Eye Contact In Therapy

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Making and then maintaining eye contact with my therapist is something I find really difficult. In some sessions eye contact feels more possible than in others; usually when the session is light and I am rooted firmly in my adult. These are the days where I can look at her for a few seconds before looking away and our interactions feel more ‘normal’ – i.e real life, outside world, not massively emotionally charged. But of course there are those ‘other’ days, those painful sessions, where I will avoid eye contact for the whole 50 minutes, scanning the book shelves for the millionth time, or staring at the corner of the room. Should our eyes meet I look away almost as though I have been burnt. The meeting of our gaze can feel so exposing.

I’ve mentioned this kind of thing in passing a few times in this blog. It’s an issue that has been on my mind a lot lately and then this morning I got an email from a friend, who is also in therapy, asking me about my experiences with eye contact because it’s an issue she’s struggling with; and so I thought it might make for a good blog post – it can’t just be the two of us that have this problem!…in fact I know it isn’t!

I feel a bit woolly headed at the moment and I have noticed that my ability to formulate my thoughts in writing (and verbally, actually) is really proving tricky so bear with me here. I don’t know why, but I feel like I keep having to preface my posts with an apology at the moment. I can’t seem to get my mind clear enough to express things in the way I would like but I still feel like I need to write. I’ve been having a bit of a crisis of confidence and that was initially the topic I planned to blog about today but this is more interesting.

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So, yeah, eye contact.

Bearing in mind I have known my therapist for six years and been working with her for three of those years you’d think, by now, eye contact wouldn’t be an issue for me. Wrong! It’s funny (not funny haha more funny ironic), I’ve found the longer we’ve worked together and the more I’ve let her see of ‘me’ (whoever the fuck that is), the harder eye contact has become. It might seem counterintuitive that the closer you get to someone the harder it gets to look at them but it is how it has been for me and I think I am beginning to really understand why.

If you met me in person for the first time you’d be faced with a friendly, confident, articulate, caring person (that feels a bit ‘big headed’!) who does their best to make you feel comfortable in our interaction. I am a good listener, ask thoughtful questions, I make all the right noises and maintain just the right amount of eye contact. I am not nervous in new social situations (well, not outwardly, you’d never know what’s going on inside – quaking child ‘please don’t hate me’) and people say I am easy to talk to. But see that stuff doesn’t work in therapy does it? Because it’s not about looking after the other person (therapist) and so I can’t employ my listening skills in that way. I can’t deflect the attention away from myself.

Having said that eye contact shouldn’t be a bother, should it? …. and it wasn’t in the very beginning…

When I first met my therapist, I was far more able to look at her (I noticed this was the case when I went to see the other therapist in January following the rupture too). What’s the deal with that? Well in the beginning of the relationship I was operating from the adult persona and I wasn’t attached to her. I attended therapy as the person I have just described above. Sure, there was a reason I was coming to therapy but for all intents and purposes I was functioning and coping and together (on the surface at least!).

It took me about 9 months to properly settle into therapy with my therapist; part of that was because I knew it was a time-limited activity on the NHS (12 months) and I didn’t want to be left hanging at the end of it all if I did open up. I knew some of what was lurking in the depths and part of me knew that 12 months of therapy wasn’t going to be adequate. So for those first few months I talked and talked and talked and looked and looked and looked but I did not connect with what I was saying. It was almost as though I was recounting someone else’s story. It was easy to look at her because I wasn’t feeling anything about my story.

There’s been a lot of trauma in my past and yet for the longest time it has felt like it belongs to someone else. I would recount very matter-of-factly what had gone on but I felt like there was a concrete block between my head and my heart – a huge wall between my left and right brain. I still struggle with this. The level of disconnection from myself is massive.

Then it happened, the attachment stuff awakened in a HUGE way and I was done for. I would go to session and sit there, unable to look at my therapist knowing that soon I would lose her and I just couldn’t cope. I know she noticed the change in me because the therapy also changed. There was a different level of connection. I didn’t know how to handle my feelings and resorted to the usual well-used coping strategies. I started to lose weight and self-harm again, desperately trying to cope/run away from the impending sense of loss and abandonment.

I couldn’t name the different parts of myself at that point, that only really started to make sense to me about a year ago. Back then all I knew was that I was sinking. I desperately wanted to connect with my therapist but I was frightened to. I didn’t know that the fear was the fear of my child part. I didn’t understand that part of the reason I couldn’t talk was that she doesn’t have much vocabulary because she is so little. I didn’t know I was dissociating. I wish I knew then what I know now!

Even though my therapist succeeded in getting my therapy extended by an additional four months (because things had got so bad) I still couldn’t open up fully and eye contact was almost impossible by that point. It was tricky, I felt like I had secrets I wasn’t telling her (the anorexia/self-harm) and so couldn’t look at her. At the same time I wanted to be known by her, I wanted to share the burden of what I was carrying, but felt there wasn’t time so couldn’t look at her!

Fast forward to now and the issue hasn’t changed much…or rather it has but the eye contact is still a bit of a problem.

The issue with eye contact (in the therapeutic relationship) is that it’s all about being seen. Eye contact means vulnerability, honesty, intimacy and that generates …fear. There’s lots of other things but I think they’re the main elements for me. It’s a double edged sword. I long for that level of intimacy and connection with my therapist that making eye contact affords; I often find the times when I can look at her for more than a split second that I feel much better, more grounded, and less alone.

It seems like a simple solution really – look at her and feel closer to her, right?! Win. Unfortunately, it’s not just a case of looking at her and feeling better…my goodness I wish it was as easy as that!

As I said, if I am surface level talking I make a reasonable level of eye contact in session. If I feel secure in myself and with her, I am can make some eye contact. If, however, I feel unsettled, dissociated, activated, in a child state, teen state, or the critic is present it becomes really very difficult for me. I look at her, meet her gaze, and retreat immediately. It’s too overwhelming. It’s frightening. It’s too much.

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Sometimes I really don’t want to be seen, either. I feel shy. I feel ashamed. I feel embarrassed. Usually this is comes up when I am experiencing strong loving feelings towards my therapist or have really missed her during the week. I feel like if I look at her she’ll see right down into my soul. She’ll see the longing of the child that desperately wants to be held. She’ll see the intensity of the feelings I have….and then if she sees that, then she’ll run away. She’ll terminate. That’s the fear.

The adult part of me knows that she can totally handle all my feelings. Hell, we both know these parts exist and we know what their issues are. We’ve talked about it all enough! I know she can cope with my love as well as my rage…but in the moment when I am struggling to look at her, that rational part is just not online. The trauma parts are live and active and all they can see is that if I let her see how I feel, if I let her see the real me in that moment, I will lose her. It’s not great. It’s not rational. It does, however come from somewhere.

I’ve been trying to pinpoint where it originates from; I know some (ok a lot) of it is from being little but I also think perhaps it’s a huge throwback to what happened when I came out. It’s almost like because I am letting my therapist see more of me in session and am being more vulnerable the fear of rejection and something bad happening escalates. I have experienced what it is like to have my world fall apart when I have been honest about myself and my feelings and because I really care about what she thinks, the idea of her telling me I am too much feels utterly devastating.

I am really aware that eye contact is something I really need to work on in my sessions. It’s just daunting. The part that keeps running away from being seen is so scared of rejection and abandonment but at the same time I know deep down that part absolutely longs to be seen and known by my therapist too. It’s so hard to navigate this but I guess it’s something to work on ‘bit by bit’ as they so like to say! I have a lot I want to talk about in session on Monday but I think tabling some time for eye contact would be worthwhile.

I’ll let you know how I get on.

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Skype Session #2

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I wonder if I am just really rubbish at managing my time or if life is just taking the piss out of me right now? Finding time in my week to write is proving really difficult and so I’m not doing very well with keeping up to date with my blog at the moment. I know it’s not exactly a priority task, it can wait (of course it can), but actually this page has proven a very useful outlet and so I resent not being able to write. I have loads I want to say – but who knows when I will actually get round to writing it all down?

More often than not, I don’t even get to the ‘sitting down to write’ stage. This week has just been unrelenting. The level of stress and anxiety I have been under has been hideous and whilst I have longed for an hour to myself to be able to sit, splurge, and get it all out (the therapy stuff), the opportunity hasn’t presented itself until now.  Having said that, I am glad that I spent a bit of time writing to my teen midweek as things were/are pretty dire inside.

Frankly, it’ll be some kind of miracle if this post gets finished before I leave for my session tomorrow. I am so tired and overwrought that my brain just won’t work quite as it usually does.

Tomorrow is Monday and whilst I don’t necessarily want to write a blog post about every session I have – frankly that’d be dull as shit most of the time:

It started off fine; something happened and I got upset; my body reacted –numb/shaking; I dissociated; I couldn’t talk; child/teen felt distressed, critic dropped by; managed to talk a bit in last ten minutes; did/did not feel connected at end of session! Went home and brooded all week…attachment pain hell.

(Honestly, I really don’t need to any write new posts after that, do I? I can just keep posting that paragraph over and over! Time problems and blog writing issue solved – yay!)

Seriously though, I do want to keep myself in some kind of sensible chronology with these posts. i.e if there’s a session I want to talk about then I did ought to try and write about it before the next session comes along and shunts it into the half-remembered place in my brain where everything gets even more scrambled.

Right so, onwards to the ‘post’ – 400 words in and I’ve not said a thing yet. Is this procrastination or just an over-tired semi-manic state? Both probably.

This time last week I was stuck here writing about what to do about my session, knowing I couldn’t make it in person because my kids had been sick. In fact I was still stuck at 8:30am on Monday morning – the last moment I had to cancel or ask for a Skype session. The internal conflict was still going strong but in the end I did ask to do a session by Skype because I felt that I’d probably have a meltdown midweek if I passed up the opportunity to talk….turns out I had a spectacular meltdown even with the session, though. Ugh!

Once I decided that Skype was what I wanted to do I ….prepared for my session by thinking about what I wanted to say cleaned the house! (I’m not sure strike through always shows up on the WordPress reader so for those of you who are on it I DID NOT SPEND TIME thinking about my session until two minutes before I dialled in but blitzed my house instead!)

So yeah, by 10:28am the house was lovely and tidy: I’d hoovered, steam mopped the floors, cleaned the kitchen and bathrooms, dusted, cleaned mirrors, watered the plants, etc. I know. That’s fucking mental isn’t it?! Like seriously, the camera on the laptop probably gives a square metre of visibility and the place that I sat on the sofa in my dining room had received no special attention at all- but for some reason it seemed completely sensible to run round the house like a headless chicken/possessed domestic goddess/Cinderella creature and clean, clean, clean!

I don’t know if it was avoidance or what. I left myself just enough time to get showered and dressed before plonking myself on the couch and scribbling some very last minute prompts on some post it notes…something I had been meaning to all week (the notes, not the shower!)

Things have been a bit (a lot) difficult since coming back after the Christmas therapy break. The rupture that happened over the exchange of a couple of texts which led to me feel even more abandoned and rejected than usual hasn’t been repaired yet. We’ve made inroads into discussing what happened and, had I have had a face-to-face session last Monday, I knew there were things I absolutely needed to bring up and work though – even though it would be excruciating.

Sitting staring at the screen I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to bring those things up via Skype. Part of me thought that knowing that I tend to remain in a more adult headspace via Skype might allow me to speak more freely and tackle the difficult stuff because it would be unlikely that I’d switch into a young trauma part. On the other hand, not being in the room with my therapist might make it feel even more difficult to bring up some of the stuff that was hurting me still because the sense of connection would feel more stretched.

With a couple of minutes remaining before the session I wrote some questions/prompts (I’ve since tidied them up as the initial ones were barely legible and non-sensical) and stuck them round the edge of my laptop screen:

  • Last week I started crying when you moved and sat closer to me to do the migraine exercise. Can we talk about what happened and think about our proximity to one another?
  • You said in the first session back that you felt that my texts at Christmas were me trying to script you to say something, and that you wouldn’t do that because it wouldn’t have helped if you’d have said exactly what I’d have wanted – why then have you asked me so many times about what I might want you to write on the pebbles?
  • In September it was you that suggested writing me a note for on breaks. It/the pebbles haven’t happened and the break was dire. Can we work on this please?
  • You said something about not colluding with the child part that wants to be held because we can’t recreate what that part needs and the time has passed for that. I understand that but it felt like you were saying that working with the child parts explicitly is a no go – is this what you were saying?
  • When I dissociate I often end up stuck in a very young child part and it is really traumatised. When you sit and wait for me to say something I can’t, the adult part is offline, but your stillness makes it feel like the still face exercise* and it is agony. How can we work round this?

Anyway, I was all prepped and ready to go… and those post-it notes did not get a look in! Sigh! It’s almost comical isn’t it?!

Actually, the session was good despite my not bring up ANY of that stuff. To be honest just talking about how ill my kids and I had been; how exhausted and drained I have felt; how worried I am about my wife’s skin cancer; and a bunch of other things about my mum was what I needed. I just needed someone to listen to me about my life in the here and now – the hard stuff that is going on for me the adult and how some of it is triggering stuff for the young parts.

My therapist asked how I felt about Skype. I said that it felt different and like the session was really bad timing given where we were at right now, and that I felt like all the stuff that was bothering me was on hold. She acknowledged that it felt different, that there had been a lot that had come up recently in the therapy, how difficult breaks are, and that she hoped we could come back to that material and work through it together when I am ready.

So yeah, it wasn’t like we completely ignored the ‘therapeutic relationship’ stuff. We just didn’t dive right in. My therapist said she thought that given everything that was going on in my life right now it might be a good thing to have the lighter sort of session. I agree.

I spoke a lot about my mum – which actually doesn’t happen all that often. She’d gone off on holiday and hadn’t told me when she was going or where she was going. This is unusual. I usually get some kind of text as they are in the airport departure lounge and so it stuck me a couple of weeks ago that perhaps she was gone but hadn’t contacted me to let me know. This triggered all sorts of panic in me. No joke.

Firstly, I like to know when she is gone/due back and a brief itinerary of her whereabouts, travel insurance details because my dad died abroad whilst on holiday and it fell to me to liaise with the travel insurance company to get his body moved from a remote Thai island to Bangkok, to arrange his cremation, and then for his ashes and belongings to be flown home to the UK. I literally have panic attacks thinking about that month in 2008 and whilst I doubt very much my mum is going to die abroad, I’d at least like to know where she was if that did happen.

Anyway, then I started to get into an anxious spiral. Why did she leave without telling me? Had something happened and she’s in a mood with me? Cue all the young parts in terror. ‘What could I have done to annoy her? Why is she mad? Why is she withholding? What if she’s stumbled across this blog?’ And other totally irrational thoughts. The parallels between this and how things have been in therapy with my therapist are not lost on me!

I sent a couple of emails to my mum but knew she wouldn’t have her phone set up where she was going. Eventually on Wednesday she text me and then we spoke on the phone. NOTHING WRONG AT ALL. She’d had a great holiday and had been back a few days…

Panic over.

The thing is, she has no idea that a change in the pattern of our communications basically sent me over the edge into full blown anxiety. Whilst I clearly am not massively close to my mum our relationship has come on a very long way since my teens. I am processing a lot in therapy. I am both angry and disappointed that what I had growing up was lacking and has, in part, caused me such relational difficulties.

I wish I felt loved by mum, or the little girl part longs for that still – hence the mess in therapy with my therapist. That part so desperately wants to feel loved and is attached to my therapist now. My adult understands that my mum did her best, it just wasn’t quite enough. I understand that how she demonstrates care and love is not through the more regular channels of affirmations and holding.

The thought of what we have built up now being eroded because of her finding this blog was horrendous. I don’t want to hurt her. It’s not like anything I write isn’t true. It’s just that the adult part of me is learning to settle for what I do have now, and I appreciate the relationship that I have with her as her adult child. This blog, and my therapy, are about processing the pain of my childhood. So it’s tricky. I couldn’t bear to lose what I have now even though it is not quite enough for the young parts.

Anyway, I’ve gone off on tangent there. What a surprise! Ha.

So, yeah, the therapy session via Skype was good. It felt connecting. I think, in part, this is also down to the sense of proximity. That might sounds bonkers given that we were clearly 30 miles apart and communicating through a screen. But what is different in Skype is how much closer to me my therapist feels – i.e her face is closer to the screen and so she appears closer to me than when she is in her chair.

This is what I had sort of discovered with her moving closer to me in the previous session and why I really want to work on getting the chairs right now. It seems like such a small thing, but I think it could make a huge difference. I just need to pluck up the courage to talk about it ‘please sit closer to me!’ Knowing me I’ll just hand over the post-its and go from there! Lol.

Just before the end of the session I took my laptop into my living room and showed my therapist my, now, nearly six year old daughter and they had a little chat together. It was lovely. The last time my therapist saw my daughter she was 15 months old. She used to come to my therapy sessions as I started psychotherapy on the NHS when she was a month old and I was breastfeeding and didn’t have childcare.

My therapist said some lovely things about my daughter and how I was doing a really good job with her (of course I rebuffed that with a sarcastic comment – but I did feel happy inside!) then it was time to go.

It was a good session.

Sadly the rest of the week since then has been complete shit. I won’t go into it now…it’s a whole other post….when I get round to it! Just suffice to say, I thought I was at bottom a couple of weeks ago. Turns out there was a trap door. Ffs.

Anyway, that’s that. Wish me luck tomorrow!

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I don’t know what to do.

Indecision is not something that I tend to struggle with, except for in one aspect of my life: therapy. You all saw that coming, right? The therapeutic relationship and therapy is something I second guess myself about ALL THE TIME! I have a running internal monologue when I think (obsess) about therapy: Should I say this? What would happen if I do that? What will she think if I…? If I ask her for ‘x’ will she ‘y’? Do I need a new therapist? How can I get past this? Why is this so difficult? Does she care? Blah blah blah.

After a week where I have done a great deal of mental to-ing and fro-ing about what I was going to speak about in tomorrow’s session and struggling to get down to writing some prompts to help me talk about what I need to (we’re still not anywhere close to over the rupture from a few weeks ago) it turns out that most of the angst and ache has been completely unnecessary because I can’t now go to session tomorrow.

My house has been like some kind of vomit factory this weekend #thejoyofkids and I’ve spent a significant amount of time clearing up sick off the bathroom floor and disinfecting everything x100. Fortunately I’ve only been sick a couple of times but am now very reluctant to put anything in my mouth for fear of throwing it back up again.

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There’s a bit of an irony there, because at the end of my last post I was wittering on about what my next session might be like. There was the teen acting up wanting to cancel through sheer frustration but also the acknowledgement that the young attach parts needed to go:

It’s unlikely to be anything near to what I need (holding, proximity, emotional attunement and containment) because I won’t tell my therapist what I need because my inner child is so scared right now since the rupture that it’s gone into hiding and I have quickly entered a dissociated state once I’m there… and so there’s a part of me that feels like cancelling….but another part that won’t because there’s that tiny flicker of hope that that 50 minute session will help turn off some of the plugs just for moment and help me recharge my batteries.

As much as I have been anxious about what tomorrow’s session might be like there was also a part of me that desperately wanted to go. The last session we had was difficult (again) I had started with migraine symptoms midway through (having had one earlier in the week). My therapist had asked me if I would like her to try something with her moving her fingers slowly up and down – apparently vertical eye movements can help alleviate symptoms (who knew?!).

She moved from her chair onto a stool which was about half the usual distance from where she usually is. I always feel like she is a million miles away, even though it’s probably less than two metres between our chairs and so her moving closer to me felt massive and my body had a huge response to it.

Part of me loved having her within touching distance and part of me knew that whilst she might be ‘within touching distance’ I still couldn’t touch her. The child parts basically fell apart inside. The desire for physical proximity and holding was so strong that I started crying. I felt so sad. When she’d finished doing the eye thing she moved back to her regular chair and then I went completely numb. I felt like I had been abandoned.

Who would’ve imagined that something as small as moving a metre in the room could have such a profound effect?

I really struggled to pull myself out of my protected silent space. Part of me wanted to ask her to sit back on the other chair and part of me just wanted to die of shame and embarrassment for needing that. I couldn’t tell her what had just happened. I didn’t want to be so exposed and vulnerable because I was still on edge about the previous session…and the therapy break.

I found some kind of inner strength towards the end of the session and asked her if she had been cross with me in that session. I’d been sitting on that question all session! I know, it’s not exactly enormous is it? But I am often frightened of asking questions because I am not sure I really want the answer and in this case it was the little ones who were asking.

I’d felt that the last session had been off. I think it was always going to be tricky coming back after the therapy break and the text debacle/nightmare but it had felt particularly distant and all I could think of was that she was cross with me/the little ones for reaching out to her and expressing so much need.

My therapist’s initial reaction was ‘cross with you? No? Why? When did you feel like that?’ I explained that I had felt there was something off for the whole session. Then she said she wasn’t angry or cross but that she hadn’t liked reading the blog post that she’d read before I had arrived. I said ‘I didn’t think you would’ and we laughed. She explained what she had found difficult in the post and basically said that she didn’t want to read any more posts because she doesn’t need to be ‘masochistic’. So, perhaps that post hit a nerve?!

I asked her why she hadn’t felt able to tell me any of this last week, and she said maybe she’d ‘chickened out’. Which actually made me smile inside. She is human after all! haha. Although that’s just a snippet of the conversation what I will say is that the nature of the conversation felt different to what we’ve had before. I felt like she was really talking to me as ‘her’ not hiding behind the therapist persona.

I came away feeling more optimistic than I have in a while. Like there was something to build on….i.e I needed/wanted to tell her about the issue with proximity and the seating, and the feelings that get evoked about ‘no touch’, the need to work more relationally and directly with the young parts, how disappointed I’ve felt about not getting anywhere with the pebbles/transitional object, and tell her that I’d been to see another therapist to try and help me work out what I needed in therapy and how to get through the rupture. Eeek.

So there we are – some big stuff…and then my children conspired against me and had a sick fest. Whilst they are fine now they won’t be able to go to school until Tuesday – 48 hours clear and all that and so I can’t go to therapy tomorrow even if I wanted to.

So that leaves me with today’s quandary: should I ask for a Skype session tomorrow?

I already text my therapist yesterday morning to tell her I may not be able to make it as that’s her cancellation policy. I literally do not have a clue what to do for the best. We’ve done a Skype session  before and whilst it wasn’t my preferred method of conducting therapy, it wasn’t totally dire either.

I’m torn. I know I was fixed in my adult and didn’t dissociate in the Skype session. And maybe that’s what I need, an untriggered adult conversation about moving forward together. Maybe if we are not in the same space I’ll feel more able to express the concerns I have and the things that have been bothering me?

I’d like to think that’s how it would be, but I am aware that I might just small talk my way through the 50 minutes. Not connect. Feel cut off and distant. And then feel bereft all week and as though the whole thing is a waste of time.

I can’t afford to find myself in that activated/distressed place where the attachment pain is rife and I’m left with it until the next session. I’m not sure how to avoid that eventuality: Skype or cancel the session until next week?

I don’t know what to do for the best. Which part do I listen to? The one that would walk over hot coals to have contact with my therapist, or the one that fears that a Skype session might send everything spiralling?

I hate indecision!

 

 

Rupture in the therapeutic relationship: where do I go from here?

It’s been a week since my last post where I talked (cried, moaned, wailed!) about the rupture between myself and my therapist that came about after the exchange of a couple of text messages last Wednesday (I do see how very dramatic that seems!).

For those of you not familiar with the context, I had been really struggling with the therapy break (that old chestnut) and had worked myself up to a point of high anxiety where I was barely able to function….that is how it was and so I won’t downplay it. After three days of intense emotional struggle, not eating, and almost self harming, I decided to reach out to my therapist to ask her reassure me that she was still there and that the relationship was still ‘ok’ via text message…

And then it all went to shit! Like huge amounts of gushing diarrhoea shit! Ugh! I still can’t believe that I didn’t see it coming.

I know that it sounds bonkers that a 34 year old woman can’t maintain a sense of connection to a therapist that she’s seen for three years, but then I struggle with object constancy and it’s all part and parcel of disorganised attachment. The feeling of anxiety and all-consuming panic that floods my system, and worrying that I have been left is enormous. It’s excruciating, actually.

These feelings don’t come from nowhere. They feel enormous now but they were also enormous when I was 10 months old and my mum left my dad (and the country) without telling him or anyone else (you know, as you do!). I have a very clear image of myself at two years old standing on the back porch, looking at the snow, wearing a red snowsuit saying ‘where’s my daddy?’ – I don’t know if it’s a genuine memory but it came to me in therapy one session when I had been particularly dissociated.

So where was daddy? Not there then, and certainly not here now. He left me unexpectedly when abroad on holiday. He didn’t mean to. He had a sudden heart attack three days into a diving holiday. So daddy is gone gone. Little girl doesn’t understand and adult me never saw a body or had a funeral so can’t really understand that daddy is dead now. Part of me thinks he’s still on holiday.

We returned home to the UK when I was 3.5 years old. My mum got back together with my dad. Happy times right? No. Next thing to happen was for my mum to disappear on me 5 days a week from the age of four to go away to study. That makes sense to my adult but the little girl part of me still feels that intense confusion and fear that mummy has gone. I was always left wondering when she might return because one day, two days, three or even four doesn’t mean anything to kids – their concept of time isn’t like ours. Mum wasn’t there so maybe she was never coming back.

What I am clumsily trying to say is that the anxiety I feel on therapy breaks or in between therapy sessions does not belong to my adult. Sure the grown up part of me would like to see more of my therapist, but the dread and fear I feel it is that of a little girl that has had no emotional stability or consistently safe caregiver for her whole life. It makes sense to my adult that being away from the new attachment figure would stir up all kinds of chaos for the young ones.

Anyway, back to the text debacle. In fairness to my therapist, she did respond to me, she didn’t leave me hanging- unfortunately, though, the messages she sent did little to reassure the little girl who was absolutely beside herself and the messages felt cold and misattuned to those needs. Little girl had a meltdown!

Lots of readers commented on the post and could see why I would feel devastated by the perceived tone of the messages I received. It felt comforting, on Thursday, that at least some people could see how upset I might feel and that I wasn’t completely unjustified in feeling utterly bereft.

By Thursday evening I felt quite overwhelmed by the comments on my post because they seemed to be confirming what I was feeling was understandable and justified. I didn’t want to be right, though. Because if my feeling were justifiable….then that meant my therapist had cocked up and missed the point…and I didn’t want that to be the case. It’s much easier to take things on myself than see fault in others. I can change me but I can’t change somebody else. I didn’t want for it to be the case that maybe she didn’t care. That felt too devastating.

I’d felt completely abandoned and rejected by my therapist on Wednesday and I can see now that a lot of my reaction to her messages was about my coming from a very triggered place. Perhaps my reading of her words was not quite as they were meant – she said as much on Monday. Unfortunately, though, my therapist’s messages felt rejecting regardless of her intention and that is what I need to work through.

I had shared what had happened with a friend on Wednesday. I was utterly distraught. She could see how I felt and also felt that the messages felt cold. She recommended a therapist in my area and suggested that perhaps it might be good to get another perspective on things. I agreed this would be a good idea, not just because of this rupture but for some of the other things that have been niggling away at me in the therapeutic relationship.

I emailed the therapist to see if she could offer me any sessions to help me work through the rupture with my therapist. Essentially, I wanted her to help me see if I could find a way of working through the issues I have in my current therapy or whether it might be time to look for a new kind of therapy.

The therapist responded quickly and the reply I got was really warm and empathic even though all I had said was that I had had a rupture with my therapist – I hadn’t given any detail. It was a world away from anything my therapist has ever sent which was both refreshing and painful. How can someone who doesn’t even know me be so open and warm and yet someone who knows me intimately be so business-like? I know. I know. Two different people with two differing approaches…but ouch.

The therapist had spoken with her supervisor following my email and agreed that we could do up to four sessions to work on this stuff and that she had some availability for the next two Tuesdays. I jumped at the chance to get additional input and support because the situation felt/feels utterly horrendous.

Part of seeking out additional therapeutic support was that I wanted to know if my responses to some of the things that have happened are over the top or actually justified (I know she wouldn’t use those words, and actually my feelings are my feelings – rational or not they are real to me), and also to better understand things from a therapist’s perspective.

I know the new therapist is not ‘my therapist’ but she would objectively be able to look at the situation and maybe signpost things for me on how to get through this or at least help me clarify what it is that I need to say to move forward. So that was positive. I felt too, that having this space on Tuesday would mean I would have a sounding board for whatever happened on Monday…and that in itself allowed me to consider going in to face things.

By Friday morning I had begun to settle down a bit, or detach, or perhaps I was a bit desperate… I am not sure what was going on, really. It’s weird. Different parts were doing and feeling different things. Looking back I can see that even though there was a huge part of me that was hurting and angry there was another part that couldn’t bear the thought of not seeing my therapist. The attached child part longed to see my therapist and to try and make the situation feel better and wanted to believe that she cared.

The last message I had sent to my therapist on Wednesday was that it was unlikely I’d be coming to session but that I’d let her know on Friday because she needs 48 hours notice of cancellation. On Friday morning I text her asking her to read the blog post I had written because I needed her to understand how I felt in the moment, even if it was reactive, and even though I might feel a bit less wounded now:

‘I’m still at a loss about Wednesday but I think where I have got to is that you don’t ever deliberately do things to hurt me and I have to trust that you know what you are doing – and so I guess we need to talk on Monday even though part of me just can’t face it. I’d really appreciate it if you can find time to read the linked post before session because I really think you need to know this stuff but equally we’ll need all the session to talk. If you let me know on Monday how long it took to read then I’ll just add the extra to the payment. Have a good weekend.’

 She replied almost immediately:

Ok, I’ll read it. See you on Monday’.

This message was short and to the point but it didn’t feel rejecting…which made me wonder a bit about how I reacted to the first message on Wednesday which was clearly longer and addressed more of the content of my request. Why was my reaction so different then?

I guess what I would say is that the point at which I was reaching out for reassurance my adult was not online AT ALL. I was fully caught up in a trauma response to feeling abandoned in the break and so the part that needed reassurance needed a very simple, caring message. I needed the kind of thing that you might say to a very distressed child: ‘it’s ok, I am here, I know you feel scared, but I will be there on Monday and we can talk about this’…or something along those lines. 

I think this is one of the pitfalls of working with clients who have fragmented parts. It’s not always easy for the therapist to see which part is communicating a need (especially through a text or email) and so it’s hard to know what to say or how to adequately respond- which is why my therapist will not usually reply to texts. She says that when she can’t see me she can’t get a true sense of what I am feeling and she may hone in on completely the wrong thing and leave me feeling unseen and unheard because she misses something that is massive to me….doesn’t stop me wanting to reach out though!

Having said all that, on the occasions where my therapist has responded to me or sent a prearranged message at a particular time she seems hell bent on keeping the adult front and centre in her communications. So often it feels like our exchanges seem to miss the mark because she only talks to the adult part. She doesn’t acknowledge the child parts outside session. It’s different in session, thank god.

Through her messages I think she wants to bring the adult part back online (and that makes sense) but actually all that happens is that my young child parts feel rejected, unseen, and abandoned, when she sends messages aimed at the adult. It takes a lot for me to show any level of vulnerability and need and so to have it almost ignored feels absolutely crushing to the little parts. And that’s exactly how it felt last week. I felt like I had been annihilated and struggled to get my adult self back online.

I don’t know what the right thing to do in this situation is. I know that how what she does makes me feel awful but perhaps there is some kind of therapeutic rationale behind the way she communicates that I just don’t understand. For me, I feel that if she at least acknowledged the child parts, then it’d settle them a bit and allow adult to come back online. Ignoring the young ones just agitates them even more. The attach parts are set to scream until they get a response from the attachment figure, after all so ignoring them doesn’t shut them up.

Anyway, Friday went by steadily. The feelings of pain, rejection, and abandonment from Wednesday were still swirling around and distressing the child parts; the inner critic was doing a smashing job of attacking my body – I only ate twice between Tuesday and Friday. The teen part was feeling very much ‘fuck her and fuck this’. I could feel an additional cloud move in as Friday progressed. I sunk into a really very bad place. I’m not just talking depressed and lethargic. I was bordering on suicidal and I don’t mean that in a flippant way. I literally wanted to die. I haven’t felt like that since my breakdown in 2009. I really felt desperately unwell in my mind.

I text a friend and tried to dig my way out of my hole before having early night. I had bad dreams about therapy and then woke up feeling anxious but not like I wanted to die. Thank goodness. It was crap still, but not end of the world crap. When it gets bad I have to try and remind myself how quickly these feelings can move in and out.

I think what I am beginning to understand now, is that perhaps I am not a massively changeable, volatile, and, unstable person, but actually instead there are many parts of me and they have lots of different feelings. I need to become more aware of who’s running the show at any given moment.

Who is the ‘holding it together’ one and who is it that wants to die? Who wants to attach and who feels left and wants to run away? And so on. Because whilst I know they are all part of me, they are exactly that, fragmented parts. That’s why it is so unnerving to feel so conflicted so much of the time, there are so many voices from so many different times competing for attention. Sometimes some are silent and sometimes they are screaming. It really just depends on the moment and what triggers there are.

For example, this week I have really been aware of Eleven (my eleven year old self) being close to the surface. I don’t see a lot of her but this week I have felt her pain and that pain runs deep. I feel how sad she is about having tried to tell an adult how bad things have felt for her and what it is like to be shutdown for it and to not have her feelings acknowledged. She longs for someone to listen to how scary things are for her and validate those feelings but no one ever does. And because she copes so well (on the surface at least) no one ever looks beyond what they see.

By the time it got to Monday I was in a really bad way physically. I think not eating properly (bearing in mind I am always teetering on the edge of normal eating anyway) had really started to mess with my body. I mean you just can’t live on 400 calories a day when you already have a BMI of 16. There are no reserves to draw on. I was shaky and lightheaded but that numb feeling gave at least some part of me a relief.

I didn’t think it was all that noticeable to anyone else but I have just been to get blood taken for next week’s haematology/cancer follow up and the lovely nurse took one look at me and said, ‘you’re looking really pale, are you ok?’ and then as I got up to leave, ‘you’re looking very slim, are you eating ok?’ I said I was fine and that I’ve just been fighting a virus which meant I’d lost some weight…we get good at making eye contact and lying like it’s the truth don’t we?

So to Monday…As I drove to my session I was physically shaking- from nerves more than low blood sugar I think. My mind had shut off, I felt numb, but my body was clearly sending up distress signals.

The first thing I said when I sat down on the couch was ‘I’ve been shaking in the car’. I had no idea how the session was going to go but I didn’t feel especially hopeful. Something felt off. My therapist’s tone and body language felt all wrong. I know I am sensitive to these things because I have always had to be. I’ve always been in a necessary state of hypervigilance because I never knew when the next attack was coming. I needed to be alert to the warning signs.

I might have been projecting negative feelings onto my therapist and maybe she didn’t feel cross or annoyed with me, but something was telling me that things weren’t ok.

The session was stilted and difficult. I found it really hard to talk and I felt like my therapist didn’t really try and draw me out. Sometimes I listen back to sessions and I can hear how hard she is working with me, trying hard to connect with me, trying to make me feel safe. There was none of that on Monday. There was no warm voice or understanding non-verbal gestures. It felt like she didn’t want to be there. It felt like she thought I was criticising her.

I felt as though she didn’t really understand that although I now saw that the response to her messages was quite extreme, that the feelings of abandonment we real to me in the moment. She didn’t acknowledge how feeling ignored and uncared for felt. She said that she had responded to me and that that showed that she was there. I get what she was saying but it felt like we were at crossed-purposes. She wanted me to see that because she had text me that she had proven she was there; and I wanted her to see that she felt impersonal and distant.

On paper there was nothing wrong with what was said in session. Technically everything was correct in terms of theory….but that’s the problem. There’s more going on here than applying theory to a struggling human being. Knowing your stuff can still lead to empathic failure.

Being told that the time for my ‘young infantile needs to be met has passed’ is all well and good (hell don’t I know this, I’ve written about it enough!) but I needed some empathy too. i.e ‘you know the time for your young needs for holding to be met has passed. I know the little girl part of you wants me to hold her and make her feel safe, and I understand how painful it must be for me not to do that for her. I know that she feels rejected, but I am not rejecting her.’ – you know? Something that expresses the theory but also shows how it feels to me with her in our relationship despite the theory. She did acknowledge it was painful – I guess I’m splitting hairs.

I left the session feeling a bit hopeless. I had hoped to go in and repair the rupture and to find some common ground and reconnect but instead I left feeling like I was alone with all these feelings. I mean, the huge issue has long been feeling disconnected between sessions and then struggling, yet this time I felt disconnected in session…and so it’s not great now. Usually my leaky bucket takes a couple of days to dispense with the warm connected feelings. This time I left session with an empty bucket.

Fortunately the session I had with the other therapist on Tuesday was positive. It was a completely different experience to what I am used to and quickly allowed me to tap into emotions. I was staggered that I felt the urge to cry – usually those feelings are on lock down. I felt heard and understood. Bonus!

I have come away feeling positive about moving forward either with my therapist or, if not, someone else. My feelings were validated and I feel as though there are potentially other ways of working that may help me better if I can’t resolve things with my therapist or find a way to meet in the middle. Ultimately my goal is to try and sort things out with my therapist. I love her and really value her. I just need to find a way of expressing my needs and hopefully getting a few more of them met so that I don’t repeatedly find myself drowning in disaster therapy breaks.

Right, this is enormous and so I am going to go…don’t really feel like I have said much!

p.s Thanks to everyone that commented last week and supported me.

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A Long December…

‘A long December and there’s reason to believe, maybe this year will be better than the last’ …these lyrics still resonate as strongly now with me as they did twenty years ago. At first glance these words seem reasonably uplifting and a positive projection for the year ahead, but if you’re looking for a dose of optimism as you head into 2018 this is probably not the post for you!

The fact that later in the song these words are chased by the ‘the smell of hospitals in winter and the feeling that it’s all a lot of oysters and no pearls’ might give those unfamiliar with the song more of a flavour of what’s to come…

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It’s no surprise to me that right now a big chunk of my internal soundtrack (and what I downloaded to my phone yesterday) is essentially the same as that of my mid teens: Counting Crows’ albums, ‘Recovering The Satellites’  and  ‘August and Everything After’ (it’s no accident how I titled my archive list); R.E.M’s ‘Automatic For The People’; Coldplay’s, ‘Parachutes’; and Dido’s, ‘No Angel’.

The emotions I am experiencing at the moment first became known to me back in the late nineties. As an adolescent the feeling/s hit in an overwhelming and hugely destructive way. In the last day or so I think I’ve fallen into operating from the Teen state so far as my emotions go and so that’s why my headphones are locked in my ears today as my wife has taken the kids out to give me some space and a bit of a break.

What’s up with me?

I am feeling depressed.

It’s not good.

It’s really not good.

I hate it (but then who enjoys feeling shit?).

Oh. And. I am feeling angry (which is new to me, or at least being in touch with my anger is!)

It’s funny, really, because the words ‘depression’ and ‘anger’ seem to have become so innocuous. We throw them around so freely in society that I sometimes feel like they have lost their meaning:

‘What’s wrong with x – I haven’t heard from her for a while?’

‘She’s depressed’

Oh, right, she gets like that sometimes doesn’t she? I’m sure she’ll be ok.’

And that’s kind of how it feels (to me at least). There are so many campaigns out there about mental health awareness but when it comes down to it, lots of people don’t really get what it feels like to be depressed, or anxious, or suicidal, or struggling and so it gets brushed under the carpet like it’s no big deal…when actually when you’re caught up in it it is huge. It is a BIG BIG deal.

We’re sort of programmed to know how to deal with physical illness:

‘Oh I feel rubbish, I’ve got a stinking cold and a fever and can’t get out of bed’

Oh that sounds rotten, I’ll stay away, then! Feel better soon!’ 

And somehow, it seems like we respond to people in the same way when they express feeling mentally unwell like if you come close by you’ll catch it:

Oh I feel rubbish, I feel so sad and lost and I can’t get out of bed’

Oh that sounds, rotten, I’ll stay away, then. Feel better soon!’

A lot of people don’t know what to do or say when you mention that things are a bit (a lot) shit, and so often just back away, and give you space until you are ready to venture back out into the world in the form that they recognise and can relate to.

Sometimes this is fine and sometimes you need someone to come and sit with you when you are in your PJs wanting to slice your arms open to just talk. I have found this has become even more of an issue when I express any negative feelings about having had cancer and all the treatment a couple of years ago. It’s like it’s a completely out of bounds topic. No one knows what to say.

I have noticed that when I feel depressed I don’t talk, though. I don’t reach out. I don’t share. I shut down. I become secretive and closed off and live in my own self-destructive world. I think part of it is about not wanting to burden people with my difficult feelings and thoughts, and part of it is that I just can’t communicate something that feels utterly overwhelming.

Once I hit a place where I am not eating or self-harming in order to cope with my feelings then the window where I might want/be able to talk has passed. I have disappeared…not that anyone would notice. I am very good at hiding what’s going on inside.

I struggle even to tell my therapist when I am battling with my eating disorder or self-harm. I remember clearly the first session back after Christmas last year sitting almost mute desperately trying to find the words to tell her that I had been self-harming…and it took about 45 minutes to get there…which is not ideal in a 50 minute session! So if I can’t tell someone I trust implicitly and who doesn’t judge me then I have no hope with people in my day-to-day life.

If I do try and change my behaviour, and manage to share even a hint of how I am feeling before I have moved into the realms of self-destruction I often find that people don’t always know what to say anyway, ignore it, or say the wrong things:

You were ok yesterday!’ – (I might have appeared that way, but that was because my filter was intact and I could hide what was inside. Today I have no energy to put on the front)

What’ve you got to be depressed about?’  –(You have no idea, do you?)

‘Try and think positive thoughts’  – (Fuck off! Do you really think I am deliberately feeling this way and a bit of positive thinking will shut this off?)

Your treatment was a success. You should be happy.’ (thank god I don’t have a knife to hand).

And it basically doesn’t help at all and so I end up taking it out on myself which actually just makes it worse. Far better to suffer alone then reach out and be shamed for it.

I saw this on Pinterest a while back and thought it was great:

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Anyway, I don’t need to explain depression here do I?!

Don’t get me wrong, I am all about doing things to try and help myself (#selfcare) but sometimes when things feel really bad like they did when I woke up this morning it takes a herculean amount of effort to even get my teeth brushed, let alone feed myself, take a shower, or practise a bit of mindfulness.

I’m not kidding when I say that it has taken me five hours just to get to this point writing this post. I keep wandering off in my head and sleeping.

About an hour ago I kicked myself up the arse and went and made a coffee, ate a croissant, and had a shower….but that’s where the momentum ground to a halt. It’s 1:30 in the afternoon and I am now back under the duvet with curtains (still) drawn and the lights out. I just can’t do it today. I feel so tired and ugh that I just don’t want to be awake.

I keep lamenting the fact that I have a horrible headache… but have not managed to go and get any painkillers, and since I forgot to get any when I was actually downstairs, I’ll probably just lie here groaning to myself for the rest of the afternoon now. I need to go to the loo but I can’t face getting out of the warmth of the bed.

Honestly it is just piss poor here today!

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There are loads of things I need to do but I feel incapable of doing any of it. I am trying not to beat myself up for being unproductive but of course when I feel crap, I attack myself about it.

I know that my mood today is not helped by the fact that I am still really ill with a virus that seems to keep mutating and hitting me over and over and over again. I have been ill since the beginning of September and it is really getting me down now. I wrote a while back about how illness always goes hand in hand with a mental health crash and I think this is especially relevant right now.

I just want to feel physically well and it isn’t happening. I know this is as a result of the fact that my blood levels haven’t recovered since having chemo and so I am more susceptible to picking up bugs and that in itself makes me feel rubbish. I feel like I am emotionally and physically running on empty.

I am usually a busy person. I keep myself busy because, I guess, in part, I am always on the run from these feelings. I totally understand that I probably end up here, face down in the mud, barely functioning, because I overdo it, don’t take time out for myself, don’t attend to my needs, yadda yadda and so end up burning out every now and then. I get it. I don’t need it explaining to me…but what’s the alternative? Sit with these difficult feelings and let them wash over me? I keep trying that in various ways but eventually the feeling of overwhelm overwhelms me!

Music has always functioned as an escape for me and that’s where I am seeking solace right now. I spent a huge chunk of my late teens driving around in my car, listening to my stereo, and trying to escape from whatever was going on at home and simultaneously trying to run away from what was going on in my head/heart. It was all a massive nightmare really: perpetually feeling unloved and like I wasn’t good enough.

And here I am, again, running away from those feelings and retreating into my inner world and music.

There is a part of me that feels that it is absolutely tragic that I am heading towards 35 years old and yet I still struggle massively with feeling unloved and like I am not good enough – ugh! It seems almost nonsensical that these feelings are still able to floor me after all these years.

I have been with my wife for twelve years and have two lovely kids and yet, even despite knowing that they love me and cherish me, something deep in my core can’t really absorb it. The bucket I try and store love in has a great big hole in the bottom and until I fix it the good stuff will keep spilling out and onto the floor.

I wonder what has happened to make all this flare up so significantly again?

Any guesses?

The therapy break you say? Ah, maybe you could be right! It’s getting a bit boring my going on about therapy breaks and my inability to cope with them isn’t it?!

Where am I at with it all? 9 days down, 9 to go…I think. Halfway point. (How how how can I only be halfway through?!)

I spent the first bit of the therapy break alternating between my adult and child states. I had Christmas to contend with which meant the adult needed to be online a lot of the time but I was also really aware of the little ones really missing my therapist when it got to the evening and I had bit of quiet reflective time.

I have spent several hours each night lying in bed not crying but really wanting to. I don’t know how I would explain it to my wife, though, and so I just lie there in the dark feeling like an abandoned child until I fall asleep and dream about her and all the anxieties I am feeling about the therapeutic relationship.

Those little parts of me were fully awakened after having such a connecting last session heading into the break last week. This connected feeling should be a good thing, after all, it’s what I seek every therapy session isn’t it? And yes, that feeling is amazing but it is also incredibly addictive. Initially I felt soothed, held and contained by what had happened in therapy but as is all too often the case, the positive feelings didn’t last and the sense of being on my own, abandoned, and like my therapist had disappeared off the face of the earth took root.

I know that these feelings mirror what happened with my mum when I was small (only without the positive connecting part!) and so it just feels like I am replaying that pain of abandonment over and over again every time I am away from the new attachment figure (therapist).

The knowledge about where these feelings come from doesn’t make them any less painful or any less real in the here and now. It’s agonising. I so desperately wanted to reach out to my therapist and somehow try and get the horrible sense of feeling unworthy and being unlovable to go away.

I stayed with those feelings for a while, you know, the feeling like you’ve been kicked in the gut and are simultaneously feeling scared of everything… but I know from experience that I can’t stay with this pain indefinitely – it hurts too much. And I can’t reach out for my therapist either -she deserves a break and won’t reply to me even if I do contact her which only fuels the awful sense of being left. So at the moment the way I cope with it, I’ve noticed, is by going through this emotional cycle:

The therapy break starts and within a day or two the young child parts come online and sit alongside the adult; three days into the break the child parts are inconsolable and screaming in attachment pain hell. The adult tries to listen and honour these feelings for what they are but there is no soothing to be done, the child parts don’t want me, and the noise inside escalates.

Before long the feelings of loss and abandonment become so overwhelming that the Teen part steps up to try protect the little ones seeing as no one else seems capable of it and shut it all down for them. She is angry and hurt and despondent. She really doesn’t want to go to therapy again, ‘fuck this shit – I don’t care anymore’. She doesn’t see the point in it (although part of her secretly really likes therapist). All it does is hurt all the most vulnerable parts and she can’t understand why I (adult) would spend time and money doing something which feels a lot like self-harm (and she is very good at self-harm).

I can go round in this loop for a few days: adult, child part, teen and then before long the big bastard comes online. I can see it now and it is set to smother me. It is the Inner Critic. That voice is not embodied in a traditional sense. I have mentioned before that it feels a lot like one of the Dementors in ‘Harry Potter’ and I guess this is, in part, the depressive state as well as all the internalised anger that I have repressed over the years. It is the embodiment of all the rage that I had no way of expressing at the time and instead learned to turn in on myself. It is ENORMOUS.

Right now it is leaning in and telling me that my therapist doesn’t care just like my mother didn’t, that I am worthless and unlovable, and a complete loser for having the feelings I do about someone who can never reciprocate them. It tells me that cutting myself, or burning myself will make the feelings go. It tells me that my body is disgusting and that I should stop eating.

Part of me is terrified and feels like the only option is to give in to that voice and there’s another part of me that is hanging on for dear life and shaking a great big stick at it and telling it to leave me alone. I don’t know how resilient that part of me is but I am digging in deep today.

I know that I need to find a way to make that Dementor shape shift. I need to find a way of making friends with it and acknowledging it as a part of myself. I know that it has served as a protector of sorts (even if it is hard to see that anorexia and self-harm have been survival /protective mechanisms) and therefore in some ways I should be grateful that it got me through some emotionally horrendous periods.

I have been thinking today. What I am going to do is try and re-imagine this entity as an angry black dog that has been mistreated and caged for a really long time. I know that the black dog is a well-used metaphor for depression but in my actual real life I have four lovely black dogs whom I love, they are super bonkers beasties. What I hope is that over time and with a bit of training I might get the critic under control just like my delinquent hounds.

I am hoping that if I can change the image in my head from all-encompassing terror-inducer to an angry dog that needs taking for a walk sometimes, then perhaps that’ll settle it down a bit and I will be less frightened by it.

Maybe I need to work out what the needs of the Inner Critic are rather than being so terrified of it that all I do is run from it.

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Anyway, that’s where I am today, there’s more I could say but I know I am making no sense so instead, here is the song that sums up how it feels! I’ll be glad to see the back of this year for sure!

 

Not waving but drowning

Things aren’t easy right now. I mean, they’ve never really been ‘easy’, but lately it’s really felt like a huge struggle to keep going. I am increasingly turning inwards and shutting the world out. Life feels more about survival than living right now, and if I am completely honest, there are days where I am not all that bothered about the survival side of things.

If it wasn’t for my kids I am not sure I would be here…and that is sad because surely, by now, I did ought to feel like I have some self-worth and value. I should be able to look around me and see the love that surrounds me, the family I have created and the support network of friends who truly value me and think, ‘do you know what? I am still here. I survived some horrible things. But the past hasn’t broken me and cancer hasn’t beaten me. I need to live for now and appreciate what is here right in front of me. I am a good person. I am loved’.

But, and there’s always a ‘but’ isn’t there? When I am stuck in this dark place I really struggle to see what I have. When the little ones and the teen are present (which is pretty much all the time right now) they can’t see what’s right in front of them because they are not of the here and now. They can’t understand or trust the safety that I have built for all of us because they live in a constant state of fear and hypervigilance that is playing out on a loop from decades ago. They don’t need a wife and children they still need a mum. They feel unloved and unimportant. It is that wound that is festering and overriding my ability to feel like I matter. It is my job to fix that but I’m finding it really hard.

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So when it is crappy, like now, if someone says anything like, ‘you need to live for now. You’re not a child anymore. You have control. You don’t have to be hurt and upset about what happened when you were little. You are the adult and you are not a victim. You are healthy, you beat cancer….it’s time to move on, Let it go’. I literally want to smash them in the face and tell them to f*ck right off because they have no idea. I think maybe that’s the teen and her anger coming up? Or perhaps it is my adult who is just sick to death of being told how and what to feel.

Whilst I know it is true I just do not need these messages from other people. I have had my feelings invalidated my whole life by my family, and often by myself (I hate that Inner Critic) and sometimes I just want a bit of empathy. Sometimes I need to hear that it’s ok to feel sad, let down, abandoned and that it’s not possible to be strong and together all the time. Sometimes it’s ok to need someone else to help make things better. Sometimes it’s ok to not be self-sufficient. Having needs is normal.

I don’t really know where I am going with this. My head is a mess. I’ve been steadily losing faith in the idea that things can and will improve and that I am not destined just to be battered by every storm and wave that comes in. It gets to point sometimes where I am just so damn tired of battling with myself that I just think, ‘if this is how it is going to be then I am done with it’. I just don’t have the energy to keep putting on a brave face.

I have always struggled with my mental health and when I feel like I do right now it’s sometimes hard to recollect the good times. The times when there was fun… and LAUGHTER. Oh my god! I need to laugh again soon. I am naturally quite a serious person (or maybe I became serious because I had to be a grown up from a young age?) but I am also funny…when the mood takes me. But it’s been such a long time since I laughed, I honestly feel like I barely smile these days. Is that just depression? Or not having a decent social life? Or have I simply forgotten how to have fun?

When I was at university my best friends and I were fans of  Finding Nemo, or more specifically, the character of Dory. (Nothing like a bit of Disney and cold pizza to work out a killer hangover)I mean, her life story was pretty tragic, she’d lost her family and was all alone, but she had this blind optimism and a mantra to rival any motivational guru: ‘just keep swimming, swimming, swimming’ and not only that, she could speak whale! What’s not to love, right?

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I sometimes wonder if I should be trying to be more like Dory? Just keep going/swimming, try and make the best of a bad situation, and wait for something positive to happen. Maybe I am just not trying hard enough to be happy? That’s how I feel sometimes and it’s how people close to me sometimes make me feel too.

The thing is, Dory has one thing I don’t, and that’s memory loss. This is a big problem for me. My memory is crystal clear (ok, it’s all a bit of a blank before I was five years old… but then there’s a shit load of repressed memories in that blank space that are only now coming to the surface!).

I wish I could forget some of the things that have happened to me over the years. I wish I wasn’t haunted by my childhood and dysfunctional relationship with my mother. I wish I could simply block out some of the later trauma in the way that I blocked out the horrible stuff as a small child…but my brain doesn’t work like that. I have an almost photographic memory for events and conversations and so I can bring them to the front of my mind in an instant.

I might forget when I have a doctor’s appointment that I booked a few days ago, or what I’d agreed contribute to the PTA school Christmas party (yes, really, you’d be suicidal too!) but ask me about the time my mum woke me up and then instantly flew into a rage when she noticed I had put some laundry on the radiator in my bedroom to dry, and literally threw me out of the house wearing nothing but a nightdress/large t-shirt without underwear or shoes or when I was sixteen, then I can tell you word for word how that went down. I can tell you what it felt like walking half a mile to a friend’s house pulling my t-shirt down as low as I could, praying that I wouldn’t be seen, and that she’d be in.

That’s not a big thing event by any means, it’s just one of many odd things that happened, but has just come to mind as I am writing this in bed wearing similar. I can tell you how the regular, ‘I wish you’d never been born’ statements hit me deep and yet how over time I learned to stand there and take my mother’s onslaughts, unaffected, stony still. It used to drive her wild being unable to evoke a response in me. I guess that’s why I struggle so hard now to tap into my emotions, I learnt how not to show and not to feel emotion.

I remember so clearly the first time I deliberately threw up after eating and the satisfaction of how easy it was. The relief of an escape to the bathroom a few times each day to purge away some of the hurt and pain I was feeling. It doesn’t feel like 18 years ago that I was in the bath, razor blade in hand carving intricate criss-cross patterns down my forearm and watching the blood drip into the water and disperse. All these episodes are there in the archive just like it was yesterday.

What I am trying to say is that unlike Dory,  I remember how shit went down…every…tiny…detail of it. My brain has a video vault that plays periodically (sometimes when I sit in therapy) of episodes where I am terrified, neglected, uncared for as a younger child or flat out abused and victimised as a teen. I try not to think about it but sometimes it just comes up. It’s hard to escape it.

Sometimes when I am silent and blocked in session in one of my younger states my therapist asks me what I might need or needed back then – some form of holding usually…and asks me if there are any memories I can draw on to remember that feeling. I think she thinks I am being difficult when I say ‘no’ but it’s the truth. As I child I cannot recall even one occasion where my mother held me either when I was in pain or just through the sheer desire of wanting to hold me because I was her child and she loved me.

There has always been an invisible barrier between us. I’ve said before that my mum doesn’t touch me, even now. It’s not a new thing. And that’s partly why I am finding the ‘no touch’ boundary in therapy so hard. It really is just highlighting how sad I feel about not being held by mum. It really reinforces that sense I have of being untouchable and unlovable.

I keep hoping that things will change with my mum. I keep giving her opportunities to step in and step up but she doesn’t. When I text her the other day to tell her that my friend had died and how upset I was, she didn’t call me, she managed a text reply, ‘Sorry to hear about your friend. Work is really busy at the moment and I’m tired. Mum’ That was it. I was instantly hurt by the message. Why couldn’t she for once take herself out of the equation and just be there for me? Why is it always about her? I couldn’t care less if she’s tired right now….it’s not a competition, rather tired than dead eh mum?

My wife says I need to stop reaching out because I am always disappointed. I know I have talked about waiting for hope to die. But when I am sad, and my god I am devastated about my friend dying, the emotional part of me is so present and that part is young. That part hasn’t grown up yet. That part still wants mum, even if she is not the mum I want or need. It’s tough.

I know I am a grown up. I have survived. The wrinkles, grey hairs, and radiotherapy tattoos show me that I am not a child anymore. But my adult is struggling to keep afloat as I try to carry the weight of several younger parts, that can’t swim, on my back. I really want therapy to go well today. I want to be able to relax and just be how it is but I fear I’ll do one of two things: shut down and freeze through sheer overwhelm or pretend like everything is ok and put a front on. And that’s the danger, for so long I have done such a good job at waving that no one sees that I am actually, now, drowning.

 

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When therapy hurts: part 1

Warning: this post is big on self-pity

Honestly, I think I am ready to chuck in the therapy towel right about now and that’s not something I thought I would ever say. I’m so deeply attached to my therapist that I didn’t think there was any level of emotional hell that I wouldn’t endure to at least sit in the room with her once a week.

I thought I’d always want to go to session, in fact there have been times when I have really panicked at the idea of therapy ending (how on earth can I live without her?!). The weeks between sessions are always tough but I somehow felt that if I could just go to session, be there with her, and try and charge myself up with her warmth and care, take enough of her in to sustain me through the week, then I could cope. Hopefully over time things would get better – they surely have to improve.

I’ve said before that I need that weekly interaction, or simply need her, like I need air to breathe. It’s always been intense but now I am recognising that it’s increasingly damaging to me. I am not managing my feelings at all well and it’s causing me a great deal of pain. My adult has gone AWOL. Emotionally I am a complete mess and it’s the therapy that is fuelling it. I know I have issues – lots of them – but I think I would rather a life of denial right now than be staring down the barrel of this attachment pain that’s being aired in the melting pot of the therapeutic relationship.

Things are bad because I can’t cope with my little ones. I don’t know how to make things better for them. They love Em so very much and they are distraught when she is gone. I can’t soothe those parts of me in the week. They just absolutely need to see her in person, they can’t handle the idea of her not being there, and I think that’s partly why I keep dragging myself to therapy each week even though I know it’s hurting me a lot of the time. I just hope that somehow those fifty minutes will be enough to get us all through.

In the past, no matter how bad things might have felt in session, I have always clung onto the sense that how things are in the moment is only temporary and have held out hope that if I just stick at it things will get better, that somehow the relationship will develop into something that is sustaining and nurturing rather than painful and triggering.

I want to believe that therapy will be helpful in the end and that once the foundations are laid we will be able to work through my attachment issues and developmental trauma. It’s not working like that, though. It’s not that straightforward. The relationship didn’t get soundly constructed with the therapy work following on neatly behind. It’s all thrown in the mix and we’ve got half-built structures and some really flimsy materials.

All my issues coming to the fore right now before I have got the safe base sorted and so I’m completely at sea. The push/pull of my feelings towards my therapist leave me exhausted. I have reached saturation point with how much emotional pain I can endure right now. I am stuck right in the thick of attachment pain, trust issues, and trauma. I can’t seem to get round it. I feel like it’s literally driving me mad.

I know that if I could just learn to trust in the relationship and my therapist, if I could just start to feel secure and safely held then some good work could be done between us because there have been times when I have felt safe with her, where I have been able to trust her, and have felt that we are connected….but it doesn’t last. It never stays. The negative feelings, the doubts that invariably flood in after a session decimate any positives. I feel like I am constantly having to build the relationship from scratch as it is repeatedly destroyed by my emotional storms.

I want to believe that this is just a ‘blip’ and that things will feel better again before too long. That one day soon I will walk in the room and she’ll smile at me and something in me will see that I am safe and I don’t need to fear her.  At the minute, though, I seem to be drifting further away from her and the security I long for. It’s terrifying. I feel like I am losing her just when I have shown my most vulnerable elements. I am pushing her away because I feel like she is already gone. Maybe that’s just in my head. Maybe she is the same as she’s always been. It’s just me.

Whatever the reason, all I know is that the hopefulness I had has disappeared. Why? Well, probably because I am fucking mental and emotionally volatile and generally unhinged- but right now it feels to me that my sessions really aren’t going very well at all. In fact it’s all a bit of a disaster zone in my therapy and it’s getting worse.

It’s always been a bit of a problem on and off but now, when I get in the room, I seem to instantly shut down and freeze. I long to connect with my therapist but can’t. I feel too exposed and vulnerable to talk about what’s on my mind and so spend most of the time feeling shit and am painfully aware of the clock ticking down. Today I couldn’t even look at her. It was torturous.

Sometimes I manage to talk as we approach the end of session but today, well, I just bombed and now I feel utterly distraught. Every one of my parts is hurting….so so much. I feel like I have been repeatedly punched in the stomach and attacked with some kind of weapon. My body aches and my head feels like it might explode. I am scared to go to sleep today because I think once the lights are out I might start crying and just not stop.

When the time with my therapist ‘in the room’ doesn’t help make things feel any better or more manageable then the time ‘not in the room’ feels even more catastrophic. Since coming back off the summer break I can see how I’ve slipped further and further into this depressed, self- and therapy-doubting state. I feel like I am hanging on by my finger tips and not even really living right now. I’m caught between wanting to run far away and clinging on tightly to her.

The thoughts about self-harm and not eating are very present and I am desperately batting them away. I don’t want to be in this place anymore. I don’t want to feel so sad, and uncontained that it seems like a good idea to hurt myself.  My Inner Critic is ready and waiting to launch into a full blown attack. It’s not good at all.

I really feel like am existing in some kind of negative bubble. Even my autopilot is faulty- more on that later in the next part of the post I think.

Thinking about it, it’s almost as though I desperately hung on over the therapy break, I endured how painful it was not seeing my therapist because I knew sessions would resume and felt that the connection could be restored….only it hasn’t really happened. I don’t feel connected at all. I feel so very disconnected that it’s like I am floating around in some kind of space-like vacuum.

Every now and then I send off a distress signal (i.e take a blog post into session) to try and communicate through the silence and yet I generally feel totally alone. I am sharing so much of myself and yet it feels like it’s not being heard and I think that’s why I find myself here. I have tipped my bucket of broken pieces out onto the floor and we are staring at the ceiling pretending like it’s not there.

It’s seems to be a bit of a negative downward spiral: sessions are hard, don’t give me what I need, leave me feeling lost and uncontained, as a result I feel more disconnected from my therapist during the week, because I feel more disconnected in the week I am then more shut down in session, I don’t talk, don’t get what I need, leave feeling rubbish and so it repeats on and on.

I am sure I will feel differently tomorrow and be able to see the bigger picture but right now I am totally wallowing in ‘woe is me’. There’s a part of me that is totally saying ‘get a fucking grip woman, seriously this is beyond ridiculous’ but it can go do one right now. Today I just wanted to be close to Em and because I couldn’t be I want to run away.

 

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