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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Love Ballad To Your Therapist

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I’ve had a bit of a sense of humour failure of late. I mean I can poke fun at myself no bother at all (although I do wonder a bit if that is really just walking a fine line between being self-deprecating and self-loathing?) but I’ve been really struggling to see the funny side of things out in the wider world. I think it’s mainly stress and anxiety that have knocked my capacity to laugh; I’ve just felt so down in the dumps that I haven’t felt there’s been much to smile about.

In fairness, though, it has been a never ending fucking winter of discontent and I am just not a winter person at all. I hate being cold… and my god it’s been sooooooooo cold lately. I hate not getting out to exercise. I hate feeling GREY! (although I do own a lot of grey clothes…) I just want the sun to come out and to be able to lie on the grass, stare up at the sky and watch the airplanes make criss-cross patterns. Or better yet, just fall asleep in the garden in the fresh air. I love that!

I’ve noted that I’ve become more and more sarcastic lately. Don’t get me wrong, my sense of humour has a huge contingent part of sarcasm and I’m not saying it’s a bad thing- but I feel a little like I’ve become the eye roller ‘oh please, that’s just not even funny’ – and I don’t want to be like that. I do want to just have a good belly laugh and be silly. I want the fun to come back…only I am not sure I know when I actually lost it. I have always been a serious person so actually being silly feels quite alien to me.

So I really have to thank Life In A Bind for retweeting the funniest thing/video I’ve seen in ages last week. I don’t spend much time on Twitter but occasionally an absolute gem turns up on my feed and this is soooooooooo it. So thank you for making me smile LIAB! I’ve shared it with several of my friends who are or have been in therapy and we are in agreement that it’s just utter genius. I really wanted to share it with you guys because I think lots of us who are in long-term therapy or have attachment issues can really relate to this but see the funny side. And man we could use a giggle right?!

I mean of course I don’t really relate to it at all*: I have never freaked out about an upcoming therapy break (ahem – might’ve happened yesterday at the mention of Easter!); pretended that it is not a paid for relationship; googled my therapist; considered how much of a reflection of her the boring grey Skoda parked on the driveway is; wondered what her star sign/favourite colour/phobia is; thought that she is ‘objectively’ attractive!…. I mean that’s just not how I am at all!

*LIE (this is totally me!!)

Anyway, enjoy folks.

 

 

Anxiety and the wrong shoes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why am I anxious right now?

How long have you got?!

Clearly the usual things that bother me are still there:

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Secrets

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Letter to my seventeen year old self.

Dear Seventeen,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think?

Sending you so much love,

X

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I don’t know what to do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hate indecision!

 

 

Solace.

What’s 2017 year been like for me? On balance, there’s been some good, some bad, and a lot of stuff in between. It hasn’t been all cupcakes and rainbows by any means, indeed, it’s been a lot of horseshit and heartache… but that’s life, I guess!

The death of a very close friend/mother figure has shaken me to the core; then there’s been reflecting on (and being overwhelmed by) the last few years since my cancer diagnosis and treatment; finally facing the reality of my childhood and the deficit in love and care from my mother in particular; oh and of course I’ve been steadily edging towards Christmas which basically means freaking out about the therapy break and attachment pain ramping up a notch or five!

It’s not been easy, but then I don’t think life is. The older I get the more I realise that for me, at least, life is about winging it. I might be a grown up now, and a parent, but actually the childhood concept of what an adult is (or should be) is completely unrealistic. I don’t know anyone with all their ducks perfectly lined up.

Perhaps it is just me and my immediate circle of friends but, honestly, it seems to be about making the rules up as I go and holding it together with rubber bands and chewing gum…which is why I chose this blog name!

I don’t really know where this post is going to go, I’m afraid. I have been so busy this last week that I really hadn’t had any time to think about myself until yesterday’s therapy session. So, whilst I know I have stuff to say, this is likely to be more of a stream of consciousness than some well-crafted post…yeah, right, same shit different day then! Business as usual.

Why have I had no time to breathe? Well I am a mum, of course. The run into Christmas with small children is like some kind of hideous military exercise testing endurance and memory set by sadistic teachers who want payback for having to cope with your kids for the last term. The two weeks leading into the holiday is basically designed to send any sane woman (and it is mainly women) over the edge.

In the last week I have been to two nativity plays and a Christingle service (wtf is that about anyway?!). I have sent my kids dressed in non-uniform, muddy winter walk gear, Christmas jumpers, and uniform (all on the right days- win!). I really felt for the poor mum who brought her son to school in uniform on wear what you like day…it was six minutes before the bell and she almost did a handbrake turn in the road to go rectify the wardrobe error: ‘was it in the newsletter?’

I have provided ‘bring and share’ party food for two separate class parties and sat through an hour and a half of mind-numbing (but not mind-numbing enough) children’s entertainment with a room of twenty kids under four before trying to feed them all party food. I was hanging on by a thread on Tuesday and all that got me through the preschool party was some choice WhatsApp messages to a friend!: ‘Shoot me now!’

I have bought and wrapped gifts for ALL the teachers and support staff at both my daughter’s school and son’s preschool. I have basically been some kind of mum robot/Stepford Wife and it is so not me! I really am not cut out for this. I am not PTA material…which is hilarious seeing as I have taken on the frigging Vice-Chair of the preschool committee. Ok, there’s a part of me that can do this stuff well but there is another part of me that wants to hang myself when in that ‘role’.

I’d go so far as to say that I have felt a little Grinch-like lately! And it’s not just because of what I’ve written above. I’ve almost hated the idea of Christmas this year for what it inevitably means for me: a lengthy disruption to my therapy and, therefore, the sense of connection with my therapist disintegrating again (oh the drama!).

I find Christmas stressful because not only is it a time where I am left without that much-needed support from my therapist, but the break in support coincides neatly with being faced with much of what has taken me into therapy in the first place! What a bloody irony!

I feel an immense pressure to play ‘happy families’ with my mother at this time of year. For the last decade she has come to us on Christmas day. These days my relationship with my mum is as good as it could possibly hope to be. Yeah sure, we don’t touch, and there is an awkwardness between us, but I don’t feel like she despises me these days which is how I felt for a really long time.

In fact I (adult) know that she loves me… The problem with this is that there are so many parts of me that are locked in pain from the past that I can’t seem to fully operate in 2017 and take in what’s in front of me now. There are so many desperately sad young parts that feel utterly abandoned that it just stresses me out being around my mum, especially at Christmas.

I know I shouldn’t, but I often find myself longing to be with my ‘therapy mother’ over Christmas and feeling disappointed with the biological version that is in front of me because I become someone else in her presence and it is not me…or the version of me that is emerging. I want to be with the person that makes me feel safe and the person that makes it feel ok to be me. I know that my idealised version of my therapist is not who she really is, but when things feel overwhelming my head and heart run and seek solace in the therapy mother.

I know my mum would be utterly devastated if she read my blog because I think in her eyes things are fine now. She tries really hard. I can’t really criticise the here and now. The thing is, I am not fine about the past yet. I haven’t worked out how to soothe all the hurting parts and until I do I don’t think Christmas will ever be easy.

The other thing that is really hard about Christmas is spending meaningful time with my children. That sounds totally bonkers doesn’t it? What I mean is I find it really difficult knowing how easy it is for me to love my children, to hold them, to tell them how special they are, and to be there for them that it is totally devastating knowing that there are child parts inside me that are still crying out to be loved and held because they never had this nurturing growing up.

It is not a chore for me to love my kids (sure the running around like a nutcase for school is). It is not a bind for me to snuggle them up in bed and read them a bedtime story. It is not a drain on me to listen to them tell me about their day. It is not an inconvenience to be their mummy so why was it so hard for my mum to love me?

Ouch. I can’t even go there right now. #motherwound

Anyway, maybe I have been a bit Grinchy lately but what I will say, is that perhaps my heart grew three sizes yesterday in therapy, or rather the tight tight squeeze on it released a little in session and I feel a bit happier, a bit more secure….or at least I feel that way in the therapeutic relationship which is really all I seem to write about here anyway!

So, yeah, I’ve now finished therapy for the year and am officially on break until the 8th January (Eeek!). Thankfully, yesterday’s session was a good one. I gave my therapist a popup card Christmas card with a snowflake on it that symbolised how our relationship is to me. I had been really torn about whether or not I should actually give it to her and struggled to find the words to put inside it.

The therapeutic relationship is so complex. Although it is a professional relationship it feels so much more than that. I know that for many of us there have been times when our therapists are probably our most trusted relationship and the person whom we feel closest to.

I didn’t sleep much on Wednesday night. I was anxious about handing over the card but I think I was also dreading the fact that it was the last session of the year. The previous session had seen me shut down and block my therapist out which is so often what happens when we approach breaks.

I know that I am not alone in the mental to-ing and fro-ing about gift giving or card giving at Christmas (as well as at other times). I had chosen the card specifically because it was meant to be a keepsake and yet was not obviously a ‘present’. I think my therapist would accept small gifts but from what I can gather she genuinely likes the more meaningful small gestures, i.e a carefully chosen card with thoughtful words.

It took some time to work out what I wanted to say but I ended up writing:

I saw this card and thought of you/therapy/the therapeutic relationship.

Sometimes I feel like being in therapy is a bit like the adventure in Michael Rosen’s ‘We’re Going On A Bear Hunt’:

‘We’re going on a bear hunt,

We’re going to catch a big one.

What a beautiful day!

We’re not scared!

Uh-Uh! A snowstorm!

A swirling whirling snowstorm.

We can’t go over it.

We can’t go under it.

Oh no!

We’ve got to go through it!’

It’s not always easy and I sometimes freeze when faced with  a ‘snowstorm’ or ‘thick oozy mud’. I am beginning to realise that these obstacles are all part of the journey and am hopeful that there will be plenty of beautiful days along the way. I am very grateful that you keep walking alongside me even when the terrain is pretty treacherous.

Keeping on with the snow theme, the snowflake serves as a great metaphor for how I feel in our relationship. The Inner Critic is always so ready to devalue and undermine what there is in the therapeutic relationship (especially when I can’t see you) because it knows that to you I am just one of many clients. I am forgettable just like a snowflake in a blizzard.

However, some people say that each individual snowflake is unique and special in its own way and so it is hard to compare one with another. So this Christmas I am trying hard to remember that actually no matter how many snowflakes there are, to me this one/relationship is special, it is valuable and really that’s all that really matters. 

I hope you have a lovely Christmas holiday and rest well- you surely deserve it just for listening to me.

With love,

There was so much I wanted to say when I was trying to find words for the card and somehow at the same time I was acutely aware of not ‘saying too much’ or ‘being too much’ or ‘overstepping a boundary’ or making her feel ‘awkward’. It’s so difficult knowing where that line is. Although, interestingly, my therapist said something that really stuck with me yesterday and that is:

‘boundaries are not barriers’

I am really going to try and keep that in mind because I have always felt that boundaries are designed to keep me out and stop me really getting close to her but perhaps that’s not the case?

She said something about working on the space between us and the relationship and so I’ll see if I can reframe my thinking about all this stuff over the holiday. I think it is something I want to come back to with her and ask her exactly what she meant.

It felt like we covered a lot of ground yesterday. I won’t go into it all here. I don’t have time and I need to sleep…but we talked about love A LOT. We haven’t done that before and it was really connecting.

Those of you that read this blog regularly know that I really love my therapist, and that’s not meant in some wishy washy ‘fond of’ or ‘warm feelings’ kind of way. I genuinely love her, and as much as it has filled me with intense feelings of shame and embarrassment (not sure that should be ‘has’ – we are certainly not in past tense with this yet!) there is also a bit of me that is beginning to see that it would be a bit bloody weird if I didn’t have feelings for my therapist after all these years!

I met her six years ago now, and although the was a break in the middle we have worked together for three years – nineteen months this time round! Don’t get me wrong. I have all kinds of feelings (positive and negative) about my therapist but yesterday I just really wanted to focus on the positives and the love rather than feelings of loss and abandonment about the break.

I wanted to talk about what there is rather than what I feel is lacking (hugs!). I really wanted to connect and get a sense of the relationship being real and not just something that is one sided and all in my head (which is how it sometimes feels)…and fortunately that’s exactly what happened.

When she read the card she started really talking to me about our relationship, about love, loving feelings, finding a way to make the space feel soothing, her choice to work with me, the fact that she isn’t going away, that the therapy will go on for as long as I need it….basically it was lots of the stuff I really needed to hear. Yay.

Of course, there’s a part of me that always wants more but under the circumstances, yesterday’s session left me feeling about as good as I could heading into a break. I’ve already had a wobble or two since yesterday. Can’t win! If I get the connection and sense of care I so desperately want in session, then moment I am away from her it feels like it disappears and suddenly I have all these little parts totally awake and screaming out for ‘mummy’. It’s really quite sad.

There are other times when feel like my therapist is so walled off from me and the blank screen thing is massively frustrating because I feel like she is holding me at arm’s length. How I perceive her has much more to do with me than how she actually is, though. She is incredibly consistent and warm. I just can’t always see, feel, or take in the care that she gives me. I don’t know what’s worse feeling the ache of the distance or managing the rage of being abandoned!

My own walls can be so thick and my heart so heavily guarded that there are times when there is nothing at all she could say to get through to me. My Inner Critic is massively powerful and persuasive and always ready to tell me that the relationship is worthless and that I am loser for even having feelings about a therapist. Thankfully, yesterday it didn’t come to therapy with me. I left it at home grumbling and bah humbugging!

I’m not sure where the Critic is at the moment, but I would really love for it to stay away over the break. I would like to think that I can just be here with the child parts and find a way to soothe them with gentle reminders that my therapist does care and that she will be back.

I’m not stupid, though. I know how this all works. I’ve been here enough times to know that there is always a calm before my inner storm. I know that the moment the little ones get really activated, really miss her and it is sustained for a few days that the nasty protector will step up. I know it will scare them into silence and make suggestions on how to get away from these feelings: cutting, burning, not eating, terminating therapy. It’s just shit.

Anyway, I’m going offline for a few days as of Christmas Eve. We always try and do a tech black out over Christmas: phones, laptops, and I-pads get put in a box for 48 hours. It’s both refreshing and terrifying disconnecting from the outside world. I think it’s important that we engage with what’s in the room in front of us rather than scrolling through and liking pictures of other people’s Christmases. I don’t want my kids to think that 6 inch screen is more interesting than they are.

This year, in particular, I think it’ll be me that will find this no phone zone thing a challenge whereas usually it’s my wife. The reason for this is because since I have started this blog I have made some really supportive friends. The idea of not being able to check in to ‘scream on screen’ or simply lament how tough it is at Christmas is going to be tricky.

Other than here, there is nowhere else that I let the attachment pain stuff out apart from in therapy (and let’s face it, I struggle to really say how it is there!). I know that this ache intensifies during breaks and so being unable to write about it or get some support from others who ‘get it’ is going to be a trial. I’ll probably binge read blogs on the 27th December! haha!

So as this will be my last blog before Christmas, I am going to sign off for now with this piece, ‘Solace’ by writer and poet David Whyte. It popped up on my Facebook feed the other day and I thought I’d share it because it really spoke to me, perhaps it will speak to you too.

I know I’m not the only one who finds the Christmas holiday difficult. I know there are a lot of you struggling with all kinds of issues right now: rifts with family members, feeling unsettled with therapists or simply just missing them, generally struggling to feel connected and safe with people whom you love and care for, missing lost loved ones. None of it is easy.

I really hope that whatever comes up for you over the next few weeks you can find some solace whether it be in nature, in a pet, in a loved one, art, music, anywhere. I hope that you might find it somewhere deep within yourself. Be safe in the knowledge that you are important and special and loved. You are as unique as a snowflake but like a snowflake, you do not fall down from the sky alone, you are surrounded by others, not the same as you, but not amazingly different to you either.

Merry Christmas x

From CONSOLATIONS: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of EverydayWords.
2015 © David Whyte: and Many Rivers Press

Solace is the art of asking the beautiful question, of ourselves, of our world or of one another, often in fiercely difficult and un-beautiful moments. Solace is what we must look for when the mind cannot bear the pain, the loss or the suffering that eventually touches every life and every endeavor; when longing does not come to fruition in a form we can recognize, when people we know and love disappear, when hope must take a different form than the one we have shaped for it.

Solace is the spacious, imaginative home we make where disappointment goes to be welcomed and rehabilitated. When life does not in any way add up, we must turn to the part of us that has never wanted a life of simple calculation.

Solace is found in allowing the body’s innate foundational wisdom to come to the fore, a part of us that already knows it is mortal and must take its leave like everything else, and leads us, when the mind cannot bear what it is seeing or hearing, to the birdsong in the tree above our heads, even as we are being told of a death, each note an essence of morning and of mourning; of the current of a life moving on, but somehow, also, and most beautifully, carrying, bearing, and even celebrating the life we have just lost. – A life we could not see or appreciate until it was taken from us –

To be consoled is to be invited onto the terrible ground of beauty upon which our inevitable disappearance stands, to a voice that does not soothe falsely, but touches the epicenter of our pain or articulates the essence of our loss, and then emancipates us into the privilege of both life and death as an equal birthright.

Solace is not an evasion, nor a cure for our suffering, nor a made up state of mind. Solace is a direct seeing and participation; a celebration of the beautiful coming and going, appearance and disappearance of which we have always been a part. Solace is not meant to be an answer, but an invitation, through the door of pain and difficulty, to the depth of suffering and simultaneous beauty in the world that the strategic mind by itself cannot grasp nor make sense of.

To look for solace is to learn to ask fiercer and more exquisitely pointed questions, questions that reshape our identities and our bodies and our relation to others. Standing in loss but not overwhelmed by it, we become useful and generous and compassionate and even more amusing companions for others. But solace also asks us very direct and forceful questions. Firstly, how will you bear the inevitable loss that will accompany you? And how will you endure it through the years? And above all, how will you shape a life equal to and as beautiful and as astonishing as a world that can birth you, bring you into the light and then just as you were beginning to understand it, take you away?