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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Rainbow Bridge

I’m going to apologise in advance for the rambling nature of this. I’ve a lot to say and yet my mind is struggling to formulate my thoughts in a clear way. I guess that’s what grief does to me. So, you’ve been warned, if you choose to stick with me, here’s wishing you some good luck for bouncing along and coming out the other end of this with some kind of picture of what’s going on in my brain. I can’t make any promises though, you may reach the end and still be none the wiser.

What’s up?

I am heartbroken.

Devastated.

So very sad.

Why?

Yesterday I had to send my lovely golden retriever off to play in the fields on the other side of the rainbow bridge. On Thursday at a routine check for his steroids (he has a long term skin problem) we discovered that he had a large tumour on his stomach (when will cancer please just leave me, and those I care about, alone?). The vet allowed him home with us for the weekend, to spoil him and give him the best few days of his life, and he was booked in to be put to sleep this coming Monday at 9:30am.

There was nothing that could be done for him. He was an old dog, we knew we were on borrowed time with him before this, but it hasn’t made the feelings of loss any less severe. Just because you know you are going to lose someone it doesn’t it any less painful than when it’s an unexpected loss. I should know. I’ve experienced both now and I’m not just referring to the dog here.

Knowing we were to be saying goodbye on Monday we all went out for a special walk with just him (not all our other bonkers hounds) to his favourite spot and took photos of him with the kids. The amazing thing about this dog is that even when he isn’t well he never really lets on; he’s stoic. Had we not already known he was unwell we’d never have suspected anything inside him was wrong on the walk: he swam in the river; found and destroyed a tennis ball; was able to jump in and out of the car; his tail wagged throughout. He was happy.

We had expected to have the rest of the weekend with him, giving him lots of love and cuddles, and generally just being with our super soft old boy and slowly saying our goodbyes. It wasn’t to be, though. I woke up yesterday morning to find him lying on his bed with a reasonable amount of blood on the fur round his back end and he was looking very sorry for himself. I think the tumour had perhaps started to rupture his stomach as the vet had said could happen – I wasn’t going to take any chances if that was the case.

I called my wife down and she cleaned him up while I called the vets to take him in. It wouldn’t have been right or fair to keep him here until Monday. I would never have forgiven myself if he’d have started haemorrhaging or been in pain. I spent the next two hours waiting to go to the vets sitting on the floor with his head on my legs, stroking him as he drifted in and out of sleep. He was ready to go even if I wasn’t ready for him to leave.

The time at the vets was calm and peaceful. My dog likes the vets and was none the wiser as they catheterised him ready for his injection. I cried and cried knowing what I was about to do, even though I knew there was no choice. It’s part of the responsibility of owning animals, knowing when it is the right time to help them die and ensure they are not suffering or in pain. I told him that he was the best boy and that I loved him, stroking him as the vet administered the anaesthetic. And then he was gone. I can’t get over how one minute he was there, the next not.

I’ve never had to euthanise an animal before. This dog was my first dog, and even though we have four others now this boy was my favourite. He was special. He’s been through the mill with me. I’ve never had to experience the loss of losing a dog and I really wasn’t ready for the hit of grief. I thought with an animal it’d be ok. Turns out it’s no different to losing a human you love. Some people may think that sounds insane but grief is grief and love is love. And I bloody loved that dog and the grief is huge.

I was never allowed pets when I was growing up and had always longed for a dog. I remember that I used to leave notes round the house begging my parents for a dog when I was about ten years old! As I child I desperately wanted/needed something to love that would love me unconditionally and would always be there (looks like that need hasn’t gone even now).

I remember that I used to have a video of cartoons that I would watch over and over. One of the episodes was of a child being given a bouncy puppy by its parents – a yellow dog with a red collar. The child was really happy. And that was what I wanted. I wanted a dog and to be happy.

Being an only child with a mum that was away when I was small and a dad that was away when I was bigger, I craved that consistent presence of an animal that would be there through thick and thin. I didn’t want to be perpetually alone and I knew that at a really young age even if only subconsciously. That hole that I have inside, the mother wound, the deficit in love and care, developmental trauma, call it what you will has been there a long time and I think back then I though it could be filled by a dog.

Once, when I was almost eleven, and believe me this has stayed with me as a particular kind of trauma and grief, my mum agreed that we could get a dog. YAY!! HAPPY DANCE! EXCITEMENT! JOY! She took me to the local dog rescue centre and I found ‘the’ dog – it was a medium sized, short haired, cross-breed – to be fair any of them would have been fine! We took him out for a walk round the compound and I was delighted with him.

We went home and I waited until the day we could bring the dog home. You can see where this is going can’t you? The dog never came home. My mum had changed her mind and didn’t want a dog.

Ouch.

Grief.

I was going to be alone still.

It’s no surprise to me that one of my child parts is an eleven year old girl who has basically given up hope.

Anyway, flash forward 13 years and I finally owned my own house. The moment (ok the day after) I got the keys I started filling it with furry creatures – as you do. I got two kittens and then started searching for a litter of yellow pups. I found my boy’s litter down in Cornwall just a mile from my dad’s house on the beach. Seemed like fate.

I remember the day, five weeks after I met him, when it was time to pick up the little golden bundle (red collar at the ready) and how instantly I fell in love with him. We stopped in at my dad’s before going home in order to introduce him to the pup. The doglet peed on the rug but dad didn’t care! He was as taken with the boy as we were.

He’d always wanted a dog but his work and travel commitments hadn’t allowed for it. He was delighted, however, to now be a ‘grandad’ and would be able to have the dog for us when we were away. The last photo I have of my dad is of him holding my seven week old pup – I have it framed in my house and it is all the more special to me after yesterday.

My dad died on holiday abroad less than three months after I got my puppy and that unexpected loss sent my world into freefall. I have CPTSD and that month after my dad died did nothing to help that. I still feel sick when I think about it and have horrible nightmares even almost ten years later. I didn’t know in May 2008 when I collected my furry beastie that this puppy would be the dog that essentially saved my life.

Three months after my dad’s death I had a massive, and I mean MASSIVE mental breakdown. I don’t know how I had managed teaching the term between September and December – all I can say is that I think I was in complete denial about what had happened. I was surviving pretty much on thin air and looking back now I can see how poorly I had become.

My fuse had been getting shorter and shorter and my tolerance for the kids’ usual behaviour was lessened as the term went on. I had started to dread going to work. I didn’t have the resources to hold everything together. I made it to Christmas, somehow, but life outside work was crumbling because I was having to throw everything I had into surviving the day at work.

Between Christmas and New Year I had been steadily working on marking GCSE mock exams. I had gone down to my dad’s (now my) house to do my work because my wife was working long days in the hospital and I thought being at the beach with my dog would be soothing. The beach was great and the dog, my constant companion, was all the company I needed. I am a bit of a loner but I never felt alone with him.

I had just completed the marking and planning and was all up-to-date and ready for the next school term with a couple of days until term started and then reality hit. When I actually stopped and looked around me I realised what had happened and it felt instantly as though I couldn’t function any more. I crashed.

I can remember my wife came down after she had finished her block of shifts; we’d planned that I’d get my work done so we could have a relaxing couple of days walking along the coast and snuggling up by the fire before heading back home to work. The moment she arrived I burst into tears in the kitchen and started shaking. I couldn’t stop.

It was then that she told me I wasn’t fit for work and that we’d be going to the GP when we got home to get me signed off. So January 2009 was when I entered into the world of NHS mental health services. I was so desperately anorexic, suicidal, and terrified that it all became a bit of a circus in the end (I’ve written about it before). From that point I started living on a cycle of appointments which actually just massively increased my stress and anxiety levels.

The interventions with my GP, crisis team, psychiatrists, oh and bloody ‘wellbeing at work’ really did very little to help me heal. Part of the problem was worrying every other week that my GP was going to ‘make me’ go back to work as she only ever signed me off for two weeks at a time. I used to feel sick leading into the appointment because I categorically knew that I was not safe to go back into the classroom but was terrified that she would only see the high functioning articulate person in front of her and not hear the words I was saying.

I have never been the ‘stereotypical depressed person’ (which, by the way, is a complete pile of shit anyway). I don’t stay in bed all day, cry in front of people, or fail to shower and neglect myself (as if that’s all that is valid) and I think in part that’s why I’ve never really got the help I have needed. I have been ‘too ok’ when actually it’s just a front I put on for that ten minute window and it takes an enormous amount of effort. I wish I had the insight I have now back then about being seen or not being seen, about trauma, and about my coping strategies!

I didn’t feel able to advocate for myself back then and got swallowed up by the system and was beholden to it. It’s weird how these things work but I think when you don’t know what to expect that you just imagine that the system can do things to you and that you have no choice in it. I was young and all I knew of these services was that they locked you up… my auntie was in and out of psychiatric units her whole adult life and I just assumed that I had to comply with whatever was being thrown at me.

I think, too, that I was so desperate for things to get better that if I kept attending appointments then somehow things would just somehow get better, that they could ‘do something to me’ and it would take away the pain and I would be able to go back to normal.

I wanted my life back.

I wanted my dad back.

I saw my GP every week but wasn’t until about four months into being signed off on a two week rolling basis that I was able to tell her that it was really stressing me out (I’m crap at expressing my needs…nothing has changed!). I had lost about another stone in weight and I could see that she was wondering what the hell was happening with me.

I still remember when she said, ‘people as young as you don’t usually need so much time off work’… but agreed then to sign me off for an eight week spell and referred me for an eating disorder assessment as the graph on the computer showed that things were not going well. I can’t tell you how much the anxiety lifted at that point (not having to go to work) but landed on me at the same time (ED assessment).

Anyway the mental health stuff is neither here nor there really it’s just part of a narrative about my current feelings of loss.

I was off work for a total of 17 months and I can categorically say that had it not been for my dog I would not be here now. It was the routine of walking him every day along the canal that kept me here when all I wanted was to disappear. It was sitting on the sofa or lying in bed and him being beside me that helped me feel safe and understood and loved when humans weren’t capable of making me feel that way. It was my dog that sat with my tears when everyone else got silence or ‘I’m fine’.

I shut everyone out at that time but I feel that dog knew my soul and accepted all the broken parts of me. I loved him unconditionally and I know he loved me too – in the only way a dog can. I realise that to a non-animal person this all sounds really saccharine and over the top. I guess before I had him I would’ve thought something along the lines of ‘yeah it’s sad but it’s just a dog’ but I know differently now.

I know that my grief is magnified, too, because this loss is not just about my dog. Losing my dog has activated all the unprocessed grief from nearly a decade ago when I lost my dad. The grief from back then that has been fairly settled but not fully processed. All of a sudden my dog, my protector, isn’t here and all the emotional pain is flooding in. I knew this would happen and have been dreading this time coming for the last couple of years.

I have therapy tomorrow and even that has been an emotional rollercoaster! Initially I had thought that I’d be taking my dog to the vet on Monday and so I text my therapist late in the evening on Thursday to tell her what had happened and that I wouldn’t be able to get to my session. I didn’t ask to reschedule or Skype even though I wanted to see her. Why do I do that to myself?!

She responded almost immediately with a very understanding message (far better than anything she’s sent previously) and said she’d see me on the 26th. The message was containing enough but I went into a meltdown about having to wait until the 26th to see her!

I knew I couldn’t see my therapist in person but the idea of not being able to talk with her for another week with Easter around the corner was just hideous (I found out I have a four week/three session therapy break this Easter in the last session), particularly as I left the session on Monday telling her that I was annoyed with her about the pebbles/transitional object and felt like she was avoiding talking about our relationship!

Ah, this is a bit of an aside but now I am talking about it I may as well bring things up to speed…

The session had been ok and then she’d brought up talking about the pebbles and she said something along the lines of: I find it difficult to tell her what I need and perhaps if we tried a different angle talking about nurturing, protective, and wise figures rather than about us then we might get some useful material. I shutdown immediately (not that she’d have known) but I could feel the rage rising in me when she said that.

I was annoyed for a couple of reasons: 1) that she was asking me to engage with the pebbles when actually nothing I say really matters. It has no impact whatever I say because if she doesn’t feel it to be genuine on her side then she won’t say it or write it. I said as much and she picked up on the fact that I had lost trust in the process after the texts at Christmas; 2) I feel like I spend such a lot of time avoiding talking about the therapeutic relationship that I didn’t want to do it again, ie talk about ‘figures’ rather than ‘us’ because when we do talk about us it might be hard but it is way more connecting.

I guess it’s the thing I was talking about last post again about what I hear and what is said. She was trying to find a way for us to connect with this stuff in order to move forward with the break coming and all I heard is that we weren’t going to be talking about us and that she was fucking off for a month. Ugh. RAGE!

Anyway, I sat there silent and stony and listened to what she said. Basically she wanted me to tell her what qualities I associate with different kinds of figures. We began by talking about nurturing figures. I came up with two points and then sort of gave up and sat there.

She asked what was up and told her I was annoyed because we are avoiding the issues in the relationship. She tried to explain why she thought what we doing was good idea and that it wasn’t ‘instead’ of talking about the relationship and asked what I thought was going on between us. I said I had no idea. The session was up and I left feeling disgruntled and pissed off. As I left she said, ‘it’s ok to be annoyed, and it’s ok to be annoyed with me’. I didn’t respond and walked out the door. Petulant teen? Or disappointed child? Frustrated adult? ALL OF THE ABOVE!

I drove home feeling grrrrr and arrrgghhhh and then went through the usual shit about feeling like she doesn’t care and that I am wasting my time and ….

… and then I came out of that (!) and thought it might be worth engaging with what she had asked me (don’t roll your eyes, I’ve already done it for you!). So I came up with this and then sent it to her:

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I don’t know exactly know what will come of it but I would like to think the text exchanges we’ve had the last few days haven’t come about by chance. They feel warmer and more responsive…but it could just me being more willing to see care where there is some. I don’t know!

Anyway back to the communications via text -I waited until Friday morning to text her (usual rambling style!):

I’ve gone into total meltdown overnight (bad dreams etc) about not being able to see you until the 26th alongside the reality that dog is actually going to die. I really want to talk to you on Monday (I’m not annoyed now) but as Wife is home all day on dog leave I don’t think it’d feel very easy doing Skype with her in the house – although I would be home from the vets by our session time so maybe it’d be ok. Wife says I should just go to our session and let her deal with dog but I think I’d feel awful if I’m not there at the end with him. I don’t know what to do. I don’t really know what I am asking but if we can find a way of talking on Monday I would like to. I feel so sad right now but also completely pathetic that I am not ok with not seeing you…which makes me feel anxious about Easter too. Ugh. The shame! X

She responded quickly again and said she understood my dilemma and maybe we should just try skype anyway and see how it feels. That she’d be there and to let her know what I would like to do.

I downloaded the Skype app to my phone and thought worst case scenario I could Skype in my car. When I told my wife I was going to do my session by Skype she said she’d go out and meet me in town afterwards. It’s weird. It was no bother for her to do it and yet I felt like if I had asked her to go out I would have been asking too much or in some way making the therapy seem a secret. I don’t know. I mean ultimately what goes on in my sessions is secret but I don’t know….

I text my therapist and told her I’d like to Skype and she replied again. Good. That makes things feel easier. It doesn’t take a lot for me to feel settled and contained when she is responsive.

As it turns out none of this is an issue now because I now don’t have to go to the vet tomorrow. I am looking forward to seeing my therapist in person. I just hope that the session is as connecting and nurturing as I need it to be. I hope I can show her how sad I am and not shut her out like I did when my friend died last year.

I know part of the issue is that I want to be held by her and to let my emotions out but am scared of doing so knowing that she’ll just leave me sitting there crying. I’d rather hold everything in than feel like I’ve been left alone with it when it’s all coming out.

I know that if I could ask her to sit closer to me then that would help, but unless I am able to tell her that I know it won’t happen because the last time she moved closer to me I dissociated and started crying….and although I was crying because I wanted her to be close, closer than she was, I know she thinks that she has intruded into my space and upset me. Ugh.

So that’s about where things are at right now.

My darling boy is gone and I am bereft.

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Anxiety and the wrong shoes

img_2559I am fluctuating wildly in my moods and behaviours at the minute. One minute I feel borderline suicidal and the next full of fight and motivation. I’d like to blame it on being hormonal – but I know it’s not just that. Sigh!

Last week I briefly spoke about how I had manically cleaned my house within an inch of its life in preparation for a therapy session via Skype (it doesn’t sound any less mental a week on does it?!) and how perhaps I was in avoidance mode; cleaning the house meant I didn’t have to focus on the ‘real issue’ at hand which was the rupture that my therapist and I had over Christmas and that we are (still) steadily trying to repair bit by bit.

I recognise that some of my behaviour recently has been a bit ‘on the edge of normal’ (whatever that is) and on reflection I realise that I have been operating from a point of high anxiety and it’s been subtly seeping into my day-to-day.

To be honest I am always slightly (a lot) anxious and/or depressed (what fun!) and am acutely sensitive to seemingly small things: changes in routine (especially my therapy) knock me for six and send me spiralling.

Apparently, I am a highly sensitive person (HSP); whilst this trait certainly has some benefits (being intuitive, empathic, feeling, with a complex inner life!) some aspects of it can be debilitating (social anxiety, noise intolerance, being overstimulated/terrified by violent movies, needing to retreat from the world when it feels overwhelming).

My anxiety escalated to an unmanageable level over the Christmas therapy break (anyone notice?) and although things are a little better now, particularly now that my therapy has resumed, I feel that the residual levels of stress and anxiety I am carrying are higher than normal and are massively impacting on my life.

Why am I anxious right now?

How long have you got?!

Clearly the usual things that bother me are still there:

  • My physical health (or lack of it) concerns me. I have been ill pretty much consistently since September and have so little energy that I have stopped exercising altogether (good for my weight but not a lot else) and am barely making it through the day even when trying to conserve my energy. My bloods suggest that I am still in remission from my Hodgkins but living on an 8 week turn around for check-ups is anxiety-inducing in itself. I live in a state of constant worry about if and when I’ll get ill again.
  • My fragile mental health – ugh! Therapy is causing me anxiety because although things are slowly getting better, my therapist and I still have a great deal of talking to do about the rupture that happened at Christmas. Whilst things feel so tentative my internal child parts are even less settled and contained than usual and so it is really hard to manage. This week all I have wanted to do is reach out to my therapist and seek some kind of reassurance. Don’t worry! I’m not stupid. I am not going to go down that route again. One rupture and sense overwhelming sense of rejection is enough to be dealing with; I don’t need to add any fuel to the fire. But it does nothing to alleviate my anxiety about feeling abandoned or rejected when I can’t reach out or even the thought of doing so reminds me of all that has recently happened.

 

Then there’s the extra shit – icing on the cake if you will:

  • My wife’s skin cancer is stressing me out. We are waiting on the results of her biopsies to know where to go from here-  but right now it’s a crazy limbo type space trying not to overthink things but underneath it gnaws away at me. I don’t have a brain that just shuts off, unfortunately. Oh my goodness I would love an ‘off’ button.
  • My best friend from primary school has been hit by the big C again and I am utterly devastated. As if it wasn’t bad enough getting diagnosed with breast cancer the day before your thirtieth birthday, going through chemo and having a mastectomy, she then relapsed eighteen months later – the breast cancer had metastasised and was now in her lymph nodes under her arm. More treatment. And now last week they’ve found it in her bones. I mean seriously. Wtf? I am so sad for her and her family. To face fighting cancer three times in less than five years with a young family is just hideous. I can’t help but become even more anxious about my own future, too.

 

Then there’s the minging glace cherry on top of the cake:

  • My neighbours. Ugh. It’s too long and dull a story to recount here but suffice to say I am not a crier (I struggle to hit those buried emotions) and yet found myself in tears on Friday due to an incident that happened. The ‘thing’ itself is not a big deal and yet because I am so on a knife edge with my ‘everyday life’ what happened last week sent me over the edge. My brain has run wild and my anxiety has spiked horrendously. When you don’t feel secure or safe in your home it’s horrid. I really struggle with conflict and even when I know I have done nothing wrong I struggle to not find fault or blame myself. I need to get better at managing stress!

Anyway. It’s been a bit tentative this week for sure. One minute I am desperately sad and frightened hiding in my bed, the next I am driving my car with the stereo on full blast belting out something from Pink’s new album (I think my teen part is quite lively at the moment – perhaps after the letter I wrote to her).

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Today Pink’s ‘Secrets’ was on loop in my car… the lyrics really resonate with me/the teen right now – it’s kind of how I feel about therapy like there’s a few things I need to let out the bag. It’s a right belter of a track too:

Secrets

What do we conceal? What do we reveal?
Make that decision every day
What is wrong with me, it’s what’s wrong with you
There’s just so much I wanna say

I like to make-believe with you
Da, da, da, da, do, do, do
That we always speak the truth…ish
I like how we pretend the same
Da, da, da, da, do, do, do
Play this silly little game, hey!

I’ve got some things to say
‘Cause there’s a lot that you don’t know
It’s written on my face, it’s gonna be hard to swallow
(Everybody’s got a secret)
I got some things to say
(Everybody’s got a secret)
‘Cause there’s a lot that you don’t know
(Everybody’s got a secret)
It’s written on my face
(Everybody’s got a secret)

I let the walls come down
I let the monster out, and it’s coming after me
Do you feel exposed where it hurts the most?
Can you wear it on your sleeve

Put it in the closet, lock the doors
Wondering which one is worse
Is it mine or is it yours
Put it in the closet, lock the doors
Wondering which one is worse
I’ll show mine if you show yours
I’ll show mine if you show yours, hey, hey, hey!

*

So, yeah, it’s been very up and down emotionally for me lately…To Monday morning, though. Get to the point eh?!

Usually I am pretty particular about what I wear to therapy. I try and dress well – not smart or anything like that, I just want to feel good in what I am wearing. I’m generally in some kind of jeans or dungarees (don’t judge me! I am a lesbian after all!) but I am fairly well put together – everything is clean and I make an effort with my appearance. Legs are shaved, eye brows are shaped, socks and pants are good! (like it even fucking matters! ha!)

I don’t usually wear makeup day-to-day but I generally slap on some foundation to cover the greyness and a bit of mascara to make my eyes look less tired on a Monday. I don’t think it achieves much but it is the mask I put on to go pour my heart out.

I’d describe how I dress for therapy as one of those casual no one would know you’ve made any effort looks – surf style. However, if I don’t blow dry and straighten my hair there’s an issue! I look like my granddad with his crazy bouffant hairdo. Oh man I miss my long hair that I could just whack in a tucked under pony tail. Damn you fucking cancer!

Sometimes I really cover up – even in the summer I can sit in a jumper with my arms concealed not wanting to draw attention to my scars or bony/skinny body. Other times I might choose to be more revealing – it’s a weird one. Sometimes I want to hide everything from my therapist and other times I want her to see me – I want her to know how things are. I’ve read a few posts about what people wear to therapy and I think it does tell you a lot about what might be going on both consciously and unconsciously.

Anyway. I felt pretty vulnerable on Monday (what with the rupture and having had the Skype session rather than a face-to-face) and wanted to snuggle up into something cosy and comfy (a onesie would’ve totally been perfect – but not ever going to happen!) and so I ended up in a pair of jeans I haven’t worn in a year or two (I have 25+ pairs – a bonus of having had the same frame since 17 years old) and a jumper I found when I cleared the loft out the other weekend… that come to think of it I had when I was in college too (hmmm maybe the teen part is more present than I thought!).

I was happy enough with the outfit but as it came time to leave home I had a problem. Shoes. Shoes? Yes. Shoes. I couldn’t find a pair that went with the outfit. Granted jeans and a jumper is pretty much all I wear and so really ALL my shoes go with this. But not on Monday. I couldn’t find a pair that felt ‘right’. I have 8 different pairs of Rocket Dog sneakers in various colours, trainers galore, and loads of other shoes…and yet for some reason nothing I put on my feet felt ok with what I was wearing. I don’t know what was wrong but I felt self-conscious about my feet…

The outcome? I changed my entire outfit to accommodate the shoes. I opted for my current favourite pair of shoes and dressed around them. I know. I think, maybe I need A LOT MORE help.

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All of the recent crazy has alerted me to the fact that I need to be very gentle with myself for the next few weeks – when possible. I know I am walking a fine line here and I absolutely cannot afford to crash and burn like I did at Christmas.

Positively, the session, once I arrived went well. My therapist and I really talked and I once I had got through moaning on about my current life annoyances/worries the conversation changed tack and went to a place that I am usually wary of going to for fear of judgement and feeling ashamed.

My therapist asked me outright about my eating disorder and self-harm. Yikes! Usually I recoil a bit from that kind of thing but I tried to stay present and open with her. Little by little we got onto talking about the therapy and our relationship. I told her how I have been feeling when I dissociate and how we need to find a way of working more effectively with the traumatised attach parts.

I managed, somehow, to stay in my adult but was able to be open and vulnerable with her for the remainder of the session and it paid off. I might be imagining it but things felt different. The session had a different quality to it and my therapist who almost NEVER self-discloses shared something with me and that made me feel much closer to her.

Anyway, the real challenge now is to keep on this path. I need to try and keep letting her know how things are and work through everything that has come up as a result of Christmas and before. I know she doesn’t deliberately do things to hurt me but because I am so frigging sensitive even the hint of a wrong word or tone can send me out into orbit. It’s really tricky.

My young ones are beginning to really struggle and it seems a very long time until Monday. I hate that it makes no difference to those vulnerable parts of me whether I have a good therapy session or a not so good one. I can leave the room feeling connected and cared for and yet I can’t hold onto any of it and still find myself feeling desperately alone and lost and abandoned by Wednesday. It’s devastating really. My stomach actually aches knowing that it is still four more sleeps until Monday. Adult me needs to try and soothe the upset little ones but unfortunately it is much easier said than done.

I don’t have a lot else to say really, so I’ll leave it there for now.

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Letter to my seventeen year old self.

Dear Seventeen,

I’ve just read your diary. Please don’t be mad. Wait and hear me out a minute. I know how angry you were when you woke up to find dad reading your diary on holiday in Mexico and how violated you felt back then; but please know that I am not deliberately prying into your private life or being nosy. I’m just trying to understand you better. And honestly, I am good at keeping secrets, in fact I’ve been holding onto yours for the last seventeen years of my life. I’m not here to judge you and I promise that you can trust me.

We haven’t met before. Well, I know all about you (more than you realise) but I don’t think you are aware that I even exist. I’ve been watching you stuck in your own private hell for a long, long time now. It’s like Groundhog Day for you in the year 2000 isn’t it?

Too often I have turned away from you when I should have reached out to you. I have ignored your pain and your suffering because I haven’t known how to help you. Sometimes I have wondered if you even want to be helped.

I don’t know if you know it, but sometimes you take over my body in the present (which, by the way, is 2018 and means you’re often roaming around a stretch-marked 34 year old bod’ – yeah I know, it’s not great – and to think you hate your body now is incredible!) and react to my current day issues as though you are being hurt again in the way that Mum and H hurt you. It’s like my life triggers flashbacks from your life and you (and I) are reliving the pain over and over again.

I can feel your anxiety and fear coursing through my veins. I can’t speak and I go numb. I shake. I feel your frustration. I haven’t know what to do and neither have you. I’ll admit that I have felt overwhelmed by your feelings. I know you have things to say but I also know that you are very very frightened. I understand how desperately alone you feel. It broke my heart reading your account of the pain you feel inside. I know how hard it is. I remember it well.

You feel like you have no one to listen to you and that no one cares. It feels so difficult to trust anyone. You fear getting close to people and letting them in because you think you’re going to be rejected or abandoned or ridiculed – and you don’t think you can survive it again. This year has been the hardest one yet, for you, and I am not at all surprised that you just want to run away from everything and anyone that might hurt you.

So you isolate yourself in order to avoid being hurt but you can’t be alone forever. In your heart, deep in your soul you know you need love and connection. We all do. I know it feels risky seeking that out. I know you fear annihilation. I get how scary it feels to consider opening up again after what’s happened. You are still heartbroken but the only way your heart is going to mend is through letting someone heal it with you; currently you have a handful of shattered pieces and no glue.

There is no shame in wanting to be loved. You needn’t be embarrassed for feeling love either.

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You probably won’t believe me (who can blame you after all you’ve been through); but if you can find a way to trust me, I think that I am the person that you have been waiting for. I can help you, listen to you, and love you…if you’ll let me. I really want to make things better for you – for both of us- because right now your pain is my pain and it’s crippling the pair of us.

I’m so sorry, so very sorry that circumstances have made you feel like you are not worthy of love and care. How things have been with mum are not a reflection on you. None of how she has been with you is your fault. You are not unlovable or untouchable even if that’s how you’ve been made to feel over the years.

How things have been for you growing up isn’t normal. I think you know that but really acknowledging that is devastating. You have suffered emotional abuse and neglect at the hands of the person that should have loved you and protected you the most. I assure you that there is absolutely nothing you could have done that would have changed how things have been for you.

I know that’s hard to hear, but I think you need to hear it and try and take this in. You carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. You feel responsible for everything. And darling, some things are simply beyond your control. No matter how good you are or how much you achieve, there are some things you cannot change or control. You can only be responsible for you and not for the actions of anyone else.

What I will say, though, is this: it won’t be long until you are able to start getting away from some of the horrid stuff. Next year you will leave home and go to university, you’ll fall in love (really!), and things will start to get better. I promise you it won’t always feel this bleak. Until then, though, I’m afraid you’re just going to have to hold on tight and keep putting one foot in front of the other like you always have. I know it feels impossible sometimes.

Despite everything that has happened you are still here. You are a fighter. I know there have times when you have been very close to the edge. I know there are days you have thought about driving your car into a wall or overdosing or paddling your surfboard out to sea and never coming back. I felt the pain of each cut you made, and every burn on your skin. I know how you starve yourself. I see how regularly you purge everything from your system. You are punishing yourself over and over again for something that is simply not your fault. I don’t hate you. Why do you hate yourself?

You’ve lost sense of your value – or maybe, more accurately, you have never felt valued or loved. You feel worthless. Don’t get me wrong, I know why you feel this way. Steady and systematic emotional abuse does this to people. Now you feel like you are acting your way through life. You have little idea of who you are because you’ve spent so long trying to be what everyone else wants you to be that you really don’t know how to be yourself. You’ve struggled so hard against yourself for the last couple of years not wanting to disappoint anyone but inside you were dying.

I am so unbelievably proud of you. Coming out was massive. I know right now it feels like the worst thing you’ve ever done and you feel more lonely than ever; but those people that walked away from you, called you names, and bullied you were not your friends. I am telling you that even though it was scary and is still having a huge impact on your day-to-day you have made a huge leap forward into living authentically as who you really are. I know it takes a huge amount of courage to stand up and speak your truth but six months from now, you’ll be surrounded by people who love and accept you for exactly who you are and those people will become lifelong friends – chosen family.

I also want to say thank you. What for? For looking after the little ones. You are a force to be reckoned with, for sure! They are very lucky to have you as a protector. I know it’s difficult living your life when you continually have distraught children demanding your attention. It is not your job to hold them. It was never your job to look after them, but in the absence of an adult to care for them, you’ve done a brilliant job.

I have children (a boy and a girl). I see a lot of you in them because I remember you as a child, too. You were innocent and vibrant and full of life. You had so much love to give and then something happened and you started holding everything inside and that light you exuded steadily faded until it is now barely a flickering flame inside you. I know right now you feel bereft because, to you, coming out equates to you never having children and you so desperately want to be a mum. I’m not a time traveller but I am telling you this – children are going to be part of your future and that flame will burn brightly again in the love you have for your babies.

You are incredibly strong and I recognise just how much effort you put in to surviving. Sometimes the best you can hope for is just to keep on keeping on. You’ve done amazingly. Don’t roll your eyes! I mean it. The fact that in the face of so much pain you have still somehow held it together, passed your exams, can drive, and are alive is testament to your spirit. You are so driven and this is a good thing. It’ll take you a long way in life. But do you know what? You need to learn to relax too.

You need to let your hair down every now and again and have fun. You are so serious – so grown up- because you’ve had to be. As I said earlier, I am here now, for you and for the little ones – if you want me to be. So I am giving you permission – please relax and start to heal. The adult you all need/ed is here now. I’m not super woman but I promise you that if I can be there for you when it starts to feel scary then I am going to be there – and I am not going anywhere.

Things aren’t going to feel better overnight, I think we both know that. If things are to improve then we are going to need to work together on this. And so there’s something I need to ask you to do for me. I know you know about the therapist that I see each week because sometimes you hijack my session and stamp your feet a bit; or sometimes sit there silently raging and planning how you’re going to hurt yourself when you get the chance. Between you and the little ones there’s not a great deal of space for me in the sessions. I am, in no way, complaining about this, but I was wondering something.

I know you really like therapist but it feels risky to have feelings for her. You are attached to her just like the young ones are, ok perhaps in a slightly different way, but you do love her. And that’s ok. You want to be known by her. The idea of her really seeing you is both appealing and terrifying. Sometimes you let her see you, the real you, and other times you shut her out. When you feel close to her the alarm bells ring and you instantly back away.

Look, I’ve known this woman for six years now and I’ve been in therapy with her for three. I trust her but it’s not me that needs to talk. I’m ok. Do you think that maybe you might tell her how things are for you? Or if you can’t, do you think maybe I could tell her for you?

You’ve been holding onto this pain for such a long time, and I have been sitting on your secrets for as long as you’ve been alive and I think it’s time for us to move on.

What do you think?

Sending you so much love,

X

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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!

 

The Mother Wound

Oh man, where do I start with this one? The Mother Wound. It’s a biggie isn’t it? Part of me feels like I should just throw this out there to all you therapy bloggers and we could do one of those exercises where we each write a single line on the paper, fold it, and then pass it on to the next person and by the end we’d have collected a story about the Mother Wound. The paper part would be tricky but maybe we could do it in the comments box?

I’m referring to a ‘Mother Wound’ here, but essentially what I am talking about is the damage inflicted on a child by the lack of one, or more, caregiver’s reliable care and emotional holding. It could be a deficit in care or sometimes abuse/neglect by mum/dad/grandparent/other guardian or the entire family (I guess). It’s the damage that is caused by lack of safety- either emotional, or physical, or both. It’s attachment trauma.

Even though everyone’s life experiences are different, and their relationships with their mothers/primary caregivers unique, from what I can work out there are quite a few of us battling very similar demons caused by this early emotional injury. I can only talk accurately about my own experiences and causes of the Mother Wound but I will also try and bring in some of my observations from hearing/reading the stories of others too.

The effects produced by the mother wound on an individual seem fairly standard on first inspection: at times intense feelings of anxiety and/or depression, a fragile sense of self, difficulty with trust in relationships (attachment issues), fear or rejection and/or abandonment, low self-esteem, an over-developed self-critic which often has led to the development of one or more negative coping strategies: eating disorders, self-harm, alcohol abuse, drug dependency to name but a few things. And sometimes it gets really very dark and the thought of suicide or even possible attempts at suicide become part of the fabric of life. Oh, and the shame. I can’t forget that. A deep deep sense of shame around the expression of feelings and emotion.

I understand that it’s not the case for everyone and not all elements I’ve listed above are relevant to all people and, of course, there are more issues that I haven’t mentioned. I, for one, don’t drink or do drugs but this is largely because I think I have quite an addictive personality and would probably end up in real trouble if I did. We are all different but when I read these blogs the one thing that stands out is that that there is so much vulnerability and longing out there. So much pain.

People, fundamentally, just want to be loved, and to love, and yet the pursuit of this ‘love’ is anything but straightforward because of what has happened in the past. The lens through which we view intimacy is faulty and distorts everything. Our perspective is tainted, even as adults, and it negatively impacts on our ability to form and maintain healthy relationships. I find all that information both comforting and utterly devastating.

I have no problem whatsoever with forming friendships but I struggle to really let people in. I am that reliable person that others turn to in crisis, the level-headed one, the one that throws a good party but is also the person that sits listening to heartbreak on the phone at midnight. I am a good friend to others but I can count on one hand the people who ‘know’ me and I have let close to me.

I am not interested in making hundreds of acquaintances. I can be life and soul of the party (when I can be bothered) but more often than not seem aloof or stand-offish in social settings. I just really don’t like big crowds and small talk. I just don’t see the point in it. I’d rather be on my own.

Since I started blogging in the summer, for the first time I feel as though I am not completely alone in my feelings and as though I finally have a space where I can express exactly what feels so wrong with me/in me. Not only that, that what I have to say is accepted and met without judgement but actually, more often than not, a huge amount of empathy and compassion. That’s massive.

To be able to finally get the words out after all these years and say how it feels is, in itself, enormous but for other people to go, ‘yep, it’s really tough, and I get it. You are not alone’ is life-changing, because frankly sometimes these feelings feel terribly frightening and unsettling and isolating.

Sometimes it is easy to be swept up and away with how bad it all seems. It can feel like there is no light at the end of the tunnel, and there is no point in continuing. It can quickly become a negative downward spiral. A bad therapy session can leave me feeling desperate and helpless and adds fuel to the fire of intense and difficult emotions I’m already battling.

To know that I am not alone in this kind of struggle makes me feel less weird, a little less like there is something very wrong with me, and is helping me move towards the realisation, that f*ck things weren’t right when I was small and IT WAS NOT MY FAULT. How I am now is a product of what was done to me. What an enormous revelation that is!

It’s also comforting to know that other people are struggling with the constraints of therapeutic relationship (argh boundaries!), feeling deeply attached but also terribly vulnerable, repairing ruptures, having good and bad sessions, cancelling and uncancelling sessions, sitting in silence, raging and longing, moving and stagnating. We’re all giving it a good go and it really isn’t easy! I certainly never imagined therapy could be like this when I entered into it years and years ago.

Over the years, I have seen so many therapists and yet I have never got to this place with any of them – which is both a blessing and a curse! I am finally connecting with emotions after years of talking about the events of my life in a detached way. But now I feel like I am caught up in something that I am entirely unprepared for. That’s unnerving.

I like to be in control and therapy doesn’t feel like that right now because adult me isn’t there all the time. There are young ones in the mix now and they are not quite so adept at filtering the feelings that come up. They act out. They are clingy and needy at times and at others completely shut down and avoidant. I really struggle with disorganised attachment.

Reading your blog posts is comforting but also totally harrowing at times: how can it be that there are so many incredibly lovely people out there feeling this way? Why should it be that such vibrant, intelligent, caring individuals who have so much to offer are living day to day struggling to exist in the wider world trying to pretend that they are not wounded? The attachment wound it so big it is overwhelming and yet it’s as though it doesn’t exist, or isn’t allowed to exist.

It’s like Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet when he has been mortally wounded by Tybalt. Benvolio asks if he is hurt and Mercutio replies:

‘Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch’

(Romeo and Juliet Act 3:1)

And that’s what we do most of the time. We play it down. We cover it up. This is not for our benefit but rather to try and keep up appearances, to not rock the boat, to not let people down…and strangest of all, to not let the perpetrator of the damage know we are even hurt.

We don’t ever really allow anyone close enough to show them how damaged we are because somehow the culture in which we have been raised makes us feel that there is something inherently wrong with us. So we try very hard to carry on with life, and we do a pretty good job at living with the wound (indeed some of us have even managed to block it from our consciousness). It’s always there, though, and depending on how we move and flex our minds and bodies dictates how able, or not, we are to go on with the show.

My goodness aren’t we great actors and don’t we have insane levels of stamina? But sometimes it gets too much doesn’t it? It’s too real, too painful, too exhausting, too bloody gory and we just cannot carry on. We finally reach a point where we must discover and face our own truth. We can’t live like this any more. We need to be honest and tell someone about our injury. We need help.

In Mercutio’s case it’s his best friend Romeo that he tells the truth:

ROMEO: Courage man, the hurt cannot be much,

MERCUTIO: No tis’ not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church-door; but ‘tis enough. ‘Twill serve. Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me grave man.’

Mercutio admits that he has been injured and that he will die as a result.

Sometimes it is not immediately apparent to us where our wound has originated from because over the years there have been many, many wounds inflicted and so that the attachment wound gets overlaid with other things and becomes simply ‘depression’ or ‘anxiety’ or ‘stress’ or ‘self harm’ or ‘x y z’.

Eventually the inevitable happens: we can’t really function. We reach a time where it becomes almost life and death and we are teetering on the edge. Sometimes the breakdown is averted and other times a breakdown is exactly what drives us into therapy.

Often it is in therapy that we finally realise what the problem has been all along. Sure there are loads and loads of other life experiences that we work through and process. I would hazard a guess and say that most people don’t walk into the therapy room for the first time, sit down and say, ‘So here’s the thing, I am suffering with the fall out of developmental trauma and my attachment systems are causing me to struggle in relationships and in my life in general’. How wonderful it would be if we did though?! I’d have saved thousands of ££$$ if I’d have really known what I was dealing with in the beginning.

Instead, over time we gently peel back the scab layers that have sort of healed over but not quite. And then we reach it. The core wound. And my god it’s fucking enormous. It’s like staring down into the abyss. How was this level of injury ever survivable? How could a small child endure such damage and still live? Well in my case it came through shutting down/dissociating, repressing memories, and freezing that little girl back in time as well as attacking myself for years.

I have grown up now. I have an adult body. From the outside I have the trappings of a successful adult life: nice house, wife, and children. But there are certainly parts of me that have not emotionally matured. There are several parts loose and unhappy inside.

When faced with the wound, instinct tells you to run far away and try and forget about what you’ve seen. It’s too much.  At the same time another part of you awakens the moment that gaping wound is exposed to the air. Despite everything, the child is alive still. Its need for love and care and holding is still there as much as it ever was back in the past and it is terrifying to the adult. The feelings are enormous. The need is overwhelming.

How can you care for that smallest part of you when it isn’t your care that the child wants? The child wants the love and care of the person who has helped uncover the hidden it. It is that caregiver to whom the child is now attached. They want the person who has taken the time to draw that wounded small child out to rescue them. Session after session of steady work, of calm, understanding, validating conversations lead to this moment. The child loves the therapist how could it not?

The child’s hopes of being loved, held, and contained unconditionally reawaken in a flash, and there it is. Hope is ignited. Maybe this time that hole, the wound can be filled with the therapist’s love. If we can just get enough of it…

Oh, if only it were that simple!

It’s only natural that when you realise that you are severely injured that you would want to pack the wound, fill it, and close it over. The desire for the wound to heal is huge and it often feels like the only way to heal it is for the therapist to pour more and more love, and time, and evidence of care into it. If we could only get more contact with our therapist, more sessions, contact between sessions, more tangible verbal reassurances, physical holding, emotional containment then perhaps this wound will heal up. We scream out for ‘more more MORE!’ of the good stuff…

There’s a problem, though. This wound is like a bottomless pit isn’t it? No matter what you throw into it, no matter how you try and pack it, it never fills. It can’t be filled by the therapist’s love alone. We can’t sit back and watch and hope that this person can magically fix us. We have to turn around and look deep into that hole and see how it is constructed because it is us that holds the tools to be able to heal and mend it.

It is agony staring down into that dark place. Realising just how much pain it contains is enough to send you insane. Somehow bit by bit that hole will fill and we won’t feel so empty, one day. We will learn to love ourselves and feel good enough and steadily those edges will close in. There will always be a scar. We can never fully take away the injury. I’m nowhere near healed. In fact writing this I can feel that hole gaping wide.

From what I can tell, not many of us feel comfortable exposing this wound to friends and family in any real depth. We might be able to talk about feeling depressed, or even allude to how bad things were when we were growing up. But when it comes to the intense feelings we feel towards our therapists and how much that impacts us on a day to day…well, it’s little wonder we don’t share that.

A lot of the time we struggle to admit the feelings we have about our therapists even to them in a therapy session so there’s not much hope of letting that out to others! We can’t face the shame, embarrassment, or the pitying looks but also the lack of understanding we are so often faced with.

Despite all the recent publicity and trying to normalise mental health issues in the media it just doesn’t always filter down into families. It feels like this in my wider family: ‘yeah, mental health issues need to be talked about and there needs to be more funding for it. Isn’t it terrible? It’s lucky that no one in our family struggles with their mental health. We’re all jolly and normal aren’t we?…what breakdown? Oh no, that wasn’t a breakdown it was a gap year, she didn’t want to work. She’s fine. Anorexia? No, no, she’s naturally thin and athletic…’

There is so much denial in my family about what has and hasn’t happened, who does or doesn’t struggle, that it’s almost funny. I can sort of accept the wall of pretence from outside the house and notch it up to ‘my dysfunctional blood relations’. I find it far harder when I face criticism and/or lack of understanding at home.

I’m sure it’s not just me that gets these kind of wonderfully helpful soundbites directed at them when the blood starts to seep through a bit and the ability to hide the gaping hole is lessened:

‘What have you got to be depressed about?’

‘You need to learn to let this go.’

‘You can’t change it so don’t let it bother you.’

‘Why can’t you see all the positives you have in your life.’

‘Why am I not enough for you?

‘Why don’t you let me in?’

‘Your depression isn’t getting any better.’

‘I won’t watch you destroy yourself again.’

How much therapy does one person need?’

‘Your relationship with your therapist is unhealthy.’

‘I don’t see any improvement in you since you’ve been in therapy, if anything I think you are worse.’

‘You need to try harder to be happy.’

‘I feel like there’s a huge part of you that I just don’t know, why won’t you talk to me?’

‘Can’t you just put it all in a box and forget about it?’

I could go on and on and on but I’m sure you get the idea and have several of your own to throw in there.

When, periodically, faced with those kind of statements it makes it incredibly difficult to open up and be honest about how things are. I think this is, in part, why the therapeutic relationship becomes so important to so many of us. We just do not have anyone who really, genuinely, can listen without judgement. It’s hard to be your real self when your true self isn’t what people want to deal with. They like the one that hides the wound and soldiers on.

Sure, our loved ones love us and care deeply about out wellbeing, but it is also so hard for them to witness how bad things can be for us. It’s not easy witnessing so much pain and being powerless to really help. They can’t fix us. They don’t really understand us. They don’t see the child inside or if they do, what on earth are they meant to do with it? They are desperate for us to be well and happy but it’s not a quick solution…and often in therapy things get worse before they get better. I think that must be terrifying for them and so it is understandable that, at times, frustrations air.

The problem for a lot of us is that we fear abandonment and rejection so much that these kind of statements can make us hide and built our walls even higher. I, for one, am a highly sensitive person and so any kind of criticism really hurts me. I feel like the emerging self is not the one that people want to know. The high-functioning adult is far more appealing than the vulnerable one who can’t just cope with anything that’s thrown at it.

I’m aware that this is a massive ramble and I haven’t really said all that I want to. It is certainly a subject to come back to at some point. As I have been writing this I can feel the little parts have really started to stir. I felt very much in my adult when I began and now I feel very small and sad and lost.

The little girl inside realises, yet again that Mummy isn’t coming and the idealised replacement mummy isn’t really a ‘mummy’ to her at all. Ouch!

And so, I guess, this is the bit where my therapist would say that I somehow need to summon up my adult, the one that is a mummy to two beautiful small people, and get her to pick up that little girl and hold onto her tightly, tell her she is loved, and that she is safe. I so want to be able to do that for her. I absolutely want to soothe that part of me but right now all I seem to be able to do is watch her suffer.

The mother wound is gaping today.

 

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