Therapy Break – 2 Weeks In: Lost In The Ocean

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Therapy Break #1

I am not in your presence

but, oh

how painfully aware of your absence I have become.

 

Time and distance

stretch

out

endlessly

between us…

 

You are so far away.

 

The holding place in my mind

struggles hard to keep you whole

 

Are you merely a figment of my imagination?

A hologram, perhaps?

*

Even when within my reach

you always feel so very far away

 

I can see you,

feel you, but

I cannot touch you.

 

That small space

opens up like a vast ocean

I stand on one shore

you on the other

 

You beckon for me to join you

promise to be my guide

and to witness the lessons of the Self

that only I can teach

myself.

 

For the longest time I have waited

warily watching

assessing the dangers that might lurk hidden

in the deep.

 

I believe I will reach you –

eventually

(is it misplaced confidence or simply wishful thinking?)

and so I begin the swim.

 

My muscles relax into a familiar rhythm.

The hardest, aching parts of me begin to soften

as the distance between us lessens.

 

It’s farther than I thought, though, and

sometimes cold

sometimes silent

sometimes strange –

The horizon keeps shifting.

 

I tread water a while

rest and catch my breath.

I look up and discover that

I can no longer see you.

 

Panic.

 

a sudden shiver

a lightning bolt

 

Both sea and sky shift rapidly

calm blues now rage-filled greys

Angry, turbulent clouds roll heavily in

raining hot tears down like shiny silvery bullets.

My fear rises alongside the storm-whipped waves

 

I am exposed

I am scared

 

Is there still safety on your shore?

I can’t be sure.

But it’s swim or drown

and so I keep moving.

 

There’s no going back.

I must have faith in what I feel

And trust in what cannot be seen.

 

***

I’ve posted this poem at the bottom of a blog post before. I wrote it last year when on Easter therapy break. Right now it completely sums up where I am at (again/still!). I haven’t got much time to write at the moment. Time off with the kids is full on. I am putting on a good show on the surface – doing lots of activities and outings but inside/emotionally I feel stuck in that horrible place, stagnant and numb but underneath it’s only hanging together by a thread – not even my usual rubber bands and chewing gum. And so right now I don’t even know what to say in a blog post.

I will find my way out of this fog eventually, so long as a I keep swimming. At the moment I have lost sight of both shores and am tired, cold, and want to be rescued…. and there’s still two more weeks of this break to go. Ugh!

I hate therapy breaks 😉

Oh woe is me! lol!

 

 

 

 

 

Therapy Break – 1 Week In: Struggling to Find Peace

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I’m really struggling to find peace right now – both literally and metaphorically! It’s very early (5:30am) on Monday morning and I am trying to steal myself a little quiet time to write, collect my thoughts, and drink a substandard cup of coffee before the day kicks in and I am thrown fully into the demands of being a mum and wife with the family all on Easter break – which basically means shelving all my needs and doing my best to put a lid on my issues until bedtime when I can hide under the duvet and let the little ones have some time to be how it is.

This waiting is not as easy as it may sound – waiting all day to allow myself to really feel what’s going on inside feels exhausting, especially when right now my dreams are filled with my therapist and leave a lingering sense of being ill at ease for a good part of the day. I am experienced in ‘hiding’ how I feel, I do it week in week out, but sometimes it feels like a ridiculous amount of effort to keep up the appearance of being fine when I am really not fine at all. I am so not fine. Not at all. And whilst I don’t want to sink deep down into the pit of sadness that the young ones feel about being left, I don’t want to deny them space to express how bad it actually feels.

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Sadly, I am not just a mother and a wife trying to enjoy time off with my wife and kids (that on its own wouldn’t be a problem); I am also a therapy client with CPTSD on a three and a half week long break from my attachment figure (therapist) and I feel lost, alone, abandoned and desperately sad. Or rather, the little ones are struggling massively and all the old wounds are exposed, sore, and weeping; and yet again adult me is a fucking chocolate fireguard when it comes to self-soothing and nurturing the vulnerable parts.

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When it’s like this I need to write. Well, actually what I need is a nurturing hug that holds the child parts but that’s not possible now and even if I were to see my therapist it still wouldn’t happen…not touch rule…argh!… and so here I am, once again, trying to let it all out on my blog! I am not sure what to say, but I absolutely need to try and find words for some of how I feel because I am struggling. Really struggling. Have I mentioned that I hate therapy breaks before?! Ha. It’s so boring now.

It’s not even funny is it? It’s painful. I feel mental and unsettled and generally all over the shop.

Clearly, I’ve not found this last week particularly easy, but I think today is going to be especially hard because, whilst I have now effectively ticked off one week of this mammoth Easter break (well done me!), today signals my first ‘missed’ therapy session. In theory, today is just another day of the break; like any other day, it’s a day to try and make the best of things. I need to live my adult life as best I can, enjoy being with my family, despite struggling with the underlying feelings that the child parts have about being abandoned and their fear that something bad is going to happen whilst my therapist is away.

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It’s just not that simple, though. Today already feels bigger… harder… longer than yesterday because today is the day I usually go to therapy and today I can’t. My body clock is set to be in that therapy room at 10:30am on a Monday and, frankly, being anywhere else feels plain wrong! I can feel the anxiety rising in my body knowing that today I am not going anywhere. That today, I can’t let anything out or take anything in with my therapist.

Today I am here and I have to hold my shit together for myself. Yeah, sure, I know, this is no different to any other time, but usually I have a sense of being supported: I usually have a scaffold around my structurally unsound building (the one that I am steadily dismantling bit by bit in order to rebuild a better, more sturdy structure for the future). The thing is, for some reason the scaffolding has disappeared and it feels like bits of the building are now breaking off and rapidly crumbling away. Some people might say, the scaffold is still there, I just can’t see it right now because I am not looking in the right place; either way, my sense of things is that the building is breaking and it might completely fall down if I don’t get that frame back in place soon.

I wish it felt less desperate.

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Lots of people don’t like Mondays. Monday signals the start of the working week, the end of the weekend, and a stretch of time until the next rest period. For me, however, Monday is the day I hang on for each week, the day I look forward to, the day where I can go and be myself for 50 minutes and have someone listen to me and help me work through my issues (and man there are plenty of those!). It’s more than that, though. Of course, it’s partly about having a meaningful chat and unloading some stuff with a safe and empathic person but it’s about taking some important stuff in, too.

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Monday signals the day that the young parts get to physically see that my therapist/their attachment figure is ‘still there’ that she hasn’t ‘disappeared’ or worse, ‘left me’. It’s the day where I try and top up that supply of care and love and nurturing that leaks away each week between sessions.

Therapy consists of various types of work for me but so far as the attachment stuff goes: 1) is trying to refill my leaking bucket and 2) patch the holes that are in the bucket to stop the leak from happening in the first place. I’m talking just about the need for care and love and my inability to hold onto any sense of it. Of course we do lots of other work too. But right now I’m stuck in the shitty attachment spiral and so, of course, that’s what I am going to talk about today.

Sometimes I manage quite well in the week: the holes my therapist and I plugged in session hold reasonably well and so there is a slower trickling away of the content of my bucket. I feel ok-ish. I miss her, yes, but I can get through the week because there is still some ‘evidence’ of her care left in my bucket and I can see proof that we are ‘ok’. Sometimes, I can have a really good therapy session where my bucket gets filled right to the top and so it takes longer for the contents to slip away – these are the better weeks.

Unfortunately, on breaks I am onto a losing streak because despite plugging holes and filling up the bucket to the brim in preparation for the holidays, there are still areas of the bucket that leak. A longer period of time without a mend and refill opportunity means the bucket has more time to empty out. It gets even worse though, because the bucket is pretty empty there’s a great deal of slipperiness on the floor around me. When I’m approaching the desperate stage where my bucket is nearly drained, it’s not uncommon for me to slip and slide about, lose my footing altogether and then eventually fall on my arse, drop the bucket and lose all the remaining content I have been trying so hard to protect….

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I apologise for the long and winding metaphors today!…essentially, I am shit at breaks, I miss my therapist and I can’t maintain a sense of her.

Ugh.

Shoot me now!

To be honest. I don’t really have much to say other than I am struggling a lot. I know this is not an insightful or interesting read. It just is. It’s how I feel. I am moaning and whiny. I am stretched and struggling. I am very aware that the mother wound is starting to seep through my layers of clothing. To the untrained eye it’s barely perceptible, but for me…well, I’m exposed now.

I am going to try and patch myself up, keep calm and carry on. I cannot afford to sink down into that place where anxiety and depression lie in wait because I know who else is down there…and right now I don’t have the strength to battle the Critic. There’s still 17 days to go of this break and so right now I am trying to dig deep. I need some resources to stop the bucket emptying and the walls from disintegrating.

I’m going to go and grab my pebble and shove it over one of the holes in my bucket to stem the flow, or shove it in a weak part in the wall of my building to replace a crumbling part.

‘When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I.’

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Pebbles: The Transitional Object

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‘Small round hard stones click

Under my heels’

This is the opening of Tatamkhulu Afrika’s poem Nothing’s Changed, a poem I used to teach my GCSE students back in the day. The lines came into my head just now as I was thinking about the title for this post. For the longest time, ok, since September the words ‘Nothing’s Changed’ could sum up my predicament with the pebbles (and that’s about as far as the link to the poem goes I’m afraid!).

For those of you who aren’t up to speed with the ‘pebbles saga’ I’ll recap a bit in this post. Apologies, but this is a real ramble but I feel like I need to get it down because this blog is really just my therapy diary and the pebbles have been a big thing… ugh!…

It’s no secret that that I really struggle with therapy breaks; they have long been a stumbling block for me. It’s hard enough maintaining a sense of connection to my therapist between sessions but anything longer than a week without contact and the wheels start to fall off in a big way; the child parts have an epic meltdown (attachment pain sets in and I feel abandoned and rejected – oh and desperately sad and alone). It’s not much fun at all. My adult self is left holding the baby in a completely clueless way! It’s not lost on me that I can love and nurture my own kids but when it comes to my inner child I am utterly useless.

Sigh.

Last summer break was a bit of a shambles (bit of an understatement). Before the break I had told my therapist how difficult disruptions to the therapy felt and how much I was dreading the holiday this time. I’d never let on before how terrible breaks have felt. I’d suffered my way through the previous summer break and a disastrous Christmas one but knew I couldn’t go into another one and be ‘fine’. I plucked up the courage to ask if she could maybe send me a text with a message to help me feel connected to her over the break. She did. Phew! I’d been sweating about asking her for something like this for months (overthinking it!) but when it came down to it, it was fine…like so many of these ‘things’ I am scared to talk about! – I will learn eventually!

Unfortunately, though, despite asking my therapist and her trying to meet the need, the message just didn’t work! She sent me a text with a visualisation to do. I was supposed to imagine us together in the room and my letting out whatever was bothering me and then picture her responding in an understanding and caring way. The visualisation didn’t work because the parts that need her reassurance and care when I can’t see her are very young and the wording, indeed, the exercise just wasn’t pitched to the parts that needed it…the parts that need her.

I’ve moaned/talked about this episode in detail in another blog post so won’t bang on about it again here!

I’ve noticed as time has gone on, that any time I am asked to ‘imagine’ something, like the young ones being held it puts my back up. I don’t want to have to ‘imagine’ anything. I want the reality. I don’t want to have to imagine my adult holding the distraught child (yes I know I’m going to have to accept this is how it’s going to be…eventually!) but right now I want my therapist to do it for me. Ugh! And so when she encourages me to hold things for myself it somehow feels rejecting and like she doesn’t care.

(Look I make no bones about the fact that my rational side is not in the driving seat so far as my therapy goes!…and that’s why I need the therapy.)

When push came to shove I was unable to picture my therapist in the visualisation she’d crafted (and man I really tried! I wanted to do the homework right and for the result to be that breaks would feel a little easier); all I could picture was me sitting in the room and staring at her empty chair (I literally cannot hold her in my mind at all).

The little ones’ anxiety ramped up day after day, week after week. I kept trying to zone my mind into the room and put my therapist there with me but it just didn’t work. The further break went on the more the horrid attachment pain activated in me, and the shit started to hit the fan. I felt so alone. I felt abandoned. I felt like the relationship was worthless and a sham. I didn’t want to believe any of those feelings but when I have no concrete evidence to prove otherwise it’s amazing what a good job the Critic can do of undermining the therapy and the therapeutic relationship.

It’s awful that holiday periods feel more about survival than rest and recharge for me – and for a lot of us who struggle with this developmental trauma stuff. When I was a teacher I really looked forward to the long breaks and now I absolutely dread holidays! I’m glad that my therapist is looking after herself (kind of ;-)) and I wish that in this time I could also take a break from the therapy and live normally without my issues dragging along with me. Sadly, it’s just not how it is. The moment my therapy is disrupted by a break it’s all about ‘digging deep’, ‘hanging on’ and ‘counting down’… only 21 more days to go now….AAAARRRRGGGGHHHHH!!!! Shoot me now!

Last year, I came back from the summer break feeling desperately sad and disconnected and a bit angry (hello teen!). When I finally built up the courage, three sessions in, and told my therapist how bad things had felt over the summer and how badly the visualisation had missed the mark, she suggested that perhaps it might help if, instead, she wrote something to me on a card so that I had something physical to take with me to remind me of the relationship and connection when I can’t see her – a transitional object of sorts.

Whilst the young parts of me longed for something to cuddle, like a teddy or something soft, adult me was happy enough with her idea because words are important to me and so I felt like this could be a good stepping stone to help me move forward. Having something personal from her, in her handwriting would surely help me to keep her in mind when everything was beginning to spiral. Ideally it’d also help me trust that she cared when the Critic goes all out to undermine the relationship. That was the idea anyway.

I left that session feeling positive and motivated that, perhaps, finally the time between sessions and, even more importantly, on breaks might start to feel a bit less awful. The next week I came to therapy armed with two pebbles (from the beach where my therapist lives) and a sharpie pen.

My idea was that she could write the message on a pebble; it’d last longer than a card and it would have an additional significance because I already collect pebbles. To have something in my collection from ‘her’ beach might feel even more connecting – or that’s what I thought! In addition to all this it would be something physical that I could hold in my hand. I thought it was a good idea. She seemed to think so too.

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It all seemed so simple…

Only this is where ‘simple’ ground to a resounding halt and everything suddenly grew very very complicated. It’s been a real fucking mess, actually. It’s been a nightmare of tangled, fraught, communication/miscommunication and has been the catalyst for a load of my issues about feeling unlovable and unworthy play out. It’s been horrid and has really upset me. I mean it’s literally sent me to attachment trauma hell and stirred up every bit of agony I’ve been in holding for years.

Ouch.

It’s certainly not been ideal these last six months! I can step back now (sort of) and say that what’s happened is all part of the process. I can see that we’ve done so much work as a result of the pebbles on our relationship and on my deep-rooted issues.

I won’t lie, though, there’s a part of me that just wishes it could have gone easier at the beginning. I was already hurting, feeling lost, alone, and unsure of the strength and quality therapeutic relationship before ‘Pebblegate’ but the experience of the last six months has made me feel like I had been completely cast adrift. I can’t count how many times I’ve sat and wondered if I would even be able to work with my therapist much longer or whether I needed to walk away…I did go and see another therapist after the rupture at Christmas.

Painful stuff.

Really excruciatingly painful stuff.

I am usually really good at looking at things objectively. I am the ‘go to’ person for my friends because I see things from different angles and can see the wood for the trees. Unfortunately, I don’t seem able to extend that skill and rationality to myself when looking at how things are in the therapeutic relationship. I frequently view everything through a lens that distorts what’s actually in front of me – or rather gives me only a single view when usually, in life, I can see a kaleidoscope of colours and images.

In the therapeutic relationship I come at things from a traumatised, emotionally neglected child’s perspective. It’s no wonder, really. There has been huge deficit in holding and containment as I’ve grown up. My mum has been both physically and emotionally absent for a lot of my life and then, in my teens, when I lived with her, she became emotionally abusive. I guess once she and my dad has separated the rage had to go somewhere. I can’t tell you the amount of times the words, ‘I wish you’d never been born!’ have been screamed at me.

So, when it comes to relating to my therapist things are tricky. A whole load of maternal transference has been thrown in the melting pot and whilst I desperately want to believe that she (my therapist) cares for me and is safe because I do absolutely love her and want her to be reliable and safe for me, there’s a huge damaged part, or should I say, lots of damaged younger parts that approach the relationship with a pre-existing narrative #MotherWound. They can’t simply trust that she has positive feelings towards me. They believe that she is going to follow the script that my mother wrote all those years ago. they think that my therapist is only ‘tolerating’ me because I am paying her to do so. I am a burden to her. I am too needy. The relationship isn’t genuine. And if she had her way I’d just disappear. I am not wanted and I am not worthy of her time and care. It’s only a matter of time until everything blows up in my face.

It’s going to be hard rewriting that script when it’s been practised so many times over the years. I am word perfect now and as much as I am sick of repeating the same lines over and over again, it is difficult to believe that there may be an alternative version that could be enacted now instead of this damaging play I am stuck in. It’s hard to see that the person opposite me is not, in fact, the person who I’ve been acting this stuff out with for the last 35 years. I have placed my therapist in the role of the understudy and we are continuing with this drama, but actually, maybe now is the time to write a whole new script, a whole new play, and give space to all the parts that need to be seen with my therapist playing herself rather than my ‘stand in’ mother.

I guess over time this will start to happen more and more because there is a lot of the time when I can see my therapist for who she is; the problems only arise when something vulnerable or triggering comes up and then I am thrown back into the trauma response.

Anyway, back to the pebbles!

It’s been challenging to say the least. In the last few weeks my therapist has been asking me about the pebbles in every session and what we are going to do. She told me that she was happy to write something about her caring about me on them but had wondered if that would feel genuine enough for me? I’ve been completely thrown through a loop with this word ‘genuine’ for the last few months since she said it. When she’d mentioned about the message needing to feel genuine, I’ve heard that as her not wanting to write something she didn’t feel to be genuine for her, and therefore she couldn’t/wouldn’t say she cared about me on them.

However, when we finally unpicked things after I sent my mammoth ‘let it all hang out’ email the other week, it turns out she meant she wanted things to feel right for me, and that whatever she wrote should feel believable to me because I have such a hard time accepting anything positive from her. I automatically disbelieve her kind words and caring words or assume there’s a price attached to them — enacting that old script again. She didn’t want what she wrote to feel like she was just doing it to appease me. Basically she wanted it to be right and was aware that there was a lot of emotion tied up in all this.

Hallelujah! That is exactly what the young ones needed to hear. She cares and she wants the transitional object to be right.

The thing is, we’ve kept dipping back into this topic for the last few sessions and sometimes there’s someone else engaged not just the parts that trust her! When she asked me about when we were going to do the pebbles in the Skype Session we had the other day and being conscious that the break was fast approaching, I was pissed off. Not at her. I was cross that I couldn’t see her in person due to being snowed in. I was angry that I didn’t have any real privacy. And I was frustrated that the young ones weren’t able to connect properly. In those situations the teen steps up. The teen doesn’t need pebbles. She doesn’t need anyone. She can see how sad the little ones have been through the whole sorry saga and she is fucked off about it.

So in response to my therapist’s question about the pebbles, I told her that part of me just wanted to throw them back in the sea and give it all up because it’s been a fucking nightmare! She said that she understood that there was a part who was frustrated and had given up hope but that there were others who maybe still wanted something good to come from them. I conceded that this was the case, and we agreed we’d sort things out in our last session – Monday.

Last Sunday my family and I went to the beach – not my therapist’s beach, but one a few miles down the coast – also a pebble beach. The kids were throwing pebbles into the water, we made some cairns, and I came across a lovely pebble. It was an usual stone with a band round the middle…perfect for a message. I decided at that point that I would find some words, write them on the pebble, and give it to my therapist on our last session. I sometimes get these impulses to give her things or write to her!…and then freak out when the time actually comes to hand stuff over. lol.

I spent a while searching the internet for ‘good’ words on Sunday night. And finally alighted on these (this is not the actual pebble):

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‘When my heart feels overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I.’

I instantly loved them. Some of you may recognise these words as a psalm. I am in no way religious, indeed, I struggle with the church and the idea that I am somehow not good enough to be part of the fold because of my sexuality. To many I am merely a sinner to be tolerated (oh and there’s a wonderful story about at trip to Tennessee in there but I’ll save all that for another time!!). Frankly the church can go do one if that’s the truth! But still, these words are exactly right for what I wanted to say and reflect what I need and how I feel. So I used them.

Fast forward to Monday…and my last session before the break…

I sat down and almost instantly got out the perfect pebble and explained how I had come to find it on the beach, why I had decided to give her it, and how I found the words. We spent some time talking about it and then she asked me if we should sort out my pebbles that have been sitting on that shelf for six long bastard months (not her words obviously! Lol!).

I agreed, and then, something strange happened, but then on reflection it wasn’t strange at all because it’s what I do…

I broke with the plan we have been coming up with for all this time and told her that I wanted her to write those same words, the psalm, on my rock. And I did want that. Sort of. But I didn’t too. It’s hard to explain what happened but I think part of it was this: she had responded so positively to the stone and the words that I had chosen for her that I didn’t want to lose that ‘nice’ feeling and vibe that was in the room – the feeling of connection.

I didn’t want to suddenly descend into the difficult stuff that has plagued these stones for so long. I didn’t want it to feel awkward. I didn’t want a disaster to come about from all this heading stuff into the break. I didn’t want to leave empty handed again. And I do like the words… a lot. They are meaningful. I felt that they were good enough…at the time.

Only now I feel like I have compromised on what I really wanted from these stones, from the transitional object, and that was something direct from my therapist about how she feels about our relationship and how she cares about me. I wanted something personal and ended up with something adequate but not quite right. She’ll have no idea that this has happened.

When she had finished writing on the pebble she said that we should come back to it after the break and talk about how it is for me – i.e whether it does or doesn’t work to make things feel better during the break. I know that I need to tell her what the process was like last week and how I ended up not asking for what I really wanted for fear of leaving feeling disconnected. I think it’s important to do that. But, now, I am worried that she might feel like she can’t get anything right and get frustrated with me (totally my projection).

You see ‘getting it wrong’ is becoming a bit of a pattern. I asked for a text last summer, she did what I asked, and then I threw it back at her as not being good enough – I couldn’t do the visualisation and picked her words apart one by one. Then I text her at Christmas in distress, she replied because she cared, and yet because her words didn’t give me exactly what I wanted we ended up having an almighty rupture. And now this. I told her I wanted particular words on the pebble, she wrote them for me, and now I have to go back and say it missed the mark. She keeps trying to meet my need and yet for whatever reason it’s not quite working for me. At what point will she say that she gives up?

Anyway, I feel like I have exhausted ‘Pebblegate’ for now!

I will say this, though, despite not quite getting the right words on the pebble it does still feel soothing (a bit) to finally have it with words in her handwriting. It does help me feel connected to her because I can remember being in that session with her and others recently where I have had a positive and connecting experience with her…and that in itself reminds me that there is a genuine and caring relationship between us.

It remains to be seen whether this memory bank will be accessible to me, if, when the little parts start really freaking out. I already had a bit of a wobble last night talking with a friend so I am very aware that the attachment stuff is not very far below the surface right now.

Still, for now I have a small round hard stone in my hand and some lovely words on it…I’ll take that as a win for now. Things are changing!

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When The Critical Voice Takes Hold.

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I don’t know why I am so surprised that the Inner Critic has decided that now is a good time to show up and get super vocal in my head. I mean, let’s face it, the Easter therapy break starts on Monday and any time there is some kind of emotional upset or disruption on the cards it never fails to jump in quick and take control in the only way it knows how: by attacking me. It’s not as though this hasn’t happened before; it’s an established pattern. Sigh.

So maybe ‘surprised’ isn’t quite the right word to describe how I feel about the rapid return to power of my least favourite part. Maybe ‘disappointed’ is a more accurate reflection of how it feels to have that nagging voice taking over my brain again. Don’t get me wrong, the Inner Critic never truly goes away; it’s always there inside me waiting, as if on standby, for whenever things feel difficult. It’s just, lately, I’ve felt as though the adult has been able to manage the taunts from the angry one a little better, and so it’s unfortunate that the centre won’t hold now.

The Critic sees itself as a protector, the best, and feels it does a smashing job in its role; only I recognise, these days, that it feels less and less protective and more and more destructive… and that’s why I am disappointed. I am so aware of my coping strategies now; not only do I have awareness of them, importantly I know what triggers a descent into not eating and/or self harm.

I have tried really hard to keep in my adult head and talk with the critical voice, listen to what it has to say, and try and accept it. I try and tell it that whilst I understand what it’s saying, I’ve got this, and we don’t need to go on the attack anymore. That’s all well and good most of the time. If things are reasonably settled for me (ha! Remind when that was again?!), the Critic keeps a reasonably low profile. Rather than running the show full time, like it used to, these days it just takes on some consultancy work here and there – generally when the big shit starts to fly!

What constitutes ‘big shit’?: anything that feeds the attachment trauma stuff – so right now that is the therapy break; anything that makes me doubt myself and my ability – recently it was returning to tutoring; anything that leaves me feeling negatively judged – ummm not sure about this; oh, and CONFLICT, let’s not forget conflict!

So here’s the pattern that is repeating itself AGAIN now- it’s all about the therapy break and insecurity in the therapeutic relationship:

    1. The Child parts feel anxious and scared. They fear a real abandonment and annihilation as my therapist is about to go away. They scream and scream incessantly and it feels difficult. For a period of time adult me can cope with this because it’s not a lot different to how it is between sessions. It takes a shit tonne of energy and I feel powerless to make things better for the little ones as the reality of a protracted amount of time without therapy hits home. I can make it through a week but I can’t do four weeks on my own.
    2. The Adult reaches saturation point and a thick fog of depression sets in making day-to-day living incredibly difficult. It’s barely functioning, bare minimum, and totally draining. Basically it’s hell in my head. I feel hopeless. I feel pathetic that after so much therapy that I can’t find more resources to cope with things in a helpful way. I want to contain the child parts but they just don’t want me. They don’t even know who I am.
    3. The Inner Critic is alerted to what’s happening. It knows that I can’t wallow in self pity forever; I have to get on with life. I have to function. So it wades in. It will not allow a return to the needy child state because that will only result in more depression and repeating the cycle. It threatens them and tries to shut them down.

So the Critic, in its infinite wisdom takes charge and here’s how:

The Inner Critic is bit like one of those army boot camp guys you see on TV. It has a fixed plan and it’ll shout at me to ‘motivate’ me to do what it wants. I think the intention is good: ‘you need to get up and start participating’; it is a protector part, after all. The problem lies in how the ‘participation’ is achieved. It’s not good. The Critic whilst well-meaning at the start has become a bit of a sadist:

Look at you! For god’s sake, it’s pathetic. It’s no wonder you always get left. Needy. Whining. Woe is me! No one is interested in that. Grow up. For fuck’s sake! I go away for a few months and look at you! What did you do? Eat the entire McDonald’s menu every day? Fuck. It’s disgusting. How can you let yourself get like that? Don’t you ever learn?…’

Essentially it gives me a right bollocking, tells me I am worthless, and bullies me into action. That action isn’t simply ‘get up and do your best’ or ‘be gentle with yourself. It’s tough now but you’ve got this. Breathe and take it minute by minute’. If only it were that simple! Oh no. The price I pay to be able to function, to find the necessary energy to get on with life, is by attacking my body in various ways.

Yep. It’s mental. I won’t lie. It fills me with shame and embarrassment.

I really don’t feel good sitting here typing about this when I am now 35 years old. (I’ve written before about whether it is actually possible to really recover from self-harming behaviours). Sure, in my late teens and early twenties it wasn’t great, either, but it felt marginally more acceptable to be in the throes of an eating disorder and battling against the desire self-harm back then. Somehow it feels way less acceptable to be a proper adult with kids and still dealing (or not dealing) with this bullshit. I should, surely, by now have found a way out. And that’s the thing. I feel shit and then I beat myself up for it over and over. It’s a vicious cycle.

Great!

In my last post I said how I was in stuck in a depressed state and also suffering with being ill. I have a stinking cold and feel rotten – even now. The sensible thing to do would have been to go back to bed after dropping the kids at preschool and school on Thursday. It would have been a good idea to try and rest and recharge a bit. Recover!- you know, do some of that self-care business that I am utterly pants at.

The thing is, when my head is in that horrid, bleak, depressed place I just want to get away from it. I feel so utterly awful and defeated that I can’t bear it. Lying in bed trying to rest with panicked thoughts about the month that lies ahead as well as feeling the pressure to have ‘a good connecting last therapy session on Monday’ would’ve only sent me into an anxiety attack and I really didn’t want that to happen again after what happened at Christmas. I am so conscious of not having some huge meltdown and then creating some disaster (rupture) with my therapist as we head into the break.

So I didn’t sleep or relax on Thursday, instead I allowed (did I? doesn’t feel like ‘allowing’), ok, maybe succumbed to the demands of the Critic in exchange for some functionality – some energy – an escape.

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I had looked in the mirror in the morning- as you do- and had seen nothing but faults. Everything was wrong. I felt fat. And fat is not something I handle well especially when I am going to be in a swimsuit on holiday in two months time. Stupidly, I proceeded to get on the scales (whhhhyyyy???) and as suspected I have put on weight in the last week (birthday cake and chocolates hasn’t helped!)- I already knew this. I can feel it when I put my clothes on. I can see the cover of fat over my tummy that is never usually there.

There it was on the scales, confirmation that I’d ‘properly let myself go’: 47.6kg. Not acceptable (in my mind at least). I am 168cm which is neither short nor tall – it’s just average and so I really shouldn’t be concerned about my weight at all yet… but anyone with a history like mine knows what feels ok and what doesn’t. I am in the ‘what doesn’t’ bit now. Whilst the BMI calculator tells me I should be aiming for a weight somewhere between 52.2kg-70.8kg (70.8kg Really?!) I know that it’s never going to happen. I freak out at 48kg…ok, I clearly freak out at 47.6kg too.

The sad thing is, I can eat well, normally even, for quite a period of time, I dare to believe that I am over the eating disorder… but before long a switch flips in my head and I stop eating right. I can’t sustain it – especially when I feel emotionally on the brink. On Thursday, despite the streaming cold, I got on my treadmill to tackle my body. Yeah, I know…

I haven’t done any running since that pigging chest infection took hold last September (finally gone!) – but despite that severe break in exercise it didn’t stop me hitting a straight 50 minutes work out – oh and on an empty stomach. I was doing intervals of 8 minutes running, then walking for 4, and repeating – not really very much when I have previously been used to solid running outdoors for 10km+ every other day but it’s clearly not sensible when poorly. I (adult) know this but I wasn’t available yesterday morning. I was gagged and bound in the corner along with all the vulnerable parts.

My friend and I were chatting on Whatsapp whilst I was on the run – and in the end she refused to talk to me until I got off the treadmill. She could see the Critic was front and centre – and she doesn’t like it (neither do I)! I did stop running in the end and had a shower but had it not been for my friend coaching me through what was going on I would’ve stayed there another hour, easily.

Unsurprisingly, my body crashed shortly after and I spent an hour lying on my bed. Idiot. I’m not sure where I am going with this really. It’s so hard to think about it when I am caught up in it. I know that not eating and over exercising is not a good combination. I know that under-nutrition ends up negatively effecting my mental health. I know I become obsessive. I withdraw. I feel suicidal. I get it. I have been here a million times before.

I know, too, that this is all a reaction to the upcoming therapy break. I feel mortified that that is the case. I hate that I can’t handle my emotions better than this. I can’t stand the overwhelming feelings that come up around therapy breaks. I mean it’s pretty dire in the week between sessions but compared with how it feels right now that separation anxiety is just about manageable. But when there’s a break it feels like I am thrown slap bang back in the thick of the trauma of childhood: I am always left. I don’t want to be left. No one is there. No one cares. I am alone. I am scared. I need an adult and no one ever comes. …. and that’s how it feels.

Don’t get me wrong. I do totally understand I am a grown up now. I am not that child anymore. I have resources and a level of resilience that little girl didn’t have. I need to work harder at remembering that and keying into my strengths… but I do try. I try hard every day to keep on keeping on. I don’t know what the hell else to do now. And despite having a high-functioning adult, the little girl is still there inside me. For her having the new attachment figure disappear activates all the feelings that she suppressed back then when mum disappeared in the week.

I really want to be able accept those feelings and nurture that little girl  but sometimes her fear and emotional pain feel too much and so because I can’t settle or soothe her, I suppress her in the only way I know how. It’s the only way I know how to survive.

In addition to this, having had my dad go abroad on a month long holiday and die there when I was 25, there’s a very real adult anxiety operating simultaneously around breaks. Sure my mum would go away in the week when I was a kid and it would feel like an impossibly long amount of time between Sunday and Friday; but my dad went on holiday and he came back as a box of ashes alongside his backpack and diving gear. I can’t even begin to explain what that is like. I am terrified that my therapist will go away and never come back.

Not eating, exercising to the extreme, and self-harming are not the answer to this problem, I know that, but right now it’s all I’ve got.

I guess I need to really talk to my therapist on Monday about this stuff. We’ve been discussing these kind of behaviours in the last month or so but I haven’t told her that it’s an active thing – because it hasn’t been until now. It was a problem at Christmas but once we repaired the rupture it’s been largely ok. I’ve had the odd couple of days here and there where I have restricted what I eat when I’ve felt stressed but generally it’s been pretty good – although of course I am not the right ‘healthy’ weight so I guess you could say it’s not all that good.

I find it much easier to tell her about not eating and self-harming when I am not engaged in it. When I’m not eating and being self-destructive in the here and now I hide and I push her away. That’s the Critic’s input. It’s all about secrecy and keeping people out. But I need to reach out of this place, don’t I? I know that my therapist can’t fix this for me. She won’t be able to make it stop. But I hope that if I can find the courage to expose this, and let her see me when I am actually suffering, she might at least be able to make me feel less alone with it and maybe reassure me that she will come back.

I hope that on Monday we will be able to talk to all the parts that are struggling, the Critic included, and find some way of helping me get through the next four weeks because right now I can’t see how it’s going to happen.

I absolutely hate therapy breaks!

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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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Crisis of Confidence: When Will I Feel ‘Good Enough’?

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It’s a bloody battle in my head right now; so many parts are activated and playing up! I’m (well a dominant part of me at least) having a bit of a crisis of confidence at the moment and this is fuelling the internal anxiety fire in a big way. I’ve been feeling pretty overwhelmed and useless these last couple of days – which was not helped at all by my inability to talk about what I wanted to in therapy on Monday – and got stuck in procrastination mode for most of the morning.

For those of you who don’t know, back in the days before I had kids (also read ‘when I was young and vibrant’) I was a secondary school English teacher (Oi you! Don’t judge the poor writing, spelling, punctuation, and grammar!). I went back to work after my maternity leave when I had my daughter but resigned almost immediately. My little girl was really unsettled in nursery and was so upset that she would wake every half hour through the night crying; all that would settle her back to sleep was breastfeeding.

I was completely knackered after a month of being up pretty much all night and we felt terrible seeing her so distressed. It’s heartbreaking to see a baby in distress and to know it is you that is causing it. We found a childminder who could do one day a week and my wife took days off on leave each week to reduce the time our daughter needed to be in childcare but things weren’t right and it was just horrid.

The last thing I ever want for my children is for them to feel alone or abandoned – I guess that comes from being all too familiar with those feelings myself. Our confident and happy little girl was not herself at all. People said ‘she’d get used to it’ and ‘to give it time’, but I think you need to trust your instincts as a parent (and as a human being) and do what feels right to you.

I know a lot of people thought I was insane when my wife and I made the decision that I would take some time out of teaching whilst we had our family in order that I could be at home with the kids. I know they thought we were being soft and pandering to a grumpy baby. But I know that little girl better than anyone and she was not ok. She was not a fractious baby and she was a good sleeper – until I went back to work. I know what it is like to be shoved from pillar to post, after school club to childminder, to empty house with a key, and I have never wanted that for my children.

It’s not been easy. Losing my salary has meant life has changed massively. We used to go on big holidays twice a year to 5* hotels – skiing in the winter and sunshine in the summer. I had a new car. I would shop a lot, eat out a lot, just not really worry about money at all.

Since I stopped work the best we’ve managed is basic holidays in the UK in static caravans, my car is falling apart (I actually reversed into a granite post this week so it’s proper fucked now!), and shopping is a thing of the past. Credit cards groan under the pressure but hand on heart I can say that prioritising my child’s needs has been the best thing I have done. Why? Because not only have I done what was right for her, it looked after my needs too. I couldn’t bear knowing my baby was unhappy each day when I left her and knowing that I have a securely attached, confident, little person now is just the best. In fact I have two of them.

Some kids handle nursery with no bother and that’s brilliant, but my kid didn’t. I don’t judge people that put their kids in care at a young age, most people have no choice, and so it seems strange that it is ok for people to judge my choices. As it turns out my daughter took to preschool like a duck to water at three years old and my son has been going since he was two. They are both well-adjusted (if not slightly bloody irritating!) kids. It’s all about timing and knowing what is right for your child. Blah blah. Don’t get me wrong I am not a model parent. I do the best I can – sometimes it’s good enough and sometimes I fall short.

Anyway, that’s enough of that. This isn’t a bloody parenting blog!; it’s a mental health rant! So what’s the story here? I’ve been out of the classroom for five years now. I miss it. I miss the kids. I really miss the money. I miss feeling like I have a purpose other than being a mum (although the fact that I am personally trapped in a perpetual cycle of trying to find a mother in my therapist shows just what an important job being a mum really is). I miss the banter with my colleagues. I miss feeling like I am good at something. Don’t be fooled, though, there’s a great deal I don’t miss: politics, parent/teacher evenings, not being able to pee when I need to, report writing, staff meetings!

For the first couple of years when I left school I did some private tuition for students who were heading into their exams. Then I got sick with Lymphoma and took a break from it all. It’s been two years since I finished my treatment and I very recently (the last month or so) decided it was time to get back into the tutoring. Basically an ex-colleague set up a tutoring agency and was looking for English teachers. It makes sense. I can work around being there for the kids as the work is largely in the evenings. It’s pretty good money for an hour’s work, too.

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Anyway, I dusted off my teacher persona, went and had a chat with my friend, and signed up to share my knowledge with kids again. Ha! Poor little buggers! It’s funny, whilst ‘teacher’ is a hat I can put on with ease, I was really aware of how heavy it feels on my head the moment I put it back on – ok that’s a bit of a shite metaphor but there you are. Whilst part of me loves talking about English and helping kids there is also another part that needs to be great and that is a huge pressure. And yes ‘great’ is the right word.

I am a perfectionist by nature. I like things to be right. I have high expectations of myself but at the same time I am crap crap crap at getting down to work. I am basically a perfectionist with a huge procrastination streak attached. I know why this is. If I don’t give myself enough time to do something and it goes wrong, or I fail, then I can blame it on time management rather and being lazy rather than actually being useless. I am so afraid to fail that I daren’t even really try. How sad is that?

The ironic thing is, I have never failed at anything really. I am capable and competent. A high achiever. But I put myself under a great deal of unnecessary pressure and stress. For example, I always leave things until the very last minute. I didn’t do any research/reading for my Masters thesis until three days before the deadline and then wrote the entire thing from scratch in 24 hours. I was absolutely shattered having not slept.

I was anxious for the few weeks leading into the deadline but it still didn’t feel possible to actually get down to work. It’s always been the same. I sometimes wonder what life would be like if I gave myself adequate time to do things and put myself under less strain? Although part of me wonders if I thrive under pressure and just need to accept I am the way I am.

So, last week was when I suffered a massive crisis of confidence. I was due to see my first student on Wednesday evening and gave myself the day to get sorted. Since I taught last the whole exam system has changed – or the grading has. We no longer have A*-U and instead have 1-9. Same same really. Anyway, I knew that the syllabus this kid was studying was all new and so I would have to find out about the structure of the syllabus and familiarise myself with how the exam papers were set up and what was being assessed and how. Basically, nothing I haven’t done a million times before in my job.

But for some reason on Wednesday morning I felt anxious and panicked. What if I couldn’t find what I needed on the exam board website? What if I didn’t understand the syllabus? What if I couldn’t work out how to apply the mark scheme? What if I couldn’t plan anything useful to teach in my session?…

I literally felt sick to my stomach. It felt like I had loads to do and that I just couldn’t do it. I was frozen. I had no self-belief.

That is fucking insane.

Like literally fucking insane.

I hate that my mind sabotages me like this.

I trained to teach in 2005 and taught for seven years before leaving the profession. I have trained and mentored trainee teachers. All my teaching observations have been either good or outstanding. I used to teach 150 different kids each week of all abilities including those with SEN. I would plan and deliver 23 lessons a week. My results were always great – the kids made good progress. Why on earth would I not be able to make sense of a sodding syllabus and plan a frigging lesson/tutoring session? After all English is always English. It’s the same skills just examined in a slightly different way.

I don’t know what happened.

All I know is that feeling helpless and useless activated the inner child and the inner critic simultaneously. The critic was berating me for being pathetic and incapable telling me I shouldn’t eat and to hurt myself; the little one was screaming that she needed my therapist ‘right nowwwww!’ I ignored the critic and told the child that I understood, and that I (adult) wanted our therapist too but we had to wait until Monday. She didn’t like that at all!

As it turned out, when I did manage to drag myself out from under the duvet, having spent a good while hiding with my soft toy rabbit, I was really productive. I found exactly what I needed, printed out and read everything I needed, and planned some work and made some resources. It was fine. I can do this stuff. Why then do I doubt myself so much?

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The session (teaching, not therapy!) went fine, too. What else did I expect? Or more to the point why would I expect that it would be rubbish and I would be lacking or not up to the job? Why do I have this deep-rooted sense of not being good enough? Everything I have done and achieved over the years has come about through my work and my ability and yet, somehow I feel like a fraud. Part of me is certain that the next thing I do will expose me for who I really am. Someone will see through my façade and it’ll all come crashing down.

Part of me knows that it’s a distorted view of myself but there is another part that is adamant that it’s correct. That part is the one that fears being seen in therapy. I don’t want to be seen and be judged to be lacking, not good enough, inadequate. I want to believe that if I show myself to my therapist that she’ll see something that I simply don’t. It just feels incredibly risky because I don’t think I can cope with having my worst fears confirmed – no matter how unrealistic they actually are.

It’s tragic that, essentially, there’s a little girl inside me that feels desperately unloved. No matter how ‘good’ she is she can never get what she wants- and that is a physical demonstration of her mother’s love and care -her mother’s holding and containment. I have spent my whole life trying to be the good girl in order that I might get my mum to notice me and want to touch me. I have tied my sense of self worth to my academic achievements and being able to be self-sufficient when really my low self-worth comes from feeling unlovable. #motherwound

No matter what I achieve or how high I jump nothing has ever been enough to change how my mum is with me. Sure, she’s proud. And I am sure in her eyes I am ‘good enough’ but the damage to my sense of self was done so long ago that I can’t seem to get out off the track I am on. I can’t divorce myself from the idea that no matter what I do it is not enough to be loved…. and that’s why I am a fucking disaster.

How long is it til Monday? I could really use a therapy session! … but it’s set for blizzard conditions as of tomorrow morning so who knows if I’ll even get there.

This post is really just much ado about nothing!

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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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