Therapy Break – 3 Weeks In: Meh! Like I Even Care…

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So today marks the last ‘missed session Monday’ of my Easter therapy break (ironically I just typed ‘Easy’ rather than ‘Easter’) and in theory I should be delighted to have almost made it through the wilderness and back to my therapist… but I am not. Frankly, I am a bit ‘meh’ about therapy right now.

I know what’s happened, the teen part has stepped up to the plate and is basically in her default ‘fuck her (therapist) and fuck therapy, I’m done’ mode. It’s not especially pleasant feeling royally pissed off (in the way that only a teenager can be) but actually it’s a bit easier to manage this disgruntled angry drama than the bereft, uncontained, desperate child stuff that has been the mainstay of this therapy break up until this past weekend.

Sorry if this becomes a swear-laden ranty post!

Don’t get me wrong, I completely know that underneath the current front of ‘meh’ and ‘fuck it all’ there is the child’s attachment hell going on but I’m certainly happy not to dig too deep today and instead symbolically give the finger to all that therapy represents to me right now.

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Lol. I can’t even take myself all that seriously today because I am so aware of where I am at right now in the cycle of shit/reactions that a therapy break brings up.

The stages are:

  1. The ‘numb but it’s just about ok’ stage: this tends to be the first few days of a break where I am almost in denial about what lies ahead and I have my adult self largely online. I get stuff done when I am like this. Whoop! – a bit of productivity and relative mental peace! Such a shame it doesn’t last! It can feel quite liberating but actually because I am so out of touch with what’s really going on underneath I suspect it makes the next few stages harder and more powerful.
  2. The ‘She’s gone for forever’ stage: this happens about three days into the break (definitely ties in with when my dad died three days into his holiday and my mum being away when I was little during the week) and is hideous. I literally feel blind panic and grief that my therapist will not be coming back and that I have been left.
  3. The ‘I am so little and lost and alone’ stage: basically this is bedtime PRETTY MUCH EVERY NIGHT – ugh. It’s emotional agony. When I get tired I feel am much less able to keep the child quiet and settled. She starts screaming and basically having a tantrum because there is no one there to read her a story, tuck her up in bed, and hold her. It physically hurts that my therapist is gone and that is who the little girl wants. (Jeez, writing this is no fun -sucker punch to the gut.)
  4. The ‘Seriously, I am so fucking done with this shit’ stage: (this is where I am now!) the teen part steps in and says ‘enough of this shit’. She hates the fact that those little ones are suffering so much and shuts it all down. She rages! She plays her music loudly. She hates everyone! She can’t understand why on earth I keep dragging myself to therapy when all I seem to do is upset the young ones. She won’t admit that she likes and misses my therapist because she will not be vulnerable again having been hurt so badly in the past. She wants to cut and run. She isn’t getting her needs met and so the only available option in her mind is to leave.
  5. The ‘You’re beyond pathetic no one could possibly care about you’ stage: welcome in The Inner Critic. The soul destroying voice that taunts me about all sorts of things. Basically it’s all for attacking myself and undermining any sense of good in the therapy and myself as a decent human being. I know it’s in coming shortly because I have felt particularly unhappy looking in the mirror these last few days. I am aware that I need to be careful not to launch into trying to ‘take control’ when I feel ‘out of control’ by targeting my body. It’s hard though, because when I am convinced that the therapeutic relationship is a farce and that I have got caught up in ridiculous feelings and needs that can’t be met, are juvenile and pathetic (critical voice speaking) it’s hard not to run away from that voice in favour of doing some things I am good at: not eating and over-exercising, and controlling my body…and I have eaten a lot of chocolate this Easter so go figure. Operation body attack feels imminent.

Of course, the above pattern isn’t always completely linear the Critic can pipe up anytime and I know the teen is always there just in the same way the child parts are. I go through cycles during the break and flip in and out of different states, some are louder at different times, but I can definitely chart a discernible pattern on my therapy breaks now and am aware that the teen always comes in when there is a bit of the break left to go.

I’m actually feeling quite compassionate towards my teen part right now because there was a time (not even all that long ago) when I’d get completely caught up in her angst and follow through on all her ideas and basically embarrass myself… actually cringing thinking about some of the things I’ve sent my therapist over the years! Haha.

At the weekend I text my friend to tell her that I’d be writing my therapy termination letter today (eye roll) now the kids were back in school because I’d ‘had enough of it all’ (therapy/therapist). And sure, I really meant it. It wasn’t some attention seeking bomb drop to get her to tell me not to give up. It is how I felt in the moment. I was/am frustrated and angry and all kinds of bloody feelings that are doing my head in – like really, a four week holiday??? Wtf is that all about?! I was more than ready to chuck in the towel… but fortunately I have learned to exercise a bit of restraint now.

I’m realising that I can give all these parts, and importantly these feelings space, because they are real, they are how I feel (or at least a part of me feels). The key thing is not to go in all guns blazing and actually end up shooting myself in the foot, though. I haven’t written the termination letter (ha!) but if I had it would be fine to have done it, might even have been cathartic to spell out all that was bothering me …the important thing would have been not to send it and save it for in therapy because adult me knows that these feelings that come up are ‘the work’ and I need to be in therapy to work through them.

I’m not saying it’s easy to refrain from sending messages when I’m like this; my goodness, that teen part of me really wants to let it all rip! And it’s even harder stopping myself reaching out for reassurance and evidence of care when the young ones are freaking out. The desire to connect (even through pushing my therapist away) is, at times, huge. Sometimes I manage this better than at other times. Like Christmas was a frigging disaster wasn’t it?! (#rupture) and so I have been really aware of not putting myself in a place where my therapist’s lack of communication or perceived lack of care can trigger me.

I won’t text or email her now until Thursday (am meant to be doing a Skype session and need to confirm on the day – although don’t really want to Skype!). I might want to reach out before then about something ‘non scheduling’ but won’t…and that in itself is triggering because part of me feels a sort of abandonment that she won’t enter into outside communication with me. It’s a minefield to be sure! Sometimes I can handle the boundaries and other times I just can’t! The teen part hates the boundaries. Like properly hates them!

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It’s probably a good thing that I’ve not had much time to blog this holiday, hence the last couple of crap posts. The ‘meh’ I’m feeling right now about therapy has sort of translated into how I’ve been feeling about blogging this holiday too. I haven’t really got anything to say other than I am a big fat pile of Ughhhhhh-ness.

I am smiling to myself a bit because I can really hear that frustrated teen here.

I’m hoping that once therapy starts back up I will feel a bit more motivated and have something vaguely interesting to say. Until then I am going to go and whack on a bit of Alanis Morissette and crank up the volume!

OMG this came out in 1996….I was 13! Teenager! x

 

 

 

Saturation Point

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I’m really struggling today. I’ve been sitting staring at this empty screen for almost an hour now and not been able to translate what is going on in my head onto the page. I basically need a page of grey with text that says, ‘I need an adult’ on it and that would probably suffice for this blog today!

I’m not really surprised things feel impossible to write down, I have loads I need to do today and yet have felt unable to do any of it. It’s no wonder the words aren’t coming when I can’t even complete basic day-to-day chores: the kitchen is a mess, the beds aren’t made, and the washing I put on this morning is still sitting in the machine waiting to be hung out. But as is so often the case when I have one of ‘these’ days, I feel totally incapable of doing anything. I hate feeling like this but I just have to sit it out and wait for it to pass.

I have no idea how I am going to snap out of this state and be ready to go and tutor this evening. It feels like a tall order. I know I will manage. I always do. But it’s going to require a huge amount of effort to put the ‘teacher’ hat on tonight (I have no idea how I am going to teach writing skills and selective use of language for effect when all I feel capable of is colouring in!) I am struggling enough with being ‘mum’ today let alone being a professional.

In fairness, probably a large part of this flat lining/depressed/knackered feeling is coming from the fact that I am ill and tired. My wife and son have been poorly for a week and it was only a matter of time until I started sneezing and streaming with a cold. I haven’t been sleeping very well this week as my son has been waking in the night coughing and needing me….11x on Sunday night! OMG!

So, if you like, it could be said that I am suffering from a bit of ‘man flu’. Everything feels worse than it actually is and I am just feeling really sorry for myself. Right now all I want to do is crawl into bed and sleep it all off – the physical and emotional stuff needs rest. I need to recharge. There is, of course, another part to it…yes I’m not well, and yes I am tired, but actually I am also feeling really really sad.

I feel totally unanchored this week and I could really use a bit of nurturing and care. And whilst I ought to be able to go, ‘righteo, then, let’s implement self-care strategies 101 today’ I simply don’t have it in me. My adult has reached saturation point this week through trying to meet other people’s needs whilst simultaneously sacrificing my own and I just haven’t got the energy to ‘do good’ for me. I just can’t muster anything up to help. In fact it’s a big enough battle to not do myself harm.

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I don’t really know how to explain it, but when I feel like this (utter shit mixed with a horrid dose of attachment pain) no amount of jollying myself along, making nice drinks and food, hot baths, reading, listening to music, meditating, visualisation or whatever really helps because (yes, here we go again…) the part that is feeling needy and sad and lost and abandoned couldn’t give a fuck about what I (adult) have to offer it.

My inner child doesn’t want me right now… we all know who she wants don’t we? (ARGH, this is getting so boring!) And there’s a problem because that person, my therapist, isn’t around. Cue screaming of a very young part and that horrendous physical sensation of having been kicked in the stomach alongside the critical voice telling me I am a ‘fucking loser’ and need to lose weight and get a hold of myself.

Last week when I posted, I was absolutely certain that Monday’s session signalled the start of the Easter therapy break. As a result of this I spent a good part of last week feeling miserable and sad about the fact that I had only had one session to patch myself together and try and get enough connection and sense of care to carry me through the hell that is a therapy break. So imagine my delight when I looked at the calendar on Friday morning and realised that I was totally out by a week and that I actually had two therapy sessions before the break. I did a little happy dance!

Don’t get me wrong. I was still very much in the stage of ‘shiiiiiittttt I am hopeless at breaks. Why does she have to go away?!! I can feel the wheels getting loose’ but knowing there were two sessions rather than one felt like a bit of a reprieve. Sadly, I am learning that life seems like throwing big fat spanners in the works where my mental health is concerned…or should I say, the UK weather has been so fucking erratic lately that it seemed perfectly reasonable to dump several feet of snow again over the weekend making it impossible for me to leave my village on Monday. Noooo! The bloody ‘Beast From The East’ reared its head again and blocked the roads.

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I spent the whole weekend being a miserable cow. I just couldn’t help it. There was some severe tantruming going on inside! I was so disgruntled that I wouldn’t be able to make it to my session. The child parts needed to be in that room and get some reassurance that things are going to be ok and that the relationship is safe and solid. I was really hoping that some miracle would happen and some tropical weather would come and melt everything – but no….it’s snowy even now.

The other hard thing about knowing I wouldn’t get to see my therapist was that I couldn’t really let on how devastating it actually felt to my wife. She just doesn’t get it at all and so we never talk about my therapy other than occasionally when she likes to say it doesn’t seem to be making me ‘better’. It’s not easy for her to understand that how I feel towards my therapist is not in any way sexual or even really coming from an adult place.

She doesn’t get what it is to struggle with all this attachment stuff because she is securely attached – lucky her! She can only quantify my feelings within her field of experience and, therefore, this deep love and need I feel for my therapist (not that she knows the extent of it!) must mean I want to have an affair and am being unfaithful. Groan. Totally unhelpful!

The ‘it’s not normal how much you need your therapy and how you feel about your therapist’ stuff has been the source of a few arguments over the years and now we just don’t discuss my therapy at all. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to discuss the finer details of my sessions with my wife (hell no!) but when I feel upset and unsettled because I can’t get to therapy I would like to be able to say what’s wrong and not just have to stuff my feelings down and pretend like I’m delighted that there’s another snow day and it’s all going to be great fun. I’d like to think she might understand that I am doing some deep work with my therapist and trying to repair a lifetime of trauma and that maybe a bit of compassion and care needs extending to me.

It’s not convenient if I am not functioning in ‘mum’ and ‘wife’ and so the sadness of the ‘child’ was heavy inside and made things feel really hard over the weekend. I text my therapist to tell her what was going on (i.e the snow, not the total meltdown I was having – even though I really wanted to tell her about that too! I hate the ‘formal’ texting when actually any time I reach out I want to tell her I miss her and can’t). She responded and suggested trying to Skype and just see how it goes. That sounds fine doesn’t it? We’ve skyped before here and there and it’s been fine. The thing is, I’ve never Skyped when the whole family has been here or when my wife is at the bottom of the stairs making conference calls and working from home.

How on earth could I talk about everything I needed to when there was a strong chance I’d be overheard? It’s hard enough to speak about those needy feelings in therapy or to discuss the issues I have around eating or self-harming or any of the rest of stuff in Pandora’s box as it is, but there was no way on earth I could do it on Monday feeling as though there was an audience.

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The session itself was ok but it was one of those ones that you talk plenty but not about anything particularly important – if my wife was listening in it would’ve been ok. I spoke about my cancer follow up appointment, tutoring, and anxiety about flying (we’ve just booked a much needed holiday) but not the real stuff; not the anxiety dreams I have been having nearly every night about needing my therapist and holding onto her like a tiny kid….I mean I am not sure I would tell her in session because it feels exposing, but there would’ve been a chance had I been there in person; the way therapy has been going lately, and my finding it more possible to show her my vulnerable side, I might have brought it up.

My therapist was really aware how hard I was finding it and did an excellent job of making lots of eye contact (even if I had my face covered and could barely look into the camera) and saying really reassuring things to me, including the fact that she cares about me. Since sending her that letter the other week she keeps reiterating it every session. I am wondering if she really just had no idea how much I have struggled to feel a sense of her care until then? Like it should just be a given? Whatever has changed I am pleased because it is making a difference to how I feel. Although I wouldn’t say I feel secure, I am building evidence to prove that she cares about me…. Uh huh, yes, mental, I know!

We spoke a bit about the break but I didn’t really tell her anything much about how I was feeling because that would’ve meant saying how utterly distraught I feel about ‘being left’ and again with the possibility of being overheard it just couldn’t happen. It was lovely to ‘see’ her and I’d always rather Skype than have no contact, but she said how unfortunate the timing was for this to have happened and how much disruption there’d been lately which wasn’t ideal with the break coming up. I am glad she acknowledged it as being an issue.

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The moment I disconnected the Skype call I felt sick. It was a combination of ‘only one more session’ dread and the young parts not getting enough of what they so badly needed this week- they needed to be seen and heard. I am struggling horribly with my feelings this week. I cannot believe it is only Wednesday. It’s like time is standing still. And whilst part of me wants Monday to get here quickly, there is another part that is anxious that we have one session and then almost a month long break. It feels like such a long time. And whilst I know I will get through it, and am pleased that she is taking a good long block of time to recharge and look after herself, not all of me feels optimistic or glad about it!

Fortunately my therapist is really good at trying cut the breaks down for me as she knows they are an issue. She always offers me an alternative time if she can. She has offered me a session on Thursday 19th April which takes a few days off the length of the break; unfortunately there’s no way I can get there in person because I have to do the school run and can’t get from her place to school in the time I have. Basically, I will take the session, but it’s going to have to be another Skype session. I am not sure how I feel about that.

I know I have a tendency to shut down and push her away after a break. The trust and connection I feel erodes over a break and I often sit there silent for a few sessions whilst the repair work is done. The gatekeepers take a while to let the defences down and so I am not sure how this will work over Skype. I guess we’ll have to see.

Anyway, this is really just a nothing post. There are things I want to say but I will wait until I feel better and more able to formulate my thoughts to write them.

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Mother’s Day Followed By A Hint Of Therapy Break Dread…

Denial is good right?!

I’ve been putting off writing on the blog this week… which is strange because there’s been plenty of ‘crazy-making’ topics to talk about! I think it’s almost as though there is so much ‘ugh’ stuff running round my brain that I’ve just buried my head in the sand and tried to power through, pretending it was just a normal week rather than a recipe of emotionally triggering events set to send me over the edge! I guess it’s a survival tactic – head down and run!

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day in the UK. It’s the annual, in your face, reminder that my mothering wasn’t great (read: totally lacking, emotionally neglectful, and trauma inducing!) whilst great swathes of society celebrate their wonderful mother/daughter relationships. The shops are fit to burst with ‘Thank You To My Lovely Mum On Mother’s Day’ cards and gifts as soon as Valentines Day is over and it makes me avoid the shops for the month.

It’s not altogether different to how I feel around Father’s Day – everyone is celebrating a relationship when I am grieving a loss: my dad is dead. My mum might be alive but I’m in the process of grieving a loss; grieving the mother I never had but so desperately wanted and needed. Both days ‘parent’s days’ are tough in different ways.

I had to avoid most of social media over the weekend because I wanted to puke at the photos of mums and daughters together posting ‘she’s my best friend’ stuff or ‘thanks for all you do for me’. I totally get that it might sound like I am bitter or begrudging of people who have those ‘magical’ relationships with their mums and are, most importantly, securely attached… but it’s really not that at all. Honestly it’s not! It’s clear that a healthy, safe, nurturing mothering relationship is what I am longing for. I guess I am jealous.

I had to unplug over Mother’s Day because it’s just so hard having everyone else’s love and connection thrust upon me when I’m so very aware of the deficit in my own relationship with my mother. I feel like a broken record banging on about the mother wound but it’s huge isn’t it? I find that it’s hard enough navigating the week to week fall out of developmental trauma and struggling with maternal transference in the therapeutic relationship without this stuff being everywhere you go!

I find it sadly ironic that I was actually born on Mother’s Day and have had this almost farcical relationship with my mum. Mother’s Day is a day of celebration and yet it feels almost like a sick joke that I actually turned up on Mother’s Day and yet have always felt almost motherless.

The relationship was doomed from the beginning and as much as I resent what’s happened over the years, I can also see that my mum and I were subject to a bunch of shit circumstances that made our bonding experience very difficult, bordering on impossible. It doesn’t excuse everything that’s gone on but I can understand a bit why things are how they are… did I just make a concession?!

My birth was complicated (we both nearly died) and as a result my mum didn’t get to see me for the first twenty four hours of my life because she was so poorly and so was I. I spent three days in an incubator on a neonatal unit. When my mum finally got to meet me she didn’t recognise me as being hers she thought another baby was hers (this is a story she tells like it’s a joke, but working in therapy I realise how fucking tragic that actually is) and so that critical window of bonding was missed. We never had that lovely time of skin to skin contact that I had with my babies immediately following their births. There was none of that essential oxytocin released between us. We never got to know each other at the primal level.

I was not held or touched for three days apart from nappy changes and care from midwives. I was stuck in a fish tank – alone. I understand why. I was tiny and fragile. That’s what happened back in the early 80’s. These days they know so much more about the importance of those early hours and days with mothers and babies; they put little squares of fabric in with the mother and baby and keep swapping them over in order that the baby can identify the mother’s scent when they finally can come out of the incubator. It makes complete sense; build the connection and the relationship.

It’s hardly surprising that a young mum who had a difficult pregnancy, a highly traumatic birth, and who received next to no support would develop postnatal depression – again something that was nowhere near as understood as it is now. It’s like a hideous catalogue of errors that has led to a fractured maternal relationship. I really feel that if things had have been done a little differently I may not be struggling in quite the way I am today. I mean I get there was plenty of shit that went on as I grew up but I do get the sense that the seeds were planted very early on, before I was even born.

I feel so sorry for my mum, at 22, going through what she did. My adult self wants to befriend her 22 year old self and give her some support, some guidance, and tell her that it’s going to be ok. She is good enough, even if the world (family) is telling her otherwise. She needed a good friend, and a good therapist back then – in fact I suspect she could use those now. I am lucky to have both of these things today.

I feel so fortunate, I had really positive birth experiences with both my babies (planned c-section), bonded with them, they both fed easily, my wife was supportive, and the transition into motherhood as easy as it could possibly have been and yet there were certainly days where I was so exhausted from night feeds that I wondered what the hell I was doing. I can’t imagine what it must’ve been like for my mum. She was just a baby when she had me and even as a proper grown up at 29 when I had my first child I still found some days a trial.

Anyway, I saw my mum on Sunday and it was nice. We did a kind of joint Mother’s Day/birthday celebration with a cake. As I have said before I don’t really have a problem with the relationship my mum and I have now. Sure, we don’t touch and we don’t have a great deal of contact, but when we see one another it’s ok; it’s good enough. She’s kind. She doesn’t judge me. She’s great with my kids and that goes some small way towards repairing the damage…well my adult sees it that way…don’t dig too deep or ask to many questions to the others!

I’ve learned to accept what the relationship is in the here and now. Our adults get on fine. The problem I have is trying to come to terms with what the relationship wasn’t when I was small. I am trying to come to terms with the lack of nurturing and holding I received as a kid. That’s where the work is. That’s what’s so hard in the therapy. Some weeks I find it easier than others.

This week I am not finding it all easy. What’s up? If Mother’s Day was fine then what’s the problem? Well, this is week is hard because I’m now heading into my last session before I have a month long therapy break. I can feel all the younger parts groaning in unison. My dreams are filled with my therapist and I’ve felt steadily more unsettled as the week has progressed. Basically, because the therapy mother is about to disappear all the trauma and pain of the mother wound is right back on the surface…and that sucks!

I am both desperate for my session on Monday and dreading it. I so want to see my therapist but I also don’t want to see her because once the time is up, that’s it….I’m on my own… we all know how that worked out at Christmas and that was only 2.5 weeks. Eeek. Whilst I know she’ll be back (eventually) there are parts that feel abandoned and scared, and others that feel plain angry that she’s going away. Argh!

This Monday’s session was totally fine. We talked a lot about the stress I am feeling around my cancer follow ups and blood tests. It was front of mind because I had to go and get blood taken that afternoon ready for my consultant appointment on Wednesday. It’s a horrid time leading into hospital appointments because I never really know what news I am going to get. I never in a million years imagined I would be diagnosed with cancer 6 months after giving birth to my son so I never take for granted that these appointments will be fine. You just never know and that is really anxiety provoking.

We have started edging around the subject of my eating disorder in the last few weeks, too. And whilst part of me is cringing and wanting to run away there is another part that is relieved to tell her how things are, how they have been, and let go of some of the burden. I struggle not to judge myself as I tell her the details of what’s happened over the years and how much I battle still – but she doesn’t judge me and so I am learning to be a little more compassionate with myself.

I know it won’t last, though. I can’t sustain that without regular reassurance. I know that as soon as Monday’s session is done I am going to have a real problem on my hands. I don’t want to fall into unhelpful coping strategies but I also can feel it coming. It’s like a storm rolling in on the horizon. I already feel body conscious because I’ve been eating well for the last few weeks and that in itself makes my brain panic. I don’t want to feel abandoned and rejected and alone but I know that even if I manage the first week of the break, at some point the wheels will fall off. I’m not being fatalistic, I just know the pattern…

So, that’s kind of where it’s at right now. I guess we’ll just have to see how Monday goes. I hope I can go in and be open. I am worried that I will shutdown and shut her out as so often is the case as we head into a break. I don’t need that, though! I will endeavour to connect with her.

Wish me luck! I know that so many of us edge towards Easter therapy break now and so I’m sending you all holding and containing thoughts/wishes: you’ve got this.

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Connecting In Therapy

So, therapy was frigging excellent on Monday. Yeah. I know, right?! Wtf happened?

Those of you who follow this blog regularly will know that it’s been a really very hard slog for me in my sessions (and life in general) over the last few months. After the rupture (wheels falling off in a big way) at Christmas, being in therapy with my therapist has felt incredibly difficult. In January it felt like things had reached the point of no return and I was contemplating terminating…I even went to see another therapist to get some additional help and perspective!

Anyway, I clearly didn’t cut and run in the new year and I am so glad I didn’t. Despite all the hard feelings and anxiety and various parts of me freaking out in different ways, I have stuck it out with my therapist. I’ve turned up every week hoping that something will shift in me and things will start to feel better. Sometimes all you can do is turn up and keep turning up and steadily, bit by bit, things change.

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It’s funny (not haha), because there’s been a really desperate part of me that has been so wounded by the rupture that it’s felt like it’s needed to run away from the relationship and go hide in a corner; but at the same time there is also a part that deep down knows that my therapist and I are going to be ok, that we can work our way through this block, break down my barriers, and do some good work. It’s almost like despite one (or more) part/s thinking it’s all doomed there is at least one part of me that knows that she is safe.

I know that we have a strong enough relationship now that I can have my meltdowns, act out, shut her out, and threaten to leave but at the end of it, when the storm has blown out, she’ll still be there ready and waiting to work through it with me. I am not used to that. As a child I was never been able to express my anger or rage without huge consequences and so ended up being a compliant little girl who turned all her anger inwards. It is no surprise to me that my inner critic is so powerful and that I have so much capacity to harm myself whether it be through not eating or self-harming. There’s a lot of anger that I’ve internalised over the years!

*(Can I just say that the last paragraph is how things feel right now. I can’t say I always feel sure of the therapeutic relationship. Indeed it is a regular struggle of mine that I feel if I say how I feel I will be told I am too much and get terminated!)

Anyway, I know that it’s recommended, if at all possible, to work through the tough stuff in the therapeutic relationship rather than cut and run because the likelihood is that whatever is causing a bother in the relationship with the current therapist will only repeat in a future therapeutic relationships. Essentially, most of what triggers me in the relationship taps back into some festering wound from my childhood. That’s why it feels so massive and life and death.

So, what am I going on about here? I’m in long and winding ramble mode today!

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It’s no secret that I’ve desperately wanted to reconnect with my therapist since what happened over Christmas but there’s been a lot of resistance on my part (or should I say some of my ‘parts’). When I actually get to session I’ve either felt isolated and alone or sometimes just not really bothered about anything. It’s like all the drama and ache and angst that kills me in the week evaporates when I get in the room. I think some of it is that some parts of me are so very glad to be with her that they almost forget the horror that happens outside the room; but I also think there is a part that just can’t be vulnerable and risk feeling more rejection.

It’s ironic really, I spend the whole week wanting to see her and yet, when I have arrived, I just haven’t been able open up. I can’t trust her, or at least ‘part’ of me can’t, and that part is dominant for the first 40 minutes of the 50 minute session. I can feel unsafe when I see her in person and as though she isn’t there with me, that she doesn’t care, and that I am an annoyance to her – or that’s what critical voice tells me over and over again until I am sat there shut down and frozen. The child parts have no reason to disbelieve the critic; it’s very convincing and does a good job of making the child believe she’s not safe. It’s an exhausting internal battle!

I am fully aware that this is my crazy brain not helping matters; my adult knows that this is all an overreaction and that it’s just one of my parts feeling unsettled. Unfortunately it’s not easy to override those feelings, because even though my head knows what’s going on by my body suggests something completely different. It’s hard to ignore the panic in your gut and rationalise it away. The body is exhibiting a trauma response and it trumps my head.

I’ve known my therapist for six years and worked with her for three of those; she is consistent and she is safe. She does care. She’s told me enough times that she wants to work with me and that she wouldn’t have agreed to see me again if she didn’t like me…but for some reason I can’t hang onto that. The positive affirming message/s she gives me in session slip through my fingers like grains of sand and by the middle of the week I am left standing empty handed. The needy child is distraught and by midweek the critic steps in and steadily erodes all trust in my therapist.

Yeah. It’s a really shitty cycle and one that I am trying hard to overcome. Like everything, though, I am realising it takes a lot of time and a lot of treading the same ground over and over again to find a better path. It’s like I am needing to forge a new pathway in my brain; I am steadily beating my way through thick overgrowth to a place that leads to the ‘she cares’ destination and trying to let the well-worn, easy path that forks off to ‘she couldn’t care less’ to grow over. Sometimes it’s just easier to walk the old path but I know if things are to improve long-term I need to get my walking gear on and start hacking my way through the bracken. The more I clear that difficult path and walk over it, the sooner it will become the easy path.

It’s partly why I am so hell bent on getting some kind of transitional object sorted. I really feel like if I had a tangible reminder that my therapist was out there, that she does care, and that all is not lost, then when the shit starts to hit the fan and I start to lose my way on the new path but still very rugged path and start veering back to the smooth one when the critic starts up I could go, ‘fuck you, you fucking bastard! I know what you’re doing here. I won’t believe your lies because here’s [waves transitional object – functioning as machete to hack back roots] proof! No, I won’t hurt myself. You are wrong and you don’t have the power anymore. Have some of that you sadistic fucker. I’m going this way!’ (apologies for the expletives!)

Look, I do know I am meant to be like ‘hey you, critic, what’s the deal here? Why are you so angry? Why can’t you trust anyone? Why do you think pushing everyone away is a good idea? What do you need to feel safer and to stop attacking? You’re hurting me and I want to understand why. Looks I’m making a new path that will suit us all better in the long run’; but sometimes I also get angry with myself about how long this voice has been controlling me. I know. I know. It’s me. I get it. But jeez it’s bloody exhausting… and relentless… and hellish. I’ll be 35 next week and this has been going on for almost twenty years now. Things need to change!

Anyway, as a result what happened at Christmas I haven’t been sharing the really vulnerable side of me lately. I’ve felt (my projection) as though my therapist doesn’t want to acknowledge or encourage the young parts in session and has wanted me to hold everything myself. As a result of this, I have stopped showing her the needy bits and, because I have done that, I have felt unseen and uncared for. She hasn’t reassured me because I haven’t given her any indication that I need reassurance. I have for all intents and purposes participated in the therapy. I haven’t been silent or stonewalled her. I just have come to therapy and talked about stuff that isn’t the stuff…you know?

The critic has been running the show and silencing all the vulnerable and needy parts that want to reach out and want to connect. A small mercy is that generally we do enough path beating in the session that I feel able to open up and really start tell her what I am feeling in the last ten minutes. The thing is this comes with its own problems because I don’t have the time to explore the issue and then leave feeling frustrated and uncontained. It’s not ideal.

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So, the session before the one on last Monday was tough stuff. I had written my therapist a letter the previous week following the session we’d had (so 2.5 weeks ago now) with a view to reading it to her or handing it over during the next session. Often it’s in the early part of the week where the big stuff comes up for me, but by the time the week rolls around and I get back to therapy the intensity of the feelings has settled down or sometimes I just plain don’t feel them when in the room. Frustrating doesn’t cover it!

I write a lot in this blog and process quite a bit, but obviously unless I take a post with me to session my therapist has no idea what I am grappling with – she doesn’t read this. Anyway, it’s been a long time since I have written to her rather than just show her one of these posts and so I got to writing. It ALL came out. Loads and LOADS. I had subheadings titled: Christmas Break, Child Parts, The Relationship, Texts, and LOVE… So yeah I’m sure you can work out from those that it was quite exposing. I let all the vulnerability out. EEEEEEEKKKKKKK!!

Of course, there’s always something that gets in the way. I took the letter to session and I just couldn’t give it to her. We talked a great deal about the barriers I seem to be putting up, and how she feels blindfolded sometimes. She made an analogy about me being like a baby that doesn’t want to/can’t feed for some reason. That she’s trying to give me something but for whatever reason I won’t accept it. The problem that happens then is that I leave the session hungry and then feel increasingly upset and uncontained as a result. That made loads of sense to me. It also made me realise that whilst I frequently think that she is withholding actually there’s a big part of me that won’t accept what she is trying to provide. I get so caught up in what the relationship isn’t that I sometimes can’t see what it is.

I didn’t give her the letter but I was able to tell her that I have been struggling with eye contact and talking. She did her best to reassure me and told me that she understood how hard it is to look at her when everything feels so tentative and vulnerable. I told her that I had written her a letter but even the thought of what was in it made me want to puke. The anxiety was huge. We talked a lot about how maybe I am being too hard on myself and perhaps the content is not as ‘bad’ as I believe it to be. She asked me how I would feel and respond if a friend of mine who I care about, respect and value had written that letter to me. Simple. I would say that it was ok and not to be embarrassed – so why can’t I do that for myself?

She spoke about the power of the critic and how we need to listen to it and work with it. She also said that sometimes it’s about readiness, i.e I hadn’t given her the letter that session but we had done a lot of talking around it and working out why it felt so hard to share it and perhaps next week things would be different.

I left the session feeling a bit annoyed with myself but also knew that I had done the best I could under the circumstances. I felt way more connected to my therapist, too. I know that the sense of connection always feels better when I am able to show her what’s bothering me and can be vulnerable. She always tries to meet me when I open up (why can’t I remember this?!). I felt like, maybe, I would be able to talk about the stuff, the ‘real stuff’ contained in the letter in the next session.

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And then ‘The Beast From The East’ hit with ‘Storm Emma’. We had a Red Alert weather warning from the Met Office which has never happened in my patch of the South West. Two feet of snow fell in twelve hours. Basically we were snowed in – 2ft of snow. I live out of the city on high ground and it feels really rural on the edge of the moors. We don’t get gritted on the roads and are left until snow melts. It sounds romantic but it’s really not! The last time something like this happened was in 2010 and we were stuck for a week.

I was so annoyed that I had built up a head of steam in therapy and was finally ready to share the stuff I have been hanging onto for sooooooooooo long and now it looked like I wouldn’t even be able to go to my session. Ugh. FFS!!! I text my therapist on Thursday evening to tell her I was stranded and it was probable that we would have to do our session via Skype on Monday unless something miraculous happened. I asked if she would read an email if I sent her one in order that we could talk about it – i.e the letter I had failed to give her last week. She agreed. I sent it on Friday morning and then felt ill!

I knew my therapist wouldn’t respond to the email and that we would address it in the session. The time between sending the email and the session dragged: my boiler broke down for two days; we had a power cut; and then mains water disappeared for 36 hours. I was not happy! BUT despite the utilities going wrong there was one good thing happened; the sun came out and the temperature went up to 8 degrees. The snow melted enough to get out the village on Monday!! … and I could go to session. Whoop!

Of course by the time I actually arrived at her house I was shitting my pants! I was going to see her face-to-face and she had already seen my letter! Eek. No backing out now.

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I sat down and I rambled on about the bad luck that had befallen me over the weekend with the utilities; but I knew that couldn’t last forever and actually I didn’t want to run from the issues I have been struggling with. I reached that quiet place where the outside world was left behind and my inner world was exposed and ready to be discussed. Silence. Eye contact gone.

My therapist asked me if I wanted to talk about the letter and was I ok to given that I’d had such a tiring weekend. I said yes but I didn’t know where to begin. Fortunately my therapist had written a load of notes when she had read the email and said maybe we could go through what she’d come up with to get us started. She said there was a lot of big things and it was important to take time to give everything space; and that it must’ve taken a lot of thought and effort to get it all written so coherently.

Anyway the long and short of it is that we talked about sooooooooooooo much stuff that has been eating away at me. We talked about the suicidal thoughts I had had after the rupture, the eating disorder and self-harm and what triggers it. Usually I run away from those topics. I always feel too embarrassed to let her know I am hurting myself or not eating – particularly because it’s the attachment to her that triggers the feelings of inadequacy, abandonment, and rejection that start me on the spiral of punishing myself in one way or another.

She addressed all the parts of me and every part felt seen and understood. She was so attuned. And that felt really great even though the conversation was really tough and incredibly exposing. She spent a lot of time telling me that she cares about me and my well-being and I actually heard it. I believed it. There wasn’t any part of me that wanting chip in ‘yeah, whatever lady, it’s all lies’ which is what often happens. The child parts want to absorb her care but there’s generally the teen and the critic ready to rubbish what she says and that didn’t happen this time.

Better yet, is that this week has been fine. Good even. Of course I miss my therapist but I don’t feel like my world is falling apart because I can’t see her. I don’t feel like she is gone/dead. I don’t feel like some desperate, pathetic loser who has latched on to some poor unsuspecting therapist. I don’t feel ridiculous. The little parts feel contained and settled because they know she cares. I feel like she is in the relationship too. I (adult) know she cares about me. And that is huge. Until now I haven’t really felt it – or maybe like the baby that’s hungry but refuses to feed, haven’t allowed myself to feel it.

I am looking forward to seeing her on Monday. And, amazingly, I am ready to talk more about the very hardest things.

I know. What on earth has happened here?!

So, what’ve I learned from all this?

I’ve learnt that allowing yourself to be vulnerable in therapy is important. It’s fucking scary, I won’t lie! Telling someone how you feel is terrifying when you can’t be sure of their response especially when it relates to core attachment wounds. It’s not just the adult involved; there’s a bunch of traumatised kids too. I know I can trust my therapist. I know she wants to help me. She can handle all the parts that show up and she does want to know about all of them. I know I’ve got to dare to take risks even when there is a strong critic trying to shut me down.

 

 

Don’t get me wrong- I know that the feelings I am writing about here won’t last forever. I’m not naïve enough to think I’ve turned the corner with this stuff and I’ll never doubt the relationship or have an enormous rupture. I’ve had lots of great connecting sessions over the years but somehow always find my way back to that well-worn, dangerous path. But what I am saying is this: even when you feel like you are swimming against the tide and barely holding on in therapy, things do eventually shift and change. There are moments of connection and care and love and they are worth every second of the struggle that goes before. You’ve got to take the rough with the smooth; it’s all part of the work.

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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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Artwork above from: RedandHowling

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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