Grief (again): 10 Years On

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I’ve been wanting to something here all week but I haven’t felt able to. It’s not because I have been too busy to write (which is why I haven’t been blogging as much as I used to);  sure, I have been running about like a headless chicken, been ill, and been suffering the fall out of some tricky emotions stirred up in therapy last week, but really there’s nothing terribly new in any of that and I still usually find a way to put something on the page.

Arguably, this week, I have had a little more time on my hands than usual because I didn’t work yesterday (mind you I was very ill and even went completely blind for a few minutes so perhaps writing wasn’t really possible!) but still I haven’t been able to find words. I am floundering about now. I can feel it. The feelings are so there but the words just aren’t. It’s like being in therapy on a dissociated day- ffs!

I think it’s maybe the topic that’s the problem.

Grief.

This is not the first time I have written about grief. When my friend died after battling with myeloma last year I posted something, and when my dog died I even rattled a piece off. Both those times the grief was acute and immediate. The feelings were there, fresh, and I could tap into them, skim off the surface if you like. It’s different today.

I suppose, in reality, you could argue that most of my blog talks about grief in one way or another. Essentially, the majority of my work in therapy comes down to grieving losses: sometimes it’s the death of a loved one; sometimes it’s the loss of the image I had of who I might become before I got cancer; but mainly, week in week out, it’s steadily grieving the loss of a mother (my mother as well as the concept of the ideal mother) that I never had. The mother wound is going to take years to get over and heal. I know this.

But this post isn’t about grieving mother (although my next post most certainly will be after the internal shit storm that has blown up after my session this week!). No. Today this is all about the grief surrounding my biggest unexpected loss, my biggest tangible emotional trauma (in the eyes of a normal person – i.e an actual bereavement), the one that still gives me nightmares and accounts of some of the PTSD.

This is about the loss of my dad who throughout my life did his very best to be both mother and father to me. The one who tried to prevent the mother wound being too big, too gaping, too devastating. I suppose, given how bad things are it didn’t really work, but he gave it a damn good go!

I’ve been just about holding it together with my trusty rubber bands and chewing gum this week knowing that today was coming. It’s been a dire week in many ways. I’ve been ready to chuck in the therapy towel because I feel so stuck, so unseen, and so uncared for. I’ve been cycling through various emotions but mainly the two stand out ones are anger and devastation. But I suspect that this is in part because my feelings around my dad’s death were bubbling away underneath and manifesting in that way…I guess I’ll know more after Monday!

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So grief.

It’s really just another word we use for a response to trauma isn’t it?

And trauma is weird isn’t it? (‘weird’ – oh so bloody articulate!)

I know well enough that the trauma I am trying to process from my childhood has a kind of timeless quality. Or rather, my brain can’t readily distinguish between current trauma and past trauma. In therapy, I can be plunged headlong into the feelings I had as a young kid. I lose sense of my adult self and am right back in the moment – even if it was thirty plus years ago. My body remembers.

A similar thing has happened this week and today so far as where in time I feel. Part of me is certainly here in 2018 but part of me is stuck back in 2008 and of course others are further back in my childhood. The parts are all over the place!

Today marks ten years since I received the call that my dad had been found dead in his room by his friend whilst holidaying/teaching diving on a remote island abroad. He’d only been gone three days, literally just arrived there after two flights and a boat ride and had died in his sleep on the first night. He was 47 years old. Massive heart attack.

Even now, despite having had a decade to process this loss. I still can’t fully get my head round it.

Part of it is because I still can’t believe it. I think he’s still there having the time of his life doing what he loved. I know exactly where he was having been on holiday there myself twice with him.

I never saw his body. Not that I think I would have wanted to. He was cremated abroad not in the UK.

It’s complicated but essentially it all came down to the fact that had we have had his body flown back to the UK we would not have automatically got the body released for burial/cremation. A second post-mortem would have been needed and the pathologists over here said that given the body had been in 40 degree heat for over a week before it was moved to the mainland for a post mortem it would not be pleasant for us. We wouldn’t actually want to see the body. We were warned. It wouldn’t be him. Add to that a potential wait of six months for the body to be released to us there wasn’t really very much choice.

So, in the end, I only received a box of ashes and his dive gear a month after he died. The insurance company flew his stuff home to a local undertakers and the undertaker left the stuff out on his driveway for me to pick up as he had gone out. Imagine that. Your dad dies suddenly, you have no goodbye, and you receive a box of ashes and a bag of dive gear from a block paved driveway.

I still can’t even believe it.

How can that be? How can the person that was my rock and anchor be gone, and not only that, suddenly just become some ‘remains’ to be boxed and left outside? I can’t even … ugh.

I miss him.

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It’s weird too. Like, literally, just now I checked my emails on my phone and I have received an email from PADI about diving in Thailand. Like what are the odds? I maybe get a PADI email once a month, perhaps not even, and yet this morning I get one about diving in Thailand on the day my dad died about the place he was set to teach diving for a month. It’s weird how the universe communicates with us.

Actually I can’t talk any more about this today because this was only the beginning  of the trauma that kicked off with my family and led to an eight year estrangement and a complete mental breakdown. I thought writing might help but actually it’s just making it worse today. It’s too raw.

I know I am not especially coherent.

Today I need to take things slowly. I need to rest. I am very aware that I have one foot in the now but also one foot back in the past. I don’t want to be grumpy or short with my family and I’d like to find a way of celebrating his life rather than getting consumed by the horror and the grief of that time a decade ago.

There’s another problem with ‘old’ grief, too…people don’t really get it. They can’t understand why I could be as upset today as I was ten years ago when I found out the news. They can’t understand why I feel sick and need to cry and wail…

But that’s trauma isn’t it? It transcends time.

 

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Rainbow Bridge

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

What’s up?

I am heartbroken.

Devastated.

So very sad.

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ouch.

Grief.

I was going to be alone still.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wanted my life back.

I wanted my dad back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My darling boy is gone and I am bereft.

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Artwork above from: RedandHowling

Skype Session #2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Panic over.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a good session.

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

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

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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?

 

Grief.

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I woke up in the early hours of this morning sobbing violently, again. A dream. It wasn’t a bad one but it deeply touched on that vulnerable place that I have been desperately trying to guard, the place where feelings of loss and abandonment reside. I awoke to find myself physically shaking. I was stone cold. Tears flowed endlessly down onto my pillow in the pitch black. It was not gentle crying, it was full-body, snot-ridden, ugly crying. The physical embodiment of my grief is not in the least bit pretty, it is warts and all, let it all hang out, pain.

Since my friend died last month after battling Myeloma for two years, I have felt unbelievably sad, lost, and empty but have continued to function in my day-to-day. Externally it has been pretty much business as usual. This is partly because I’ve had to carry on, partly because I am in denial about it,  and partly because I know that’s what she’d have wanted me to do. She would have told me to hold my babies tightly, to find joy in the small things, and buy myself flowers (now that she can’t bring me home grown roses from her garden)….and that’s exactly what I have done or, at least, what I have tried to do.

From the mundane to the extraordinary and everything in between I’ve tried to be present and engaged in life because my friend can’t be in hers. She’s gone. Now, more than ever, I feel the pressure of needing to ‘live’ and not just live but live authentically and fully.  I won’t lie, though, truly there are days where even existing has been difficult. I know I put too much pressure on myself. I should give myself a break. I am grieving for goodness sake! And grief is not neat. There’s meant to be five stages I think, but in my experience is looks more like this:

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There is a part of me that longs to have what feels like the weight of the world lifted from my shoulders just for a minute or two. I know. I know. Get over myself. It could be so much worse…I do know that. It’s just for me, right now, it is bad. I am so tired of battling in one way or another – whether it be against myself or with my health. It’s just exhausting. I never ever seem to reach a point where I feel safe and balanced. If my head feels ok (ha, when was that again?) then invariably my body gives up on me. I’m still coughing and spluttering and heading towards the dread of the three monthly cancer check up.

There’s no wonder I am not full of joy or exuding Christmas spirit. How can I be when my friend isn’t here this year? How can I feel jolly when in a week’s time we would have been celebrating her sixtieth birthday over our annual Christmas crafting day (faffing about making pompoms, or jabbing stuff in oasis, or buggering about with PVA glue and tissue paper). It was always the perfect excuse to get together with my collection of older women/surrogate mothers and consume too much cake, too much chocolate, too much mulled wine. A day with giggles on tap.

I could really use a day like that right now. We had planned to do it this year anyway to celebrate our lovely friend but as it’s worked out no one is around because life is like that – people have children and grandchildren to look after etc. Life moves on and commitments come up. I’ve got so much on this next couple of weeks that even I am probably going to have to cancel the coffee and cake in town we had planned in for Wednesday instead of a full craft day. I have to be on an interview panel for preschool.

There’s a part of me that wishes the world would just stop turning for a little while. I want to pause and take time to reflect on what has happened to my friend, and to me. I want to mourn for what I have lost. And yet, somehow in my waking hours there just is no time to. Not only that, I am fearful of letting it out because I know the flow of pain and loss and grief can’t just be stemmed when the clock demands. And there is so much unprocessed grief – my dad’s death still haunts me.

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So because I don’t face it in the daylight, my grief seems to come out in my dreams and then the floods of tears wake me and they just will not stop.

Last night’s dream:

I called in to see my friend’s husband to deliver a Christmas card and see how he was holding up. I found him sitting in the living room, dishevelled and unwashed. He was a broken man. My heart ached for him.

It felt strange being in the house, as though my friend could walk in at any point, her things still dotted around the room, her presence still felt. We talked a little while  and I told him how much she had loved him and how that if there was such a thing as soul mates then they certainly were the closest example of it I have ever witnessed. He cried and left the room.

I sat in the chair that I have always sat in and closed me eyes. My friend’s voice came into my head, ‘darling girl, look after (husband) for me. It’s terrible for him and he’s so blinded by grief that he can’t feel me. I know you miss me but you know I am here. I am always with you’.

So again, it wasn’t a terrible dream. It just hurts. My soul aches. I know that sounds dramatic but that’s how it feels.

I can’t tell you how many times things have happened where I have thought, ‘I must text (friend) to tell her…’ and then it hits me that she’s not here. I can’t tell her that my daughter has lost her first tooth, or that my son did a good job as a king in his nativity, or simply that I feel a bit sad right now and would love to pop round for a cuppa.

The grief of no longer being able to share the everyday is hard to manage.

I know that this loss is also really hard right now because I am just about to start my Christmas therapy break. And so all my feelings about my friend dying are getting muddled up with my therapist disappearing for nearly a month.

I struggle enough feeling like my therapist is really gone (dead) on breaks or in between sessions and I know this comes from various events that have happened in my life: my mum consistently being away during the week when I was little, and then more recently my dad dying three days into his month long holiday in Thailand. So throw in this massive recent bereavement and it just feels incredibly difficult.

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Basically, it seems to work that if people are out of sight for me then I am shitting my pants. It is massively anxiety provoking being away from my therapist for any amount of time because I rely on her so heavily. The idea of her being actually gone (dead) is terrifying for me and that is exactly how it feels when I can’t see her. There’s none of this ‘holding in mind’ stuff, and being able to feel secure in the knowledge that she will be there at a fixed time on a fixed day. It really is just horrendous. I’ve tried to explain it to her but I not convinced she really understands.

This year is even worse than usual because obviously one of my mother figures has actually just died. The one other person (aside from my therapist) who I felt totally got me and accepted me just the way I am is not here anymore. It is devastating.

Tomorrow I am meant to go to my last therapy session of 2017 and somehow get something written on my pebbles to take away with me over the break. I know that in theory they should function as a transitional object and should be better than nothing. Having a tangible, physical reminder of my therapist on something concrete did ought soothe me when it feels bad. The thing is, I am so worried about her not writing something that is adequately holding or containing that I’ll just end up feeling rejected and abandoned by her at a time when I least need to feel that the connection is tenuous.

It’s really hard knowing how to handle it if she starts trying to bring in the adult in the message. Last week she acknowledged that my adult doesn’t need the pebbles and it’s the young ones that need something but I know that it doesn’t always follow that a message to the little ones materialises. In the summer we had a similar conversation before she wrote and sent me a holding text message. It fell so flat because it was worded so formally and didn’t talk to the parts that need her most.

I guess I’ll have to see how it goes. Part of me already feels like I am shutting down in preparation for the break. Part of me dreads going to session tomorrow because it signals the start of a period of time that I know is going to be challenging. There is  also another part of me that desperately needs to go and try and connect tomorrow -to try and charge up that felt sense of connection and holding.

I just wish I knew which part of me was going to show up and sit on the couch tomorrow. If it’s the silent and withholding one then I am screwed…thing is, if it’s the open and vulnerable one I fear that she is also screwed.

Either way, by midday tomorrow I can say that the grief I feel is going to be massive. I hate therapy breaks.

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Ouch.

Not waving but drowning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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What happens when you’re no longer here?

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I said to my therapist on Monday that I felt like the house in The Wizard of Oz when the tornado hits. I feel so up in the air and out of control. It’s as though I am perpetually spiralling all over the place, being battered by high winds and debris… it’s not good and it feels dangerous. I know the house survives the journey to Oz but it’s a bit touch and go whilst it’s being whipped up in a whirlwind isn’t it?

She probably thought I was specifically referring to how I felt about my friend dying on Sunday but I wasn’t. Yes, of course, this recent bereavement has knocked me off my feet to an even greater extent than before but if you read this blog you’ll know that I have been stumbling, tripping and then sliding along on my arse for a good while now. In any case, the ‘being caught in a storm’ metaphor is not new.

Everything has been a mess for a really long time. And yet, I doubt up until the point when I made that analogy she’d have had any idea that that is how I have been feeling more recently.

Since Christmas I’d say that my therapy sessions usually follow one of a few patterns: I fluctuate between speaking round the edges and not hitting the main point, trying to clue her in but feeling too exposed and vulnerable to really spell out how I feel – my body language and facial expressions make it pretty clear that stuff is bothering me, though; sometimes I am so overwhelmed by my feelings that I become quiet and withholding and it’s like we’re swimming through treacle; sometimes I dump my writing on her (letter/blog post/poem) and then retreat into myself as I watch her read my thoughts and feelings and then we try and unpick it all; and sometimes I get so frustrated, raging and upset that my silence is less benign and I wonder what the hell I am doing in a room with someone who simply couldn’t care less about me.

My fear of rejection and/or abandonment makes therapy a really difficult place to be.

But none of that is how I have been presenting over the last few sessions we’ve had. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t enjoy any of those ways of being I’ve listed above, but I do feel like when I am in those states I am in the moment and connected with some difficult emotions even if I can’t necessarily articulate how I am feeling in words. I do get the sense that I am there with my therapist and we can hopefully peel back the layers to get to what’s underneath.

When I am like that I feel like I at least trust her enough to show her in a non-verbal way that things are hard. So I am a bit cross with myself at the moment because I feel like I’ve almost gone back in time to the very early days of therapy- you know, the bit where you meet them for the first time and then steadily try and suss them out over a few months, behave yourself, and don’t show them too much of the crazy!

She commented in session last week that I have been different in the two sessions we’d just had (Monday/Friday). That’s true. I hadn’t taken the vulnerable bits with me to talk because I couldn’t. I had retreated into myself and was trying to go it alone, to an extent. I’ve been sitting neatly in my adult, chatting away like you would to anyone. There haven’t been many long, awkward pauses or any really difficult emotions spilling out. In fact I’d go so far as to say there has been no emotion at all. It’s all been very matter of fact. I’ve been speaking from the rational side of my brain and have been totally disconnected from the emotional part. And yet when I am not in that room it feels like I am drowning inside…

Only the other day I was blogging about how big a deal it would be for me to potentially move away from my therapist and I wrote that highly emotive piece about how it was feeling for me. SHE HAS NO IDEA ABOUT THOSE FEELINGS because I haven’t told her about them! She has no reason to suspect that actually things are no different than they have been in the more gruelling sessions because I’m not showing her any of that. It must look as though the anxiety and depression have magically evaporated. They haven’t. It’s all still there. It hasn’t gone away. It’s just buried. I’ve put my mask back on. For some reason I am not comfortable showing her anything other than my game face at the moment – the one I wear in the outside world.

Despite having been a complete emotional wreck since Friday when I learned my friend was receiving end of life/palliative care and then completely crumbling when I received the news of Sunday that she had died, for some reason I couldn’t stay with those overwhelming feelings and bring that desperately sad and vulnerable part of me into session on Monday. The bit that is devastated and needs support and holding was left in the car. I had been crying the entire journey driving to therapy but my tears promptly dried up as I headed up the driveway to my session. Why is that? Why can’t I let her see that part of me?

The other week my therapist told me that she had an image of an iceberg with lots of bits broken off it come into her mind – that I’m really fragile and precarious. I’ve been thinking a lot about that, and wondering if that is how I am? Isolated, icy cold and unreachable? There’s an irony in this because whilst I don’t at all doubt that’s how I come across, at times, it is the complete opposite of what’s going on underneath ….or maybe it’s that thing, we can see what’s on the surface but about 90% of an iceberg is beneath the surface of the water. I guess we need a submersible or some extreme dive gear!

I also wonder if part of me has been shutting down/backing away from her in the last few weeks because I knew that someone I really love, who I was very emotionally close to, was dying in hospital. Maybe, in some way, I was trying to protect myself from loss. I’ve told her before how there has always been a huge part of me that panics and worries that she is going to disappear. Sometimes it’s a fear of her leaving/abandoning me because I am too much and sometimes I worry that she is actually going to die. It seems ridiculous doesn’t it? But it is how it feels.

The long summer break is always really bad for this as it mirrors what happened with my dad: he was on a month long summer holiday and never came back. It’s awful. I genuinely feel sick the entire summer. Part of it is about her and obviously part of it is about my dad. My therapist has repeatedly told me that she isn’t going to give up on me or leave and that only an event beyond her control would mean our therapy would end. The thing is, death is beyond her control isn’t it? My dad had no control over his death and neither did my friend…and that’s terrifying for me.

And this is why, in part, I have been wittering on about the need for a holding message or a transitional object for such a long time. I am not exaggerating when I say that I operate from a place of high-anxiety in the week wondering if something has changed in the therapeutic relationship or if something bad is about to happen. As far as my brain is concerned, if I haven’t been abandoned yet, then it is only a matter of time. It is thoroughly exhausting.

I guess I should have got my act together and done something with the pebbles I collected from the beach. It’s not as though they haven’t been sitting in the room waiting from week to week. The thing is, I kind of don’t want to do anything with them now. It’s not because I don’t need something to hold on to. I totally do. This week, in particular, has been really difficult and I am struggling to hard to hang on to any positive sense of the relationship right now.

So what’s the issue? Why not spend some time working on and writing on the stones? Well, I don’t want to because I don’t want to have to write them myself. My therapist keeps encouraging me to think about what I want her to write on them,  and whilst I have an idea of the kind of thing I would like her to say, if I have to generate the content then it kind of negates the whole thing for me. It’s like buying and then dictating the message in your own birthday card – whilst the handwriting is someone else’s the feeling and the message is not theirs. They are not in it. What’s the point in that?

The whole idea was to try and create something that makes me feel as though there is something real and genuine between us, that therapy is not just some clinical exercise I put myself through each week, and that maybe she does care about me…because I really have no idea. So I just can’t be bothered with it right now. I feel terrible but this is not making it better, it’s actually highlighting the feelings I have about not being worthy of care and generally being unimportant. The idea of having a transitional object was to try and alleviate these feeling but even getting round to creating it has just reinforced them. I give up.

Maybe subconsciously I have also been withdrawing because I have realised just how caught up in needing my therapist I have become. I’ve said many times now that I feel like I need her just to survive at the moment and that the time between sessions feels like everything is falling apart. It’s not good. I don’t like feeling dependent on someone else because when I am it means that what they do, and how they are, impacts on me emotionally. If I need her then what happens when she isn’t there anymore?

Rather than allowing myself to get closer to her and seek comfort and support in her, perhaps I have been retreating because I can’t cope with the idea of her not being there anymore. And one day that is going to be the case isn’t it? The therapy bubble is going to burst somewhere down the road and I will be on my own again. A pebble isn’t going to change that! Isn’t it stupid, therefore, to get attached to someone that you can’t actually maintain a lifelong attachment to? Isn’t is just ultimately seeking out another heartbreak? Why am I doing that to myself? Why deliberately set myself up for an emotional loss?

I truly hope nothing happens to her and she lives a really full and long life but actually one day she will not be there for me any more just like my dad and my friend are no longer there for me. She may as well be dead when I walk out of therapy for the last time. I know technically I can always go back if necessary, but essentially the idea is that once it’s finished and terminated that is that. End of. Bye bye.

Right now I cannot imagine, or bear to think about, that day….because I am not ready and therapy has a long way to run yet….but it’s almost impossible for me to imagine a day where I will be ok with the idea of not seeing her, not being with her, having no contact.

It makes me feel ill.

It feels like the equivalent of a bereavement and that’s all too present in my mind at the moment. I am keenly aware of how it feels to lose someone. I am in complete denial that my friend is gone, that I have to attend her funeral next week, that I will never hug her or speak to her again. How will I never get a text message ping on my phone? How on earth can that be?

Of course I understand that by the time I get to the end of therapy I should feel differently and by the time we terminate I shouldn’t need my therapist or be impacted by her in the way that I am now. BUT right now I struggle to see how I will ever tolerate not having her in my life. I still can’t accept that my dad is gone. I still need him. It’s nine years down the line. I’m a ‘proper’ grown up with children of my own I shouldn’t ‘need’ my daddy… but I do. And now my friend is gone, and I have plenty of friends, but I need her. I want her.

So tell me please how I will be ok the day my therapist and I are no longer working together…