search for care and intimacy (the things that have been lacking my life from the word go). I hadn’t uncovered my child parts then and I suspect really what I craved was a cuddle but could only see my need for intimacy through a sexual lens.

Please don’t judge this too harshly! I wanted to put this here because it forms part of the journey I’ve been on and I think also demonstrates just how potent the transference can be and how scary mental health services can feel oh and how god awful it is to be in the grips of an active eating disorder. It seems insane that the people that are meant to help can feel so dangerous to me but it is how it is. I guess my biggest fear is losing control, and these people have the power to take control (or care) of you.

So back, to 2009- I realise it’s not hugely coherent but I think that certainly reflects what  a mess I was in:

“You seem to be incredibly defensive and I feel we are stuck”. Ouch. Not the words of my partner (although they certainly could be), these are the words of my GP. These words come 4 months into treatment for my breakdown and clearly I am not making the progress I should be. She looks directly into my soul, well, my eyes, and says, “It’s unusual for someone your age to be off work for a term”. Another stinger. Yet again time and lack of being better is thrown in my face. I should be ‘well’ by now. I should have picked myself up, brushed myself off and be participating back in the real world. I should be over it. I should be teaching. So why am I struggling to function when everyone else bounces back quickly?

Unlike at home when the accusatory words ‘how long is this going to take?’ function as the equivalent of a red rag to a bull, today I just feel lost and as she so rightly says ‘stuck’. Today I am too wound up and anxious to come back with anything that would paste over my cracks or, alternatively, help her make sense of my situation and so I sit and say nothing, muted and desperate.  I feel so sad and unseen. Her words will be turned over in my mind for the next month and I will slowly beat myself up for my defence mechanisms berating myself for lack of progress.

I act defensively and shut down because I am terrified of losing what little control I have over my life. Weeks ago I sat there, in that consulting room, metaphorically laid bare, and she asked me how my eating was and did I have an eating disorder? My fight or flight instinct kicked in, “No, I eat loads” I lied whilst staring directly into her eyes. This is a trick I have mastered over the years. My dad used to check if I was fibbing when I was a kid by saying, “look me in the eyes and tell me the truth”. This was meant to catch out a lie but, the thing is, over the years I taught myself to tell a lie like it was the truth and in that moment looking into the eyes of my doctor that lie was my truth.

I make eye contact and categorically deny having an eating disorder. I deny restricting my food intake and further deny taking laxatives and don’t mention the insane exercise routine I have started. She is not stupid and I am clearly sitting there with a BMI of 14: my body, now, looks more deathly skeletal than anything like a living human being. My clothes hang off me. I look ill. I am perpetually cold. It’s horrendous. I know I am on a losing streak but something in me at the moment feels my lies really are the truth. “You don’t believe me, do you?” I say defiantly. How can she possibly respond to that?- I am, after all, a fully grown adult and should not be lying to her – or to myself.

She softly says, “Happy people do not have eating disorders”, and I think to myself ‘No, and they don’t self-harm either’, but that is a conversation for another day. I am not able to articulate this to her yet, or really even to myself. She has not, yet, won my trust and I cannot show my true vulnerability. I am in denial with my own self so how can I be true to the woman sitting opposite me even if there is a part of me that longs to crawl into her arms and be held? There is so much shame. I can feel it coursing through my veins like acid.

As the weeks and months roll on, my eating habits become a regular topic in the appointments with my doctor and I consistently maintain that, “I am fine”. FINE: Fucked-up, Insecure, Neurotic, Emotional! I am fine and yet I am CLEARLY NOT FINE AT ALL. I am struggling. It’s horrible. But the eating disordered self thinks we’re doing great. Everything is under control. I can no longer recognise the person in the mirror but I know she is not me. It’s so hard to navigate.

Of all the mental things that have happened in this nightmarish saga, fancying the pants off my GP must be up right there with the best of them. It’s not even funny. I seem to have a thing about older women that exert some kind of power over me. Over the years I have had my fair share of crushes: teachers, lecturers, and now, bloody hell, my fucking doctor. Apart from the power thing, another common factor that these women share is that they are all also straight – or at least say they are. In other words they are all totally unattainable and maybe that’s why this happens? Maybe when everything can remain a fantasy there is no danger of really getting hurt again?

I can’t help but feel butterflies when I have an appointment with my doctor and this, at least, balances off the unbelievable anxiety which overtakes me a week before each meeting where I not only can’t sleep, but also basically fail to function in anything like a normal way. I know now that what I was experiencing was transference. I projected who I wanted her to be onto her and then, sadly, was always really disappointed when she didn’t hear my so very desperate silent cries even when she was clearly doing her absolute best, offering me early morning extended appointments, seeing me sometimes twice a week…but it was never enough. There is a gaping hole in me that cannot be filled and there is absolutely no chance of this healing if I refuse to let people in and hide from them.

And so my appointment with the hot doctor goes on. She continues tentatively, “Some people don’t eat to punish themselves; others don’t eat to punish other people; and some people feel eating is something they can control in a time where other things in their lives are out of control”. I nod as if this is all a revelation to me using my honed special teacher skill: smile and nod. She is not telling me anything I don’t already know.

Having battled with an eating disorder in my mid teens and at intervals during my early twenties, I know exactly what she is saying and, I know that I fall into parts one and three. I punish myself and try to control my world when the world is spinning round me out of my control. I think she knows this is the case but has learnt that I am not open to discussing this yet. I am, after all, ‘defensive’.

I’m used to it now but I absolutely hate it – she weighs me every time I see her and plots the numbers on a graph on the computer. I can see that the line has a sharp downward correlation. Part of me feels happy about that and part of me is terrified. I stand on the cold metal scales and see that I have succeeded in losing another kilogram in weight and tell her the number on the scale. I am trembling again with anxiety and probably, in a larger part, due to low blood sugar. There is a part of me feels secretly thrilled to have lost weight when there is so little left to lose and the other feels cross that in my 2 weeks I have only managed to lose a little bit of weight.

My regimented approach to food and exercise has taken over my existence and dictates where and how I operate in my daily life. I walk everywhere, cycle every other day, and I categorically avoid large meals out, but ensure I spend enough time in the presence of others and eat a little, just enough, to prove that I am eating and that my GP is actually wrong about me. I realise that this behaviour is totally insane and it is crazy that at 26 years old I am behaving in much the same way as my 15 year old self. I hate this secretive, self-deluding, self-attacking ritual I get caught up in. I am crying out for help but am also unable to accept it.

I guess we stick with our so-called coping mechanisms throughout our lives even when they really do not help us cope at all. There is a look of concern pervading the face of my doctor who looking at her computer screen comment,s “You’ve lost another kilo”. Nothing more is said on the food front after the earlier conversation and we move onto a a discussion regarding my current antidepressants – I know they are not working. I’ve already tried two other types and now I feel suicidal and this, surely, is not right. Still, we agree that I will continue to take the pills a little while longer and see if things improve.

The end of our appointment draws near and on cue comes, “It will get better” she says kindly. “I hope so” I reply, “things can’t get much worse”. I try to smile through my hopelessness. I wonder if she is speaking from experience or just because it is an anodyne statement designed to comfort me in my mental pain before I leave the safety of her room for another two weeks.

This relationship is so frustrating for me. Or rather how I am behaving with my doctor is. After months of emotional struggle and subtle deterioration from July to January I finally had a meltdown and went and asked for help (something I don’t do) and then actively failed to take help on repeated occasions.

That really is fucked up.

The more time goes on I realise that I am, walking a fine line between sane and nuts. Catch me on a bad day and I have both feet in Crazyland on a better day I bear a reasonable resemblance to something coherent and normal. Still, today after 4 months of bi-monthly visits to the doctors, I am fully gone and am resident in Crazyland, which is not unlike Disneyland actually – lots of people acting happy to try and make out everything is ok.

Part 2 to follow.

 

 

The Chest

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Oh good gracious me!!! I stumbled across a huge word file on my laptop today when I was looking for some writing I did around the time my dad died (it’s the anniversary of that horrid event this weekend). The document I actually found was writing I did 6/7 years ago during my NHS therapy with Em. It’s painful to read what I wrote then but also amazing to see how some things have really moved on and how other issues remain stuck. Therapy is clearly a long trek for me! I might get round to putting some extracts here eventually if I can bear the shame 😉 But for now – here’s the piece of huge cringe that I wrote to Em after my last session with her back in 2013 (and proceeded to send her in the mail!). The plan had been to see her in private practice after three months of ending in the NHS but it actually turned out to be three years before I got back into the therapy room with her… and last week was the anniversary of three years more work… I’m surprised she ever agreed to see me again after my teenage self clearly got poetic! Haha.

The Chest

The dust of half a lifetime lies thick on the lid

Carefully, I trace the words ‘KEEP OUT’ with my finger tip-

Those words roughly etched into the surface

during in a time of past desolation.

 

As though it were some mystical chest

I gaze down and wonder at it

 

But I know this box

The one I keep my secrets in

Does not hold treasure

I know too, that finally, it must be opened

 

The lock.

Cold metal.

Sturdy.

Still holds firm.

Even after all these years.

 

I look away…

turn the key…

The bolt gives way

 

Hinges creak loudly and the cool air

rushes in

to fill the dark, silent space within

 

Deep breaths.

 

Staring down

At the clandestine hoard.

It is not quite as I remember it.

 

Some items have been neatly wrapped and carefully placed inside.

Difficult to handle things, thrown in in haste, are strewn untidily.

 

Slowly, slowly I begin to unpack

each individual fragment of a memory:

disappointment

anxiety

inhibition

rejection

abandonment

loss

self-doubt

self-hurt

 

A broken heart

A broken soul.

 

This jigsaw requires careful handling.

 

Piece by piece

one at a time

I free these parts of myself from the mausoleum

Some are so fragile they threaten to disintegrate

Others razor-sharp and still poised to draw blood

 

Little by little

the picture emerges.

 

Tentatively I hold out my hand,

“Look at this”  I say.

I half expect you to run screaming out the door

I know I want to.

 

But there you are- still.

And for that, I thank you.

Unexpected And Unsettling Change

Honestly, sometimes I wonder if things are ever just going to settle down and get on an even keel here. I know life is never straightforward for anyone but I wish, even for just a couple of years, that it would just be stable and run of the mill for me. I don’t crave excitement. I don’t want anything grand. I simply want boring (but amazing) stability and safety.

My whole life seems to have been punctuated by bloody stresses and traumas and frankly I’m getting a bit fed up about it all as I find myself drowning in another unexpected sea of disaster and worry.

Don’t get me wrong. I know I am far from alone in life throwing shit at me but right now I am feeling a bit sorry for myself and sad and angry and … all sorts of feelings actually!

My therapist and I often joke (serious joke) about how hard I find change and uncertainty. Even this week, something as simple as her putting an I-pad on a tripod in the therapy room to do an EMDR type activity made waves inside me! The room was (slightly) different but we had discussed the change the session before and yet EEEK something was not the same – cue mild panic!…

I’m sure, based on this response you can imagine what happened the time she changed the client chair from an Ikea therapy chair to a pale blue sofa and put the sofa on the other side of the room from where I’d been used to sitting, as well as moving a bookcase, changing the curtains and the wall colour all in one week! The room looked so much better, but Gah! Change!! I need warning about these kind of things! haha.

I mean it’s funny tragic right?!

My childhood was a catalogue of uncertainty and instability and from the earliest times I lacked of a felt sense of safety and it’s carried on into my adult life, unfortunately. I really can’t remember a time when things felt ‘ok’ inside me or externally. I’ve always been on edge/high alert and there are so many factors involved in this.

I don’t suppose it helped that my mum had a terrible pregnancy and was hospitalised for the final two months because things were so crap for her with preeclampsia. I had to be induced in the end because I was in so much distress in the womb (!!) and after a two day labour where both mother and baby almost died I arrived 5 weeks ahead of schedule, tiny, and was put in an incubator for three days. My mum did not to recognise me as hers when they finally gave me to her.

Great start!

Things haven’t really ever improved from that point! I’m not really surprised given what she went through that my mum developed post-natal depression and struggled to be a mum to me. She’s always said she’s not maternal and has made a joke of it, but actually I think that’s a defence for knowing that things weren’t very good for either of us when I was small. It’s easier to joke than to acknowledge the varying degrees of failure that happened. I know what it’s like when your mental health is tanking and I know that looking after babies is no mean feat even when you’re on your A game and so I get that my early days weren’t exactly conducive to developing a sense of security. Bonding was never going to be straightforward.

Now I am on a roll with the moaning about instability I might as well let a bit more out and add that after the trauma of being born there multiple house moves growing up (16 ‘homes’ by the age of 16); several different schools; being ‘looked after’ by people that were not my parents (so many childminders!); being emotionally neglected and abused ‘I wish you’d never been born!’ by my mum when she was around but she wasn’t always around, in fact she was gone a lot!

From the age of four to eleven she was away five days/nights a week. I feel so sad for the little girl inside that just wanted to be loved, to be tucked up in bed at night and read a story by someone that loved her. The ache is huge. Every night when I put my children to bed and tell them stories, and remind them that I love them and tuck them in I feel that young part’s sadness and the little voice saying ‘why did no one love me enough to do this?’ 

I used to witness huge rows between my parents on the weekends when my mum was home before they finally separated when I was 11. You’d think things would have settled down somewhat after the separation but all that happened was an upscaling in the rage directed at me from my mum when there was no longer a husband to absorb it and that carried on til I left for university at 18. I’m not at all surprised that I turned all the hatred in on myself by self-harming, not eating, and generally neglecting and punishing myself.

If you are repeatedly undermined and attacked throughout your life by a caregiver it becomes your inner narrative. You are nothing. You don’t matter. It makes sense to deprive yourself because you are not worthy of anything good. I know my inner critical voice is modelled on my mother. I have left that childhood ‘home’ but that horrible, nasty, soul-destroying voice lives on in me. It’s painstaking work trying to free myself from it…or at least try and understand it better.

So basically because of this (and more…so much more!) I don’t feel safe in relationship but I also don’t feel safe in my wider environment.

I suspect the way I respond to change and upheaval isn’t exactly ‘normal’ (I mean come on, décor change in a therapy room freak out is not usual behaviour!!) because of my previous life experiences. It can feel like the end of the world when stressful stuff happens because I end up on my arse flailing about.

This feeling of doom and Armageddon gets worse with each new traumatic ‘event’. The sense that things are desperate and will never improve take root really quickly. It’s like the floor falls out from underneath me and I start plummeting into the abyss. To be fair to myself the more recent adult triggers haven’t been ‘light’. My dad dying abroad unexpectedly at 47 on a remote island wasn’t an easy thing to navigate even in a purely practical sense let alone emotionally and I am not surprised it still haunts me; getting a late stage cancer diagnosis six months after giving birth wasn’t ideal either and the treatment that followed was gruelling so my health anxieties are probably reasonable.

So, what’s the latest trigger for the zoom into doom? My wife lost her job out of nowhere two weeks ago. This has sent shock waves through my system. It’s not the end of the world. It’s not a death. It’s not cancer. It’s not childhood neglect and abuse. BUT it has sent me through a loop. I don’t like injustice. I feel angry when people treat others badly. I hate that people with power can abuse it. And whilst I (adult) know things will work out in the end I have felt awful and panicked. All the younger parts have been sent plummeting down into a deep deep hole. I have felt scared and paralysed.

Turns out that, as well as death and cancer, financial insecurity is something that terrifies me. I think we all like to think that money isn’t the be all and end all…but you know what? In the society that we live in it really is quite important. If you can’t pay your bills, well… what happens? You’re totally fucked.

As an adult I have tried really hard to create a stable environment for me and my family because I know how ‘unsafe’ I feel just being alive. There have been horrible things happen, losses that I still can’t get over, but until now I have at least felt like I have my home and so a degree of physical safety – somewhere I can escape to when the world feels all a bit too much. I know, that it won’t be long before my wife finds some kind of employment again but I also know that agency work will not pay anywhere like as well as what she has been doing in recent years…and so it’s going to be a struggle. Our life is going to have to change.

She’s already been off two weeks unpaid and that’s two weeks where the mortgage is still running, the bills keep coming in, the cars need fuel, the kids need stuff…….and then there’s that other big bill…therapy.

What do I do about that? I was convinced in week one that I would have to give up my sessions. I was ready to go in and have that conversation – and I cried about it the night before. I guess that’s one plus point…I located where the tears are kept! After all if you have no money coming in and kids to feed and a roof to keep over your head then how can you justify £450/month on therapy? It’s simply not viable.

I still don’t know what is going to happen with this but I have decided not to make any panic moves. I’ve told Em what has happened but I didn’t quit therapy there and then because we are just about ok for a month or two with bills.  If things haven’t resolved with my wife’s job by September then there will have to be some serious decisions to be made. The idea of not having therapy right now terrifies me but at the end of the day as much as we might like to pretend it’s a relationship that will be there no matter what… if you can’t pay for it you can’t have it. End of.

Ugh.

Em and I are approaching the summer therapy break. This year she’s taking two blocks of two weeks – one at the start of the school holidays and another at the end. I am dreading it. I am crap with therapy breaks and this summer is going to be the most disrupted time we’ve had in the last three years. I always struggle in the summer break. However, I am trying hard to hang onto a slight positive here. I am trying to see the summer break as a respite from having a therapy bill – there is no therapy but I have not quit therapy… and hopefully this time will allow me and my wife to settle on some kind of financial even keel.

So, yeah, that’s my life right now x

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