‘It took me so long to get here, but here I am’ – on sharing my blog with my therapist.

 

IMG_1460

Last week was pretty terrible for me by all accounts. I felt like I was on a slippery slope and heading towards a really bad place mentally. I was completely caught up in my internal hurricane and devastated by the damage it was doing to me, but by the time I had finished writing the last post ‘I’m watching the weather channel and waiting for the storm’ I think I had gone some way towards processing what is/has been going on for me and felt a little better about it all.

Sometimes just having a bit of clarity on the situation eases the pressure even though nothing is actually resolved. I know I am not out of the storm yet. I have been batting away some pretty negative and persuasive thoughts about my body and am trying not to slip into not eating or self-harming.

Despite this, it does feel like the storm is losing its power: it has been downgraded from a category 5 to a 3, or something like that. The anxiety that was completely overwhelming me has ebbed and now I just feel a bit flat – less anxious more depressed- I suppose. I don’t feel sick and my headache has gone. It’s not great, by any means, but it is certainly a good deal better than it was.

I mentioned at the end of the last post that:

‘ I feel that overwhelming need to contact my therapist and tell her how bad things feel but know there’s no point because she won’t respond to my messages and has told me to write it all down or draw it and bring it to session to talk about. I just don’t really know what to write or draw. I have so much to say but also don’t know how to say it.’

I don’t know what possessed me to do it, maybe I temporarily took leave of my senses (very likely!) or perhaps, finally, after a total 31 months of therapy something in me feels that now is the time to be a bit braver and stop hiding the really awkward and difficult stuff from my therapist. Like I said, I don’t know what happened, but a few hours after publishing the post online I was thinking about what I should write to take in to therapy but I kept drawing a blank. I didn’t feel like drawing anything. There isn’t enough black and grey paint to express how stormy and shit things felt!

I knew that that the post I had just written basically told it like it was, there was no concealing anything. I wasn’t avoiding the bits that are hard to say in it because, although there ‘is’ an audience for what I write here, the blog is also just a space for my thoughts. I don’t really have to face any judgment for what I say, think, or feel. Or so far, at least, the feedback has been positive, kind, and understanding.

What I wrote in the post was brutally honest – the truth. It was exactly what has needed to be said in therapy and what I have been steadily trying to articulate over the last few months but struggling to. I feel like I get so far but somehow the overall picture gets lost. I don’t know why that happens. I think there are just so many parts of me competing for attention and space to talk that sometimes nothing gets said.

I’ve been aware that a blog is a great space for letting stuff out and that’s why I finally got myself together during the break to start writing –I definitely needed an outlet when my therapist was away. (I guess it was one positive to come out of the break!) I am mindful, though, that some of what I write is really what I should be discussing in session, in person, with my therapist. Some of this is the stuff I might be running from saying in session because it is too hard, too painful, too exposing. I know I need to be careful not to splurge everything here and then not talk to her. So, what did I do? I sent her a text with a link to my blog and said that I’d bring my laptop in to go through it together in session.

The moment I sent the message I was like, ‘Oh fuck! What the fuck have I just done? She’s going to really think I’m really mental now. Oh god. What a fucking idiot. Shit! Fuck! Shit!’ But at the same time there was a sense of relief having put it out there. There was a part of me that felt a bit more pragmatic about it and was almost kind to myself, ‘What’s the worst that can happen? If I’m going to work with her long-term she needs to know about this stuff or I’m just wasting my time. This is how it is. This is how I feel. I can’t hold this for myself and I need help with the little ones. It’s time to tell her, really tell her how it is.’

There is one positive (ha, I can’t believe I’ve just written that!) about the agreement that we have about outside of session contact, which is that if I text her she might scan read it but won’t take in the detail or read fully, and she won’t reply unless it’s something about timings or session changes – admin basically.

This boundary was necessarily reinforced after a big rupture via text that happened a few months back leading into a break. We’d had a really good therapy session but I guess it had subconsciously stirred up a lot of stuff. The next day, on the surface, I was feeling positive and buoyant and so I sent her this picture text:

IMG_0608

What happened next was deadly. She responded to it but I thought, from what she said, that she was talking to someone else and had somehow messaged me by mistake. I got totally pissed off because SHE NEVER RESPONDS TO ME when I message her (only this time she had!) and so suddenly I felt like I didn’t matter and that she didn’t care about me as much as some other client. The Green Eyed Monster came out in full force. It wasn’t good.

She thought the picture was like an epitaph or something and was concerned enough about my safety based on what I’d said in session and from the message to check in with me. Whereas I saw the image and words as a positive, a sort of ‘I may be going through hell but I am in control, fuck you Inner Critic’, and therefore I assumed her message was a miscommunication.

I ‘calmly’ replied to tell her that I thought she’d sent me a message intended for someone else but then heard nothing back from her to confirm either way. Basically after a couple of hours all the stuff about being abandoned, not worthy of her care, being unimportant, and that it’s a fake relationship just reached boiling point. I ended up firing off a massive rant, I threw all my toys out the pram and said I was terminating therapy! I was so hurt and sad. Obviously that exchange just tapped into a really deep wound that I hadn’t been fully aware of until then.

Fortunately, she handled it really well, apologised for the misunderstanding and didn’t acknowledge the ‘I’m done’ bit and offered me another couple of sessions to work things through. I still cringe when I think about it all. It was embarrassing but it totally highlighted how sensitive I am to change and breaks. It also showed me how important face-to-face communication is and how easily even well-intended messages can cause upset. Written communications, particularly texts, lack depth and all the subtle nuances of face-to-face communication.

Part of the reason my therapist says it’s best to keep things in session is that she can pick up on the feelings and vibe in person even if I’m not saying anything. She can check her understanding and clarify with me. She says that there is always a danger in written communication in her honing in on the wrong thing or missing the point entirely which can make me feel like she isn’t attuned and that I am not being heard and that is best avoided. As an English post-grad and English teacher I can’t really argue with that.

Don’t get me wrong. I do completely get it and the adult part of me is in total agreement with what she is saying BUT I’m not going to lie, I don’t find this outside contact boundary easy at all. In fact, I’d got so far as to say I HATE IT. I find it incredibly painful most of the time. This is because the bit of me that needs her, wants her between sessions isn’t my adult, it’s the young child parts and to them it feels like she just doesn’t care about them at all and is perfectly happy to leave them in emotional limbo between sessions drowning in attachment trauma and feeling totally terrified and abandoned. It feels cruel.

I wish there was the occasional ‘we’re still ok, and I am still here’ message midweek. Maybe I’ll get round to asking for that again. That’s all I really want. I don’t want to enter into a huge dialogue outside session. I don’t need check in calls. I just want a simple reassurance that nothing bad has happened and that she hasn’t disappeared. My object constancy is crap and so I genuinely feel like she is gone and has left me during the week and even after all this time I am never really sure that she’ll be there on a Monday.

So, anyway, that’s a bit of a detour! Back to Friday, based on the outside session communication rule/boundary, I knew that she’d see the text but wouldn’t have read anything in the blog or even followed the link – she’d just be aware of something coming on Monday. Because of this ‘not reading stuff outside of session’ thing, I also know that I can still write freely here because she won’t read this blog unless I am there with her and want to share a specific post in session.

I’m not sure how I feel about that, actually. I guess it’s good because there are certainly things I’ll probably want to share on here that I don’t necessarily want her to see yet… but at the same time I guess the very fact that I have now given her the link to the blog, and the content of it is purely about the therapy, indicates that at least some part of me wants her to really know what’s going on. It’s complicated! I know if it was me and I discovered that someone was writing about me and my relationship with them I would just have to know what they were saying. My therapist just isn’t that interested, I don’t think.

So, finally, to Monday…

My adult (she’s quite good at this kind of thing) went to session with the laptop and handed it over for my therapist to read the post. I had thought I would be nervous or anxious when it came down to it, as previously when I’ve taken things in that I have written I have felt a bit sick or worried, sitting wondering how what I have said will be received. When you are in the room there is nowhere to hide except in silence.

I know that the fear that I might be rejected or abandoned by my therapist for expressing my feelings stems from when I was small. It’s a kind of negative maternal transference, but it absolutely doesn’t make it any easier knowing this. All the rationalising in the world about why I feel this way doesn’t change the fact that I am attached to her in the here and now, and all the fear about potential abandonment I feel is real in the here and now. The worst of it is that those feelings that have been dredged up from the past still carry the intensity of my inner child’s feelings that were hurt so badly when I was little. The adult can’t get round it.

I’m not sure why Monday felt less intense and less stressful, then. Perhaps I’ve done it enough times now and have always been met with a positive response that it feels a little bit less scary showing her my thoughts in writing. Perhaps it’s because in my head I’ve reached a point now where I know that I have to push things forward because I just cannot keep getting caught up in emotional hell over and over due to how I feel about her and the therapeutic relationship. I’ve got to stop expecting her to be psychic and know what’s bothering me.

I think a lot of the time I feel like my therapist should know what’s going on with me because so many of my internal thoughts are taken up with thinking about therapy and about what I want to say to her. I have to remember that she is not in my head and so unless I explicitly say what’s going on for me she won’t have the full picture. She is very intuitive and gets it right a lot of the time without me having to say anything but the finer detail needs spelling out. I am glad I did it.

So, bit by bit we worked through what I’d written. She asked how I felt about letting her see my writing and how it was different from speaking to her. I said that I have so much going on in my head that the detail often gets lost and my head turns to mush when I try and speak, whereas with writing I can process what I need to say beforehand and then build on it in session.

I often get blocked in session, especially after a break and so we agreed that maybe writing is a good way to get round this before the connection is fully restored and that I should/can bring things in to work through.

We talked through possible ways of trying to make things better, especially when there is a disruption, i.e trying a different strategy with a handwritten message on a card maybe and work on the content together in sessions so it works for me. You know I still want a teddy, though, right?! Lol.

She seemed to understand how and why the visualisation had missed the mark and how it hadn’t helped the little ones feel safe at all;  the language wasn’t right and that a visualisation was just too much at the moment. She said it is complex because she also needs to talk to the adult (that’s what she was trying to do in the visualisation) to try and integrate all the parts but by the end of the session acknowledged that it is really difficult because there are so many parts in play and they are all hearing and taking different things from what she says. She said that she knows she needs to talk to the little ones.

One of the best bits of the session, for me, was at the very end listening to the song that I had attached to the post. I love music and I often find that I get a song as an internal soundtrack that reflects where I am emotionally; it was Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide the other week, Sheryl Crow’s Weather Channel last week and this week there are a couple of Counting Crows songs doing the rounds…read into that what you will! So listening to the song and the lyrics together gave the session another dimension for me. Not only did I get to share a song that carries a lot of meaning for me and essentially summarised the feelings in the blog post, but it was a bit of quiet reflective time too after what really was quite a lot of processing and discussion.

I’ve been really struggling to settle down in sessions lately and we’ve talked about trying to find some strategies for calming me down and making me feel safe in the session at the beginning to enable me to talk. Based on how I felt on Monday, I think that maybe listening to a track together at the start of our sessions each week would be a really good starter – partly because it allows a few minutes to settle but also functions as a talking point. Usually the song of the moment has some kind of relevant emotional meaning. So, I think I might suggest this on Monday and see what she says.

God, this is long again and I haven’t written that out very well. To be honest, the session all feels a bit of a blur now. I guess what I can say is that we talked through loads and it was positive. I didn’t feel awkward or too embarrassed. She made me feel safe and as though all my feelings have a place in the therapy and that she isn’t going to reject me because of them. I know there is still a long way to go but as a result of sharing that blog post I now know that we are on the same page. Or at least, she knows what’s in my book

In the words of KT Tunstall, ‘It took me so long to get here, but here I am!’

 

‘I’m watching the weather channel and waiting for the storm’

IMG_1457

I’m sitting here now, four days after my therapy session, trying to compose some kind of readable post but I still don’t really know what to say other than it was really bloody hard being in the room on Monday…

I knew that there had been something big brewing as I headed into the break and whatever ‘it’ was had been steadily gathering power and intensity during the break. By the time it was time to resume therapy last week, it felt as though I had an emotional hurricane inside me but there was part of me that just wasn’t ready to face it and so my adult symbolically battened down the hatches and the children went into hiding during my sessions. I talked but not really. Externally, at least, those two sessions functioned as the calm before the storm.

I should know by now that concealing the hardest stuff (the young, vulnerable, needy feelings) only makes things worse for me in the long run. I can feel the child parts almost immediately start to get agitated in session when they have stuff to say and I keep overriding and silencing them.

I can feel their distress steadily building. I can see the very smallest ones in my mind’s eye absolutely distraught, wailing in the corner, and yet, more often than not, I continue to ignore them, or gag them until they basically have no choice but to have a complete meltdown, en mass, when I am on my own! It’s hideous. I don’t know why I do it! Oh yeah, I do, too much shame and embarrassment about having these feelings and needs in the first place!

When there is a lengthy break my child parts definitely don’t get a chance to be seen or heard by anyone but me and therefore their emotional distress escalates. The metaphorical rain cloud that hovers over my head most of the time between sessions becomes a full-on internal shit storm – sorry- hurricane! It’s just awful and really hard to contain. You’d think, then, that returning to therapy would be the perfect opportunity to start to settle some of the turbulence and anxiety but no…

One of the biggest problems after any significant disruption is that I am never sure when I enter the room whether I am going to be on my own facing the potential destruction that my internal storm will cause when it touches down (and that is terrifying – I don’t have the skills to weather this on my own yet), or whether, actually, she (my therapist) will be there, a professional storm-chaser, ready and waiting to witness it all with me and guide me through it. I’m always hoping she’ll be there, fully prepared – someone who sees beauty in chaos and who will be able to reframe the potential destruction of the storm as something positive:

‘Yes, the hurricane will wreak havoc, but don’t worry! I am experienced at navigating storms – it’s what I do. I know how to keep us both safe. I’m not frightened by these tempests, and I will show you how to remain secure and grounded when everything starts swirling and flying about. It will feel scary and some things will undoubtedly get destroyed. The storm will sweep away the derelict and dangerous structures that currently exist, those that aren’t really fit for purpose anymore, and in their place there is the potential for us to build something so strong that it will be able to survive any future storms.’

(Or that’s the kind of thing I’d like to imagine her saying, anyway!)

The thing is, it’s just not that easy to simply pick up where I left off after a disruption because no matter how secure I might feel when I leave a session, or how welcome the little ones might have been made to feel in the room and in the relationship with her previously, when I return to the therapy room I am not sure if I am still safe with my therapist or if something has changed. I am not sure whether I can still trust her with the child parts who are absolutely desperate to reconnect but are also incredibly fearful of being hurt, rejected, and abandoned. Ugh!

I woke up feeling pretty rubbish on Monday, I hadn’t really slept, and could feel that I was going to struggle with the session. When I feel like I ‘want to talk but can’t’ sometimes it feels like the only option is to give myself a symbolic kick up the backside by giving my therapist the heads up via text before a session. Doing this poses its own set of difficult issues around communicating outside of session and therapy boundaries. It’s actually just a frigging nightmare and it does my head in!

After a lengthy internal monologue: ‘Will she be cross if I message her? I just can’t face another one of those let’s keep it in session lectures when I feel like this. I need to let her know what’s going on but I’m not sure if I am allowed to, now. I don’t want to break the rules. I really don’t want to annoy her. She must be so fed up of me by now. Why can’t I just go to session and talk? I hate this’, I did text my therapist an outline of what I wanted to say.

Ultimately, I knew I was stuck in that horrible place where despite having a million things (ok, maybe more like four) I desperately needed to discuss, that it’d all somehow get trapped inside when I got there and I probably wouldn’t say anything at all. I didn’t even feel like I had the energy to have a ‘talking but not really’ session and was aware that it could all just become an uncomfortable silent session, and we’ve had enough of those lately – although they’ve stemmed more from anger and frustration rather than just feeling insecure, needy and small.

IMG_1443

Driving to therapy I could feel the little ones starting to activate. They’ve been really struggling over the break and I knew that they needed to come out and be seen and soothed. When I arrived I think I sat down and said something along the lines of, ‘I don’t feel very good today’, and from that point the anxiety and crippling emotional pain that I had felt so keenly outside of session entered the room with force. The storm touched down.

I felt so overcome by my feelings, a mixture of emotions: fear, grief, sadness, love, longing, hopelessness, confusion, embarrassment, and shame (and probably too many others to name, actually). I said ‘I feel like everything has caught up with me’, meaning all the feelings I’d been trying to manage over the break. I felt as though I was about to disintegrate, my body was a mass of nervous tension and I felt sick to my core. The intensity of what I felt was totally debilitating. The child parts of me were utterly beside themselves and I was unable to talk. I think this is generally what happens when Little Me and Four show up because they just haven’t got the language to explain the feelings and their trauma feels locked in the body.

Despite having sent the warning text and my therapist making repeated reference to it (no telling off!) asking if I wanted to talk about it, I still couldn’t bring myself to tell her what was on my mind. I find talking about how I feel in/about the therapeutic relationship really difficult. I feel so exposed and just mortified that I have such strong feelings about her. Yes. I know. It’s not unusual to feel this way but god I fucking hate it, sometimes.

I know I need to tell her how much of an impact breaks have on me and how much I miss her, and all that gets stirred up for me as a result….but ugh, it’s just excruciating and I just can’t really articulate it in person! I did write some of it down in the letter I gave her before the break but revisiting the content is so hard now because I feel like I have lost momentum and confidence since the break.

I also know that I need to really unpick, rather than just touch on the visualisation exercise (can’t do it!) that was meant to function as some kind of internalised transitional space during the break. In my long letter I asked for a holding message to help me remain connected to her during the break:

‘I was wondering if you might write/send me a message that essentially tells me that we are ok, that you aren’t leaving me, and that you’ll come back, that it is ok to miss you, that my feelings are valid and that there isn’t anything wrong with my caring about you or needing you. The thing is, I’m not even sure if all that is true.’

She agreed to my request and sent me the visualisation via text describing that I was meant to picture the therapy room and us in it together, me talking to her and her responding in the way I need…sounds ok, right? Nope. I tried it and found myself, child parts fully activated, desperately sad, sitting in the room but she wasn’t there, I was completely alone, staring at her empty chair and feeling flooded with despair. Part of my problem mid-week has been the sense of her being gone and being unable to picture her. The visualisation confirmed this.

Devastating doesn’t cover how it felt. I don’t think it’s hard to understand that if you are already in the position of needing to try and conjure up a safe, nurturing space because things feel bad that when it doesn’t work it just feels like everything is hopeless and pointless. I felt really defeated. It had taken a huge amount of courage to even ask for the message in the first place and then for it not to work just seemed so unfair.

I kept staring at the message on my phone, trying to coach myself into a better place, ‘look, you can’t do the visualisation, let it go. What matters is that you reached out to her, asked for something and she responded to you. She tried to meet your need. She spent time thinking about you and wrote this to you. She must care a bit to do that.’ That’s good processing right?!

But when I was sad and frustrated with it all I started to get wound up about some of the wording in the message surrounding the visualisation: ‘thank you for your communication’ (nooooo – too formal, clinical, cold somehow) and ‘I think the most developmental help at this time might be for you to imagine the consulting room(really not soothing at all!). I know I’m probably just splitting hairs here, but I also get that most of you will totally get what happened in my head. By the time I got to the ending, ‘With best wishes’ (OMG I hate it!) I’d sort of lost the will with it all. I don’t think I need to elaborate on this sign off! Needless to say, the child parts were like ‘what does this all mean? The words are too long. Why isn’t she talking to us? Where is she?’

IMG_1456

I think, no, I know, what I really needed was a really simple message that spoke directly to the little ones and not to the rational adult who is meant to be able to contain the feelings of the little ones. I understand that is the long-term goal, to furnish my adult with the skills to cope in her absence but right now I’m not quite there. My child parts are running my internal show and it’s all a step too far at the moment. That’s not to say I won’t get there eventually….maybe! Hopefully!

I feel a bit ungrateful writing that because I (adult) know that the intention behind the message was good and so I feel unduly critical. But I just needed more. More holding. More containment. More ‘real’ person coming through. I know that these things take time and sometimes things need refining. I get that maybe I will never actually get what I need/want because perhaps it’s just not possible. Perhaps she doesn’t think it’s necessary and maybe I have to trust in that? The thing is, deep down I know I need to fight for what the little ones need so that they, and therefore I can move forward. If the long-term goal is integration of all these parts then I know I have to take another running jump at this and try again, but it feels risky.

I need to bite the bullet and tell her how I really feel the need for a tangible transitional object, something I can physically hold, to get the small ones through the week.

IMG_1458

It’s just so hard. It makes complete sense to the child parts that this is what would help them when they can’t see her but my adult just wants to dig a big hole and bury myself in it for even having this need. I mean seriously, this is just mortifying! I guess there’s also a bit of me that is scared. I don’t want to take any more time building up the huge amount of courage it takes to express that kind of need and then not have it met. I know I (adult and little ones) wouldn’t recover from it.

I know I am not a child but in this situation I kind of am. I just cannot cope with the possibility of being shamed or abandoned for expressing such a childish need – I’ve already had too much of that in the past. I know that if I express this need and it’s not met I would lose trust and faith in the relationship. I think this is a similar conflict to how I feel about asking to be held. I will never ask her for a hug because I can’t face the rejection. Argh. Even typing this makes me feel sick.

Errr. I don’t know where I am going with all that. Umm. The visualisation? I basically managed to tell her ‘I couldn’t do the visualisation and I found the break really hard’ Twelve words! Hilarious given all of what I’ve just written above!

I never cry in session but Monday saw the start of something. Silent tears slowly started coming – it wasn’t a true reflection of what was inside (flooding!), because I was still trying to hang on tightly to everything. The tears that came out were the few that I couldn’t contain. I’ve spent my whole life holding everything in or crying on my own, never ever seeking comfort because I learnt at a young age that none would be forthcoming.

IMG_1445

The idea of really letting go and properly crying in session terrifies me. I think part of it is that it feels really exposing, but the main thing is that I just couldn’t cope with being watched and ‘left’ to break down on my own. It’s one thing to choose to be alone in my own emotional pain but it’s horrible to think that I might now trust her enough to be that vulnerable (cry) in her presence, that maybe I could let her see that all that pain, and seek comfort in being with her and she might just leave me to it.

My child parts were emotionally abandoned and never physically soothed and I can’t bear that pain repeating in this relationship. So I guess that’s why I am reluctant to cry or reach out even when I need to. The warning message repeats in my head: ‘She’s a therapist not your mother. She’s a professional not your mother. Hold it together. Don’t embarrass yourself – or her’.

The heightened sense of anxiety and fear I felt in session has lingered on well into the week and I can’t seem to shake it off. I’ve had Sheryl Crow’s, ‘Weather Channel’ as my internal soundtrack (must be more depressed than I thought) and I haven’t been able to fully emerge from the deep pit of grief and pain that I was silently swimming (or drowning) in in session.

I think maybe I am still so hungover from the session that I just can’t get my head together, yet. It sounds a bit dramatic but honestly I have felt like my world has been steadily falling apart day-by-day and my brain has gone into panic overdrive. It’s as though someone has typed in the code to activate the ‘fear of abandonment’ button and is now on countdown to nuclear apocalypse. It’s crap.

I seriously considered ringing my GP for an appointment on Tuesday for some kind of anxiety medication. I felt jittery, sick, had a horrible migraine, and so much tension behind my ear that I felt like doing a Van Gogh and cutting the bloody thing off! I haven’t had anything like this amount of anxiety in years and it was horrendous. The most distressing thing was that the anxiety that is usually contained within the therapy relationship crept into my ‘now’, my ‘real life’ and current relationship.

IMG_1403

I was certain on Tuesday evening that my wife was going to leave me. Why? Well, she seemed to be in a bad mood about something and was a bit short. It might well have been that she was tired or stressed about work, but I couldn’t face asking what the matter was because I was so sure that the reply would be about her being sick of me and my depression and anxiety and getting caught up in therapy etc (it’s happened before).

Because I was too scared to ask what was wrong I felt shit all night, couldn’t sleep playing different scenarios over and over in my head. I felt as though I was treading on eggshells on Wednesday morning and did my very best to put on the ‘everything is fine, and I am functioning like a normal human’ persona. I was beside myself with anxiety waiting for her to come home in the evening worried about what was going to happen. Everything was fine. She was fine. There is nothing wrong. We are ok. That anxiety lifted but what’s going on in therapy hasn’t. So I feel a bit better but ffs this sort of thing is not sustainable long-term!

So, yet again, I feel that overwhelming need to contact my therapist outside session and tell her how bad things feel, but I know there’s no point because she won’t respond to my messages and told me to write it all down or draw it and bring it to session to talk about. I get the importance of keeping things in session but sometimes I just need to know she’s still there.

IMG_1455

I don’t really know what to write or draw to take to session. I have so much to say but also don’t know how to say it to her.

I don’t think I’ve really talked about Monday’s session here!…She was really good and said all the right things. I’d like to think I’ll be better this Monday but unless I somehow manage to find the words to say this stuff to her I don’t really know what it’ll be like because the child parts are still very upset.

I’m not sure what I am taking from this very very long post (sorry!) other than this question:

Why is it so so hard to express need?

 

C is also for…

Commitment

Communication

Conversation

Child parts

Crying

Compassion

Care

Connection

Containment

Today’s session had all of these ingredients.

I didn’t say much, I just couldn’t, but thankfully my therapist took the reins and soothed me with her words as I sat silently crying.

The one ‘C’ I really could have used?…

Cuddle

– oh but of course!

In my dreams! Literally, always in my dreams. Ha!

I’m so wiped out after today’s session that I’ll have to sleep on it before writing about it.

IMG_1447

 

 

 

C is for…

Cancer.

Well, I guess I should’ve seen that coming on Friday. Another session where I didn’t even allude to the break or mention anything to do with the therapeutic relationship. It still felt like I was trying to work out whether she (my therapist) can still be trusted with the vulnerable child parts and until that happens I won’t be able to talk about any of their concerns and fears.

It wasn’t a completely wasted session by any means. I didn’t revert into the super-guarded, silent Gatekeeper which sometimes happens and The Teenager didn’t show up, either. She’s got no reason to be angry right now because the little ones haven’t come to session yet. In fact, the last two sessions have seen me remain firmly in my adult. I have talked plenty and got a lot off my chest. It has been helpful. I am aware, though, that if I don’t start talking soon about the child parts and those feelings then there will be a nightmare internal storm to deal with. I need to avoid that as I don’t have the energy to cope right now.

Anyway, I very rarely bring ‘cancer’ to session (sometimes if I have a consultant appointment but not always) and yet it’s something that completely saturates my life and is part of the reason I found myself back in the therapy chair in the first place. Since being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in March 2015 my life, my body, and especially my head, have been sent into a bit of a tailspin.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I was misdiagnosed for at least two years before finally getting the correct diagnosis and treatment. My repeated trips to the GP never resulted in a blood test (which would have shown the markers….it’s a frigging blood cancer ffs!). Unfortunately, I think when you’ve had mental health issues and it’s on your record, sometimes doctors then see you through a different lens and treat you slightly differently than they otherwise would. It shouldn’t happen but it does. I think younger people (I literally had just had my 32nd birthday when I was diagnosed) also get overlooked when presenting with classic cancer symptoms. I was just too young… even though it is a ‘young person’s cancer’!

Everything I went and presented to the GP with was fired back at me with a logical explanation. I was complaining of unbelievable fatigue: ‘you have a young child and are pregnant with another, it’s bound to be more exhausting than the first time round and it’s little wonder you feel low’; drenching night sweats: ‘you’ve been breastfeeding and are pregnant now, it’s your hormones’; an itchy rash that actually covered my massive mediastinal tumour site (15x8x6cm) ‘it’s eczema’; a funny whistling noise when I breathed (stridor) ‘your chest sounds clear’ (yes! That’s because it’s not in my lungs, it’s the pressure of the tumour pressing on my windpipe and stopping proper airflow) and it was like this for pretty much two years.

I stopped going to the doctor in the end and just assumed that feeling like I was dying,  and being so tired I was crying everyday by the time my wife came home was part and parcel of having a toddler and a newborn baby. I ended up thinking that maybe it was post-natal depression…nope, it wasn’t.

It wasn’t until a lump/swelling came up just above my breast through my ribcage at the same time as a pea-sized lump above my clavicle that I was finally taken seriously. I got an emergency appointment and saw a locum doctor who basically felt my lymph nodes and said, ‘well, it’s one of two things, you’ve either got TB or Lymphoma. I’ll take blood now’. Err what? You know it’s not good when the doctor starts taking blood rather than sending you to wait for a nurse appointment. I knew TB wasn’t ideal and the treatment was nasty but it was unlikely given I had had the BCG when they still gave it in schools. I had no idea what Lymphoma even was. Never heard of it, like most people. Must be treatable with antibiotics right? I kind of went into denial at that point and went home.

A day later I was called into surgery to see my GP (should have set alarm bells ringing, fast track results and an immediate appointment!). We were en route to a family day out at a theme park and so I said ‘we’ll just pop in quickly and then carry on.’ WHAT THE FUCK?! Again, it just didn’t occur to me that something serious was going on. It couldn’t possibly be something bad. So me, my wife, and my two children (my daughter just three, and son 6 months) bundled in in the way that young families do: changing bags, toys, snacks, general chaos and sat down.

I could tell immediately that things weren’t right because the doctor was doing her best ‘serious and concerned’ face and put on the ‘caring and gentle’ voice. Shit. This is not going to be good. I can’t really remember what she said now. I think from that point everything became a blur. But she essentially told me my blood tests indicated I had malignant blood cancer and that I needed to go to the hospital immediately to get a chest x-ray.

From there on out it got really really bad, I had a huge tumour and needed immediate treatment as the tumour was so fast growing and I was struggling to swallow and breathe. So, then it was straight into the IV 12 chemo doses (a session every two weeks – ugh!) that made me feel like I was dying (and wanted to die) followed by 15 sessions of radiotherapy. I lost my hair, my eye brows, and my already fragile sense of self-esteem. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

IT WAS HELL.

So, flash forward to 2017 nearly two years since last chemo and yeah, I am still here (whoop!) but essentially traumatised by the whole experience. Sadly, lots of people seem to think that when you are out the other side of treatment and have survived, that suddenly everything is fine again and will magically go back to normal. It just doesn’t work like that. I wish it did. I wish I could wake up and it had never happened or was just a nightmare but it’s not, everything has changed. I’m not a completely different person but my experience has shaped me in a way that I will never be as I was again….and in fairness it wasn’t great before. It’s just I have even more to carry now.

This change in me is frustrating for loved ones who have been cheerleading me through treatment and can’t understand why now that it’s all over and I have beaten the cancer that I am so overcome with sadness, depression, anxiety, fear etc etc. I ‘should be happy to be alive’ which of course I am but I am also devastated by all that’s happened. During treatment there is no time to take in what is going on, it’s all about survival but when it’s over the reality of the situation hits and that’s when everyone else has moved on from it.

Imagine how terrifying it is to think you could leave your babies behind and they would be too young to even remember you? It’s hard to be happy when you know that there’s a good chance that this cancer will relapse or if it’s not this cancer that kills you, then it’ll be another one because the effects of chemo and radiotherapy damage the system so much. I’ve been bought time, which I am unbelievably grateful for, particularly as two of my very best friends are currently battling terminal diagnoses but it’s still shit, really shit.

I had a kind of hospital phobia before my treatment. I hate the smell of hospitals – I want to puke every time I walk in the door. Part of it stems from when my aunt was involved in a huge RTA when I was six years old and she ended up in ITU. The wisdom of my parents was amazing (idiots!) and they took me to see her almost immediately following the accident and all the surgery she had had to have to piece her back together. I have never been able to get that image out of my mind. I was utterly terrified as I sat in the chair trying not to look at her.

So yeah, since having chemo that hospital phobia is now a million times worse and I have to go back to the unit every three months for follow ups. Every time I go I feel as though I am right back in the thick of it all. It’s awful. It’s like having PTSD and then deliberately sending yourself back to the trauma site over and over. The NHS needs to wake up to this.

No one really understands what it’s like or wants to hear about it…..but my therapist does, and she said absolutely all the right things on Friday morning in session. She made me feel validated and accepted and a little bit less frightened. And that, my friends, is why I love her, and why I will probably be able to go into session on Monday and talk about the break.

 

IMG_1399

Back to the therapy room

Tuesday evening marked the end of the 22 day therapy break – hooray! As first sessions after a lengthy disruption go, it wasn’t a complete disaster, but it wasn’t quite what I had hoped for, either. Damn it, there was no hot chocolate, nurturing hug, and a blanket to wrap around me! Seriously, though, I think it’s particularly difficult after a significant break to just launch back into the ‘deep’ stuff and pick up where we left off. I’m working on it, but I am just not there yet.

I wish I was one of those people that could just do life properly and not even need therapy, or at least be someone who can say ‘ah well, a three week break, it’s not a bother’ and not even notice the time passing. But I just can’t. Therapy is important to me. I’m now in that really crappy bit where I have finally allowed myself to attach and become dependent on my therapist and I have started to really unpick things, but it feels ridiculously scary and exposing.

I feel so vulnerable when I really open up and it feels as though it could all blow up in my face at any given moment. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before I am told I am ‘too much’ and she terminates me. Despite caring deeply about my therapist and having an element of trust in her and the relationship, there are definitely parts of me that haven’t quite managed to latch on to a feeling of safety and don’t feel that there is the secure base that they need. It all feels so high risk for them. My adult knows she’s safe but my child parts are uncertain about it all. They love her but they are also fearful of her and the relationship. It feels like she has the power to totally annihilate them and, therefore, me. It’s hard.

Like an unsettled small child I’m really sensitive to any kind of change or disruption to my (therapy) routine. I think developmental trauma and cumulative traumatic events does this to people. I also recently found out that I fit comfortably on the spectrum for being a ‘highly sensitive person’ or HSP. (It’s not as bad as it sounds – Google it and do the online test.) I’ve become so hypervigilant, even more so since going through cancer treatment, that the smallest thing such as a time or day change can send me off balance.

Right now a three week long break is not just an unfortunately placed puddle that I need to skip over, the break feels more like a vast choppy ocean and I’ve got to swim to the other shore, fully clothed and wearing lead boots in order to reconnect with my therapist, and to an extent, myself. Terrible metaphor, I know!

I have really missed therapy. I have really missed my therapist. I have missed being able to dedicate a block of proper time to myself each week (albeit only 50 minutes!), time that focuses on me and my needs which outside the therapy session take a backseat – which I guess is part and parcel of having two small children. Without my sessions it’s felt like things have steadily been getting on top of me. I haven’t really been able to exercise any decent self-care strategies and what my therapist and I tried to put in place before the break (an internalising visualisation) just didn’t work at all. More on that another time once I’ve talked it through with her.

The longer the break went on the worse the feeling of being ‘spread too thin’ got, but then things in my day-to-day have become quite hectic over the summer holiday which probably hasn’t helped. It’s just unfortunate timing, really. It’s felt as though I am spinning too many plates and it’s only a matter time of until there’s a thunderous crash of crockery on the floor.

It’s really important, then, now that I am back in therapy that I find a way of quickly rebuilding the sense of trust in my therapist, find the connection, and also the confidence to address the things about the relationship that are really hurting me at the minute. She says we need to find a way of getting over my sense of shame and embarrassment around my feelings about her. It’s not easy, though!

Yes, of course I know all these painful feelings are being transferred into the here and now from past relationships, but my littlest parts aren’t able differentiate where the pain is coming from. They see her as the attachment figure now, and so her distance and lack of availability feels abandoning and rejecting somehow. It’s replaying how my mother was and that is just hideous. I can’t help but feel distressed and angry about the situation.

My adult knows she’s actually just being a therapist, a professional, and I need her to be those things BUT the little ones don’t want a professional, they need a mother! I haven’t yet worked out how to hold those parts for myself and be the adult, parent, nurturing figure that I needed back then and can’t give those parts the care I know they need now. There are so many overwhelmingly wounded young parts of me that just ache to be held and soothed by her- and she can’t hold me or make up for what I missed out on as a child. Ouch. That is so painful. No amount of rationalising the situation makes it any better. It just fucking hurts like hell.

So, as much as I wanted to be able to go into the session, sit down, and talk freely and openly, and continue to build on what we’d spoken about in the last session it wasn’t ever truly on the cards. I need to be realistic about these situations. I need to learn to take it as a win if I get to session and don’t completely shut down and hide from her. If I manage to at least talk about something that is useful it should be seen as a positive because in reality I know everything goes to utter shit in my head with regards to trust and connection in the therapeutic relationship when I’m on a therapy break.

I know it can take a while to feel secure in the room with her again. I just so deeply wish that just for once I could walk into the therapy room and immediately feel properly safe with her rather than being on edge and then having to spend time working out how things are ‘today’. I honestly think that something must have gone wrong between sessions and despite leaving most sessions feeling connected and heard I am sure that a shit storm is about to erupt each week when I arrive. Disorganised attachment really is the pits!

So on Tuesday I sat down and the first thing I said was, ‘I’m alright, I think, just about’. She picked up on the ‘just about’ inviting me to think about it, but it felt far too exposing to say how the break really was. I couldn’t tell her how much I struggled with missing her or how there had been times when all I felt capable of was hiding under the duvet and crying (but not being able to cry). I couldn’t explain how there had been times when I felt like the break would never end and I’d felt sick, anxious, lost and so so little that I literally felt my two year old self crying, wondering ‘where’s mummy? Why has she gone?’

I couldn’t find the words to tell her how the sessions leading into the break were difficult and had left me feeling precarious before the break had even begun. I couldn’t tell her that I couldn’t picture her in the internalising visualisation she’d sent me via text and that the message she’d sent left me feeling cold. It was too formal (BEST WISHES! -argh!) and made me feel like she didn’t really care. I couldn’t tell her anything like that and I certainly couldn’t get back to talking about the huge letter I had given her in our last session outlining all the problems I was having in the therapeutic relationship and why I had essentially shut down for the 6 weeks leading into the break.

We had spoken about the content a but there hadn’t been much time left once she’d actually read it and then the break began. It’s not ideal timing by any means dropping the honesty bomb right before the break, but I had to get it out my system and I guess on some level I knew doing it before a break would give me time to recover from it!

So despite managing to talk a great deal about my dad and the grief I was feeling and about that as well as some of the issues that had cropped up during the break in my everyday life, I didn’t talk about the stuff that’s been really bothering me and I guess that’s why I left feeling like things weren’t great. That’s what happens when you don’t say what’s really on your mind and talk about other (still) important things.

I know that in today’s session I need to try and tackle what the break felt like for me and how I was affected by it, but I know by now that it’s much easier said than done. I can have so much swirling in my head to say and yet, sometimes, I arrive and it just won’t come out. I so desperately want to talk but there’s that niggling doubt that holds me back, the voice inside my head that says ‘if you tell her really how you feel she’ll see what a needy loser you really are and then she’ll be gone’. She says that won’t happen, but how can I be sure?

IMG_1402

Landslide

I woke up this morning with Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide playing in my head. I have always loved this song but haven’t heard it for a long time, years, maybe. I used to listen to Fleetwood Mac a lot with my dad, and went to see them live with him when I was studying at university. That is one of my happiest memories, being with the best man in the world listening to some of the best music in the world.

It feels like it was another lifetime, now. It breaks my heart knowing he isn’t here. The pain is still immense even 9 years down the line. I’m not sure that the pain of an unexpected loss ever really repairs, I think you just find ways of ‘sort of’ coping and learning to live with it.

Since he died I haven’t really been able to listen to anything I associate with him, or rather us and our relationship, because I just find it too painful. Music keys into a part of me that I struggle to reach at other times, the bits I have had to shut down for self-preservation, and the opening few seconds of a song can take me to a place of raw emotion that I simply can’t contain.

I really struggle with the long summer therapy break for lots of reasons. It plays straight into the childhood attachment trauma stuff (oh, but of course!). It activates all kinds of fears about being physically emotionally left and abandoned as a child by my mother; but it also taps into a whole load of unresolved grief surrounding my father’s death.

My dad was on a month long scuba diving holiday in Thailand in the summer of 2008. He regularly travelled out there to teach diving.  I knew the island intimately having travelled there twice to dive myself in the previous couple of years. When he was on these trips I would get almost daily calls telling me how great it all was. We were very close and talked on the phone all the time.

So when three days into his holiday I got a missed call at work on my phone from his mobile I didn’t think anything of it. I knew he’d call back later telling me that he’d finally arrived and was safe, like usual. When I got home from work and the phone rang again, I picked up expecting to have an update about the visibility, fish, weather, food etc – exactly what I needed after a day of teaching! Instead it was the voice of my dad’s best friend who was also a diving instructor on the island. I didn’t think anything of it until the words started coming out of his mouth, ‘errr, I don’t know how to tell you this…. But….your dad has died’.

I remember that day like it was yesterday. I remember the sudden wave of grief, the instant uncontrollable tears and screaming. I felt like I had been attacked. The pain was unbelievable. I handed the phone over to my partner and just fell apart, it was this event that triggered my breakdown. I have never known emotion like it. Even sitting here now typing this I can feel my body starting to shake.

So it’s little wonder that I don’t cope with the summer therapy break very well. There is a part of me that lives in fear when there is nearly a month’s break from my therapist. I have to trust that the person I now trust with my most fragile and broken parts is coming back. But it’s hard when experience suggests that this may not be the case. What happens if she doesn’t come back? I just wouldn’t cope. I can’t lose another person that I love.

I spend the whole break on edge, holding back the fear and anxiety because I know (kind of) it’s very unlikely that she’ll die on holiday… but then never in a million years did I expect for my fit and healthy, 47 year old, father to die in his sleep abroad, and have to face all that that entails at just 25 years old.

It’s interesting that today of all days, then, as I return to therapy that Landslide, a song that I so deeply associate with my dad, is my internal soundtrack. The song really resonates with me. There is something about the lyrics and the way Stevie Nicks ploughs emotion into them that gets me every time:

I took my love, I took it down
Climbed a mountain and I turned around
And I saw my reflection in the snow covered hills
‘Til the landslide brought it down
Oh, mirror in the sky
What is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changin’ ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
Well, I’ve been afraid of changin’
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I’m getting older, too

I have been trying to make friends with my inner child/ren lately to stop ignoring them and their pain and to listen to them, and so the lyrics feel particularly apt as I return to therapy today to my therapist. I have really missed my therapist, but perhaps I just really really miss my daddy, and grieve for the mummy I wish I had had.

I survived the therapy break – so why do I feel so bad?

It’s Monday today, my usual therapy day, but as it’s a bank holiday in the UK I’m not having a session. My therapist is still on holiday.

It’s technically day 21 of the 22 day break and with only one more day to go until my (rescheduled) session, I know I have almost survived the therapy break – so why do I feel so bad today?

Well, today signals the third (and last) missed Monday session of this break (phew!) and despite my having a session tomorrow instead, there’s something about the ‘actual’ therapy days that I really struggle with when on a break. I’m not sure what it is but it’s like my internal clock is now set up for me to be in that room with my therapist each week, and so being anywhere other than in that room, in that chair sitting opposite her, talking to her just feels plain wrong. I’m not where I should be and I feel agitated and upset about it. I am painfully aware of her absence. It throws all the issues about being abandoned into sharper focus because SHE IS NOT THERE.

It doesn’t matter what I do, I can plan in really nice activities to take my mind off it, spend the therapy money on a treat, and yet wherever I am, whatever I am doing, inside I know where I really want to be, need to be, where my heart is. I know she’s not there. I know her seat is empty. So it makes no sense to be like this but I can’t help how I feel. I really miss her.

Once the session time has passed I feel a little better because I’ve essentially ticked another week off the break. It is never easy on a Monday if I don’t have a session and if I am honest I know it filters down through the rest of the week. I am not as present as I usually would be at home. I try and find time to be alone because I know I am more grumpy and short-tempered than usual.

Essentially the little ones inside me start to have a tantrum, or the Teenager is pissed off and sometimes it comes out with those that are near me in the form of snappy comments, long sighs, or generally being frustrated about totally inane things: toys on the floor, the dishwasher not having been loaded and put on, laundry not in the basket, someone not replacing the toilet roll, those sort of things. I’m at my absolute worst when I am on my own in the car driving. I am a safe driver but I have a running commentary about every ‘fucking wanker’ on the road! I guess it’s kind of funny.

I think part of the problem is that therapy is basically functioning as a lifeline for me right now. I absolutely need that time each week to sort through my head and be supported by someone who can handle what I have to say and hold what I feel. Without that weekly check in I find it really hard to cope. I have allowed myself to become dependent on my therapist and so when she’s not there it really isn’t good!

Don’t get me wrong, I also find the therapy really hard too. Sometimes it feels like it’s the source of my problems (i.e feeling abandoned from week to week and horrid therapy breaks!), but I’d rather be emotionally overwhelmed and possibly silent in her presence, in session, than on my own…and of course I do talk to her most of the time!

I’m going in for a session tomorrow evening and again Friday morning this week. My therapist knows I am hopeless when there is a break. We’ve had a few ruptures since Easter and one was simply caused by her having to move a session to another day, she didn’t cancel me and make me wait until the Monday, and yet I still was sent through a loop. I’m not sure I’ve really recovered from it all yet.

She suggested having a couple of sessions this week to cut down the length of the break and to hopefully recover from it a bit sooner. It takes me a while to find my feet again after any kind of disruption. I feel like I have to start building the trust from scratch and it takes a while.

Last year I did the full 28 days of the summer break, basically fell apart inside, and it took about a month to get back to business. I never told her, then, how much it had affected me as I had only recently returned to therapy. But the long break last year echoed the previous three years without her and it was really hard to hang onto the fact that she was coming back and that I would see her again.

Despite how much I have written about how much I therapy breaks and how much I need to be back in therapy I can’t deny that there are parts of me that really can’t be arsed with it all, too. There is definitely part of me that doesn’t want to go to session tomorrow. I feel so torn.

The youngest parts absolutely need to go tomorrow night. They need to see her and be reassured that she does still exist, that nothing has changed, and that they are safe in the relationship. The thing is, there are several parts of me that are just so tired of all this. Tired of feeling shit. Tired of missing her. Tired of never quite getting what I needed in session. It’s exhausting.

I hate going into session knowing exactly what I need to say and then invariably hitting a block. Sometimes my mind goes blank the moment I sit down and sometimes I have so much whirling in my head that I say nothing.

IMG_1371

Sometimes I feel my adult disappear on me part way through a session, the littlest ones show up, they are crying inside me but don’t feel brave enough to tell her. Sometimes the Teenager attends and is just really fucking obstructive, sarcastic, and angry. By far the worst though is when the Critic is present. I can’t say anything to my therapist and am basically locked in a tormenting interior monologue. All I hear is the attacking voice that tells me she isn’t there, that she doesn’t care, and that I am pathetic.

I really hope that tomorrow I can talk and have a positive, reconnecting session.

I know I will be there. I have never yet not attended a session. There is always some part of me that drags me there. Maybe it’s a parental part?!