Just Say ‘No’…

I feel like I am drowning in my life right now. I am actually fine-ish so as mental health goes…well, I’m probably in a slightly manic phase but actually it’s because my life is absolutely manic right now. I don’t stop in the week…I mean, I literally do not stop from the moment I wake up at 5:30am until I go to bed at 10:30pm (used to be 9pm but I currently have so much to do I can’t even manage my regular bedtime) unless I am in therapy and that’s not exactly ‘relaxing’ is it?

If I am lucky I sometimes grab ten minutes here and there, generally to check in with friends on WhatsApp: ‘Hi! Really busy. Hope you are ok? Will check in later xxx’ and sometimes make a cup of tea that then gets left to go cold on the side (!) but even that is a push.

It’s been relentless this last week and I realise I need to try and make some changes before I hit burnout. It’s time to have another go at implementing those self-care strategies methinks. I am so rubbish at self-care. The moment things get hectic it’s the first thing that falls away when really it’s the thing I should cling to like a life-raft in a choppy sea. I don’t know how to become more mindful about this. Maybe I need to set a reminder on my phone: ‘5 minutes deep breathing’ or something.

I dunno.

Something has to give because a couple of days towards the end of this week it got to five o’ clock and I couldn’t work out why I was 1) Exhausted, 2) Grumpy, 3) Starving hungry… and then of course I realised I had not paused all day. I had been running about like a headless chicken trying to complete a list of tasks that never ever gets any smaller and realised that I hadn’t sat down all day: I hadn’t eaten or even had anything to drink (not intentionally – just no time!). I was completely and utterly shattered by Thursday and kept saying things like ‘Why isn’t it Friday yet? How can there be another day to get through? I can’t see how I am going to manage to teach tomorrow.’ 

The young parts were starting to come online in a big way on Thursday – they were upset (I’d been neglecting them) and I could feel them heading towards complete meltdown (tantrum!). Does that happen to any of you when you’re tired? It feels like when I get very very tired I feel like a toddler or 4 year old who needs to be cuddled, tucked up in bed, and have a story read to me. Sometimes I can do this for myself but at 5pm it’s not even a remote possibility: I have (actual) children to feed, bath, and get to bed, and then the moment that is completed at 6pm I head out the door to go and tutor on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday nights. So not only do I need to keep my adult online for the day but just as things start to feel really precarious internally I have to summon up the teacher until 8pm. I manage it. Of course I do. But it is really draining.

I’m not surprised that I had a proper meltdown on Friday night. The attachment stuff that I feel about my therapist had been there all week (it’s always there!) but that ache and need escalated into something else that night…those young feelings generated full-scale flashbacks of my childhood and being five years old and being left by my mum. It was fucking agony. I reached total overwhelm. My body was in pain and I felt crushed. Oh man. It wasn’t good. I think being so completely exhausted meant that my filter/protective armour was completely gone and all the memories of being little and alone (but needing someone) came flooding in. I know this is where we have been heading in my therapy but made it felt like I had been wiped out.

Monday’s session was actually really good, I think (I can’t really remember – feels ages ago now!). I did something that I have been wanting to do for a long time, but you know me, everything is slow paced with doing new things in my sessions! I took a fleecy blanket with me and wrapped myself up in it. No big deal right? Exactly…but it felt like it was!

I think that the fact that I took a blanket to my session in itself indicates how precarious things have been feeling. I just thought ‘I’m gonna fall apart if I don’t feel soothed – I have to take the blanket’ and so packed it in my bag! I have never taken anything into a session other than pages and pages of writing. I really wanted to take a teddy (that’s how unsettled the young parts are right now) but I wasn’t feeling that brave.  I have to say it made a huge difference to how safe and contained I felt and so I will be making that a regular thing from now on….who knows might even build up to taking the bear in as well….in another 6 years?! haha.

Anyway, it was a good session in person and then I had the week of being uber adult and so when it came to my Skype session on Friday I got locked into that. I couldn’t come out of the coping, busy, ‘stressed but just about hanging it together with rubber bands and chewing gum’ adult. The Skype didn’t work properly either -FFS- and so I couldn’t see my T on the screen. I don’t think that helped me connect. Bloody technology! Grrr!

I spent the entire session talking about work. To be fair work is a challenge. One of the kids I see for home-schooling is a nightmare. I don’t say that lightly. Over the years I have taught some really challenging children but this one takes the cake. All the other children I see in the week I go and just teach and leave it behind when I go home, but this particular child is really difficult with severe emotional and behavioural issues- I don’t seem to teach him- I feel like a parent, counsellor, disciplinarian, coach…but not really a teacher and it’s really really draining. Six hours a week 1:1 with this kind of student is hard work.

I really want to help him but I am fast realising that even with all my years of experience I can’t be what he needs. I have my own children to take care or and my own mental health, too, for that matter and I simply cannot invest any more energy in it or absorb what is being thrown at me (and literally sometimes that is actually having things thrown at me!). I find it hard to switch off from it…and so spent the session talking about that. Which is fine but I could, (and did!), sound off about it to a friend about it. In talking only about the work stuff I neglected the struggling young parts again and so it’s little wonder that Friday night was sooooooo awful.

So what am I going to do/change?

I think one of the key things I need to get better at is saying ‘NO’. Ok, perhaps not shouting it! But just being realistic about what I can and can’t do. I’m generally someone who says ‘yes’ to things even when my head is screaming ‘no’. It’s a hard worn pathway in my brain to try and do meet other people’s needs, often at the expense of taking care of my own. I wonder where that’s come from?! ha!

There are somethings that I absolutely cannot change: my kids are an absolute priority;  work is necessary (to pay for all the therapy I need – lol!) but even that needs some firmer boundaries putting in place around it; the house, of course needs to be kept on top of and we need to eat but there are some things in my life that are a serious drain on my resources (time/energy) that I derive no pleasure from and leave me, if anything, feeling largely pissed off.

For example, last week I lost three hours of my week to doing observations in a pre-school that my children used to attend and a further hour in a meeting with the link school’s headteacher about the next academic year. I am on the committee for that and as a teacher take work closely with the staff and school. I can do it. But. It is unpaid and sometimes I simply don’t have the energy to give anything more of myself. I have another observation booked in next week and then will be interviewing for a staff member in the next couple of weeks. When I wasn’t working it was doable…but fitting it in around my now, too busy life, is too much. After this immediate stuff I will ensure I do less and plan to leave that post in September.

I know this is starting to sound like an enormous moan – that’s how it’s felt this week ‘woe is me’. I know I need to find a way of making some changes because if I don’t remove some of the pressures that are on me it won’t be long before the mental health button triggers and I end up being unable to do anything…and that can’t happen.

I cannot afford to end up in a place where my external world is so chaotic and busy that I start trying to cling onto any sense of control I can muster…which generally means not eating. I can’t go there. I don’t want to go there…but I can hear that voice of the inner critic starting to get louder and so somehow I need to combat that with some serious self-compassion and nurturing – I just need to find some time!

And so on that note I will get off here and go and make a coffee. I like blogging though, and am frustrated that I can’t even find adequate time to write and even more importantly read and keep up to date with everyone else’s posts.

This is my mantra for the week ahead!!

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Emotional Vampires

Isn’t it funny how a therapist can repeat the same thing over and over again over a period several months (or in my case years) and although you understand what they are saying, agree with it wholeheartedly, you don’t really do anything about it? It’s like you get what they are saying, on some level, but don’t then go on to apply it to your life because the way things are now is the way things have always been and you are used to it: ‘it’s not all that bad’.

And then, one day, after treading the same ground again in session, albeit perhaps talking (complaining) about another relationship or area of your life, and about how exhausted and drained you feel, you receive the same response you and actually ‘hear’ what the therapist is saying. You finally take it in, absorb it, and start considering how to make changes based on the information that you have always known deep inside but have been reluctant to do anything with for fear of, what – rejection, upsetting someone?

What on earth am I talking about? (Honestly, after that convoluted mess I’m not even sure now!!) Well, it’s about being mindful of ‘what goes out’ and ‘putting in boundaries to protect yourself’.

My therapist ALWAYS tells me that ‘too much goes out and not enough comes in’ so far as my life goes. I have lots of things plugged in that drain my energy and very little that recharges or replenishes the battery. She is right about that. And sure, on some level this is adult life isn’t it? You grow up, take on responsibilities: work, family life, and friendships all require energy. Sometimes these things seem to take a lot of what you have to offer and both your physical and emotional energy gets drained.

There are some things that you can’t do much about; the house is always going to need cleaning and clothes need washing etc. That’s a bore and unless there’s a magic fairy about to come into my life I have to accept that there are some chores that just have to get done and take a bit of energy. That’s fine.

I also know that often I don’t help myself and I frequently add more and more draining things into my life at the very time I need to be unplugging them. Like, let’s face it, Easter was a complete fucking mess wasn’t it? Not eating and heading down the path of full blown anorexia wasn’t exactly replenishing or rejuvenating. I can’t beat myself up about it. It was what I felt I had to do at the time and is a well-worn coping strategy. It’s not ideal but it’s ok right now. I have found some balance with food and exercise again. That’s not really what I am talking about, though. I absolutely do need to work on my negative coping strategies but there is another area of my life where I can unplug a lot of the ‘drain’.

There are things in life that are unavoidable that drain you but there are some things that ARE TOTALLY AVOIDABLE if you just put in some boundaries about what you are prepared to accept and tolerate… and we all know how big a fan I am of that word! (has my therapy actually worn a path in my brain where boundaries are seen as a good thing…actually yes!).

The idea is that on balance, work, family, and friendships actually give you something back too! No shit Sherlock! When you need someone they’ll be there for you in the way you have been there for them. Relationships are about reciprocity. It’s not fair to be the one that is always taking just as it is not fair to expect someone else to always be the one that gives.

I think this is an especially sore spot for many of us that over the years have sacrificed and hidden our own needs from our narcissistic mothers in order to survive our childhoods. We are so used to giving and listening, being amenable… and being ‘used’ that it can take quite some time to realise that this is not the blueprint for relationships. It doesn’t have to be like this. We should expect for our needs to be met in relationships too… not plain ignored!

Actually, I was whinging on about something at the end of Monday’s therapy session as a bit of an afterthought and suggested that a person in my life was an emotional vampire and I was beginning to really resent it. I don’t know where that came from but it was exactly what I was thinking! Then I said to my therapist ‘I don’t know how you do this job because it must be like being sucked dry all the time’.

But then I remembered some things that are sometimes really difficult for those of us that struggle with ‘the authenticity of the therapeutic relationship’ and they are 1) she is not my friend (I know that!) and 2) ‘SHE GETS PAID’ to do what she does. That is the fair exchange in the relationship. That’s where the balance is restored (to an extent) and how her need gets met.

It’s not always easy when those upset teen parts start chiming in about how ‘the relationship isn’t real because if we stop paying the relationship ends’ but actually that is completely how it should be, we pay our therapists to listen to us because it is not an equal relationship. They keep their needs out of the space so that we can get what we need. That doesn’t come for free. The care absolutely does come free. The relationship is real. It’s different in other relationships. The currency we exchange is our time and willingness to listen to the other. It is not a one way street.

It’s funny because since Monday, and finally hearing what my therapist has been saying for a long time about being allowed to put my needs first and not having to please others (especially those that give nothing back), I am feeling pretty pissed off! Like fully annoyed! Not with her, but with myself for allowing people to take the piss for such a long time. Like seriously, why have I been so willing to put the needs of others first often at the expense of my own emotional wellbeing?

This week was basically the straw that broke the camel’s back (or the event that made me draw a line in the sand!). Another person has started unreservedly dumping their shit on me, unfiltered, with no regard for what I am going through. It happens quite a lot! But this week something shifted and I was like, ‘be a bit sensitive; please don’t talk to me about X when you know that I am struggling with Y and at least acknowledge that you are writing to an actual person!!’

This is one of the dangers of Blogland, I think. Whilst, for the most part, us bloggers are really very supportive because we try and build up a sense of being there for one another via comments or whatever – sometimes people just come out of nowhere and flood your inbox don’t they? I know I am not alone in this.

I guess, maybe, it’s because we write so openly and so people feel like they know us and identify with us. I guess maybe there’s a part of them that unconsciously thinks that because they have read all about us and our woes that must open up a space for them to unload on us. I sort of get it. The thing is, people have a choice whether to click onto this page, to follow, and to read. No one is asking you to do that. When I open my emails I have no idea what’s going to be there.

The other important thing to note here is this: I am not a therapist and whilst I absolutely understand how agonising it can be in therapy I am not here just to absorb your emotional angst outside your sessions. I can’t do that. I have enough of my own!!! I absolutely can be here as a listening ear but if you want to engage with me then hey, remember I am not just your blank screen! My inbox is not your journal space. And the person that writes this blog has a shit tonne going on!!

I do want to make it clear that I have made some amazing friends via my blog that I speak with daily, and so this is by no means directed at everyone. It is possible to forge meaningful and reciprocal relationships here and I am open to that! BUT basically, the place I have arrived at this week is this (with the help of my T and those blogger friends):

I am not some receptacle for another person’s emotional shit. I need to protect myself from burn out.

Great Mantra right?!

I’m not suddenly going to become some unempathic, hard-hearted, arse hole – far from it! But what I am going to consciously start doing in my life is realising that I can make boundaries around what I am prepared to accept from others, look at what I’m giving out, and let some relationships go that aren’t giving me anything back. I need to look after myself so that I can continue to give to those that actually deserve my care. I want to spread myself more thickly on those I love! And actually, I want some energy left over to love myself….

LOVE MYSELF!!

Did I just say that?!! Eeek!

*Do you know what is really rubbish? Is that I have just written a post about maintaining my personal boundaries and emotionally protecting myself and there is a part of me that feels like there will be some backlash to the post. Like ‘Don’t write a blog if you don’t want people to contact you’…FFS!!!!

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Dissociation

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It’s been a really very difficult week this week (although I am still in that ‘good place’ I spoke of last week where I am, at least, not beating myself up for having difficult feelings). I have been so massively dissociated since last Monday morning that just getting through the week has been an enormous struggle. I’ve lost sense of the day of the week, time, where the hell I am, as well as experiencing problems in having conversations with people because I can’t hold what the person is saying in mind and therefore follow the thread of what they are saying. I’ve had a real battle trying to locate my adult let alone engage her in any meaningful way. It’s been far from ideal!

The level of energy I have had to expend just to function in a way that appears ‘normal’ has been huge. The little parts have been running the show and they are poles apart from who I need to be in order to get through the working week/being a parent etc. The young parts are absolutely beside themselves having a proper meltdown and are trapped in some kind of trauma response (again). It’s been horrendous and I am completely exhausted now. In fact I have come back to bed to type this because I am so worn out.

I’m so glad it’s the weekend because at least for a couple of days I don’t have to fire up the teacher and can sit a little more with my feelings. Today I must be mum and wife but I can notch up my quietness to being ‘tired’ or ‘a bit hormonal’ rather than being in a dissociated mess. And to be fair, things are a little better today than they have been…thank god! Although I do want some peace and quiet and don’t appear to be getting any. (Like right now my wife has just walked in and has decided to sit on the end of the bed and just fire up her tablet….like WHY? Give me some space already).

So, to last week…

My therapy session sort of bombed on Monday because I was basically unable to connect with my T in any meaningful way until about ten minutes from the end. I had spent the session feeling either totally numbed and shut down or like I was two years old and hiding behind the sofa. Neither state is conducive to talking because I’m either ‘not there’ or ‘don’t have words’ (the youngest one is pre-verbal which makes things a bit tricky).

It’s been like this before. In fact I would say I spend at least some of every therapy session in a dissociated state but it hasn’t been as bad as how it was on Monday in a long while. I don’t know why it was so awful and I felt so trapped inside myself.

The first thing on my mind as I opened my eyes on Monday morning was that I would see my therapist (to be honest my life essentially revolves around where I am in relation to my next session! Six days a week it’s ‘Wahhhhh today isn’t Monday and I won’t see Em’, or on Monday it’s ‘Yay!’). I really wanted to see her this last week. There was a lot that needed to be talked through that I have been hanging onto since before I went on holiday– the rest of the letter, for example!

As I lay there half-awake the child parts longing and love fired up in a huge way ‘We get to see Em! We love her’ and then almost simultaneously a wave of fear, panic, and shame washed over me as I also realised the needs of those young parts can’t be met. They desperately want to hug her and be held and that just isn’t going to happen. My stomach hurt and my chest tightened. I could feel tears weren’t far away. I felt stupid. I felt pathetic. I felt so very alone.

What’s the point in going to therapy to be reminded week in week out that I am untouchable and unlovable? (Yes, I get it, to work through this and work out why it feels so horrendous! – but when I am in that state it just feels like torture).

Still, at that point, I had enough of my adult present to know where things were likely to be heading and so I drafted a text message to Em. I could feel I was on a slippery slope and suspected the session was going to be tough or a total washout:

I’ve woken up feeling really vulnerable and needy. It’s been hard this week and I can’t put my finger on why – perhaps the break? Or stuff left over from the before the break? It’s just felt physically horrible and I feel really shaky.

I can feel the shame and embarrassment creeping in and the critical part stepping up ready to silence the young parts who really need to connect with you because they are struggling and it’s making everyday life feel tough.

We need to talk through the letter I wrote before half-term today but I feel like the little ones are starting to run the show and so I don’t know how that’ll work out because when I am in that state I can’t talk – everything feels so sensitive and scary. I don’t think they are going to settle until we’ve gone through it all together, so I guess we’ll need to find a way.

Right now I am frightened that what I wrote is all too much and you’re going to go (same old story). That makes me want to run away or attack myself in some way. I feel like I am dissociated a lot of the time and I really don’t want that to happen, this week, in session.

Please keep checking in with me today. I want to be close but it’s going to be really tough to stay present because the young ones feel terrified and whenever I feel like this I hide, even though it’s the absolute last thing I want to do. It’s rubbish that the more I need to connect the more I hide or push you away. X

Great text right?

Yeah.

I didn’t send it.

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I didn’t sent it because even though I knew it said exactly what I needed her to know, I felt like if I were to send it I’d be overstepping the outside contact boundary. She prefers it if I write stuff down and bring it to session so we can discuss things in person.

Texting has been such a minefield that I didn’t want to ‘get into trouble’ about ‘breaking the rules’. I can see now how the young parts were instrumental in the decision making process here. It was very much coming from a place of not wanting to disappoint the attachment figure or not being a ‘good a girl’. It’s not surprising I felt like this because I was so frigging caught up in the young emotions.

Of course there is part of me also wanted to be able to go into the session and just tell her how I felt… so freaking optimistic!!

Anyway, the text remained in my phone and by the time I got to therapy I was a shaking mess. I hate it that sometimes when I arrive and sit down my body starts trembling. It’s like having the shivers all over. When I am like that I find it hard to concentrate on anything other than what my body is doing. I don’t know why it keeps happening other than it being something to do with fear and anxiety from my childhood playing out in the therapeutic relationship. It sucks whatever the reason.

I tried to get myself in a place to talk but I couldn’t. I just got further and further inside myself and could barely look at my therapist.

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Being shutdown and detached in therapy makes me so sad. The little girl parts (mainly the two and four year old parts) struggle so much through the week, basically holding on for the time when they can see my therapist and yet so frequently when I get there I can’t let either of them be seen or talk. It feels too much.

I absolutely love my therapist, she knows this (you know this!), but I feel enormous shame and embarrassment about having these feelings for her. Sometimes I am able to talk but about things and the session goes ok, it’s not awkward, but there are times when I completely freak out, dissociate and sit there in silent pain wanting to hide but also needing be seen simultaneously. It’s basically agony.

I know! I talk about this ALL THE TIME and it is GETTING BORING!

Don’t get me wrong, my therapist tries her best when I am like this. She really earns her money and I am staggered that she hasn’t given up yet. She did help me find a way to emerge from the hell I was in once she could ascertain what was really going on and who was there in session but I don’t make it easy for her!

Eventually she had done enough to build my trust – or rather the trust of the frightened young parts and any protector parts that were lingering. (I hate that we have to go through this process. I hate losing my sense of her care and being a safe person during the week).

My silences can be so multi-layered. She wondered were the teen parts there or the critic? Nope. Neither of those (this time!). The silence came from fear of rejection rather than anger. But it’s hard for her to tell what the silence means because the body language is the same, the sighing is the same, the lack of eye contact is the same. I might’ve been raging. I wasn’t. I was small and crying and lost. And I was trapped inside myself – or rather outside myself!

As soon as she found them (hiding behind the sofa), she spoke directly to the young parts and showed real care and empathy for them. I love that soft voice and gentleness. It was exactly what I needed and drew those parts out and allowed them to talk. Unfortunately so much time had already gone from the session by the time I felt able to let her in that I was unable to even share half of what I needed before I had to pick myself up and leave the room.

She is great at telling me that it’s ok when these difficult sessions happen because she says that I am still telling her a lot about how things are and at least we get somewhere in the end and I can let some stuff out. It makes me feel less of a therapy failure when she says this but having her acknowledge that often the week between sessions is difficult after these sessions feels unbearable. It’s like we both know it’s a recipe for disaster but I am still on my own with it. I can’t check in. There is no extra support available….and that can make me spiral down even further. I feel cast adrift.

I know that’s why this week has been so bloody hard. I have all this stuff inside massively activated and was unable to get proper help and holding last session – although did at least get some and I must try and hang onto that.

I know that this is what it’s like sometimes but man, I wish I would learn that when I don’t talk and open up I really pay for it in the week. I have never been as bad as this before so far a dissociation outside the session goes. I have never felt so spaced out or absent before. I have rarely felt so consistently caught up in the trauma of those young parts. I suspect this signals some big work is coming in session – if I could just get there and remain present enough to talk.

I have decided that I am going to send a text to my therapist that includes the one I wrote last week just before I leave the house of Monday morning. I can’t afford for her to be going in blindfolded again this week. I need to give her the map and a compass so she knows what she’s facing. There have been so many times this week where I have wanted to reach out to her and ask for reassurance but I haven’t. And I have tried to hold this all for myself – and I have done. I think giving her the head’s up an hour before we meet is a bit different from how I might have reached out before. I don’t expect her to reply and I suspect she will read it with me in session – which is all I want. I want a way in to talking when I feel mute.

I guess we’ll see what happens. Let’s face it, if I get the boundary talk all I’ll do is shut down and be silent so it’s no different to last week without any mention of boundaries.

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A Much Needed Week Away

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So, this is the post I had planned to write before the Instagram episode on Thursday night where my anonymity in Blogland and Social Media World was compromised. God that sounds like some kind of MI5/Secret Service statement doesn’t it?! For now, I am ok with my decision to keep this blog public but I guess we’ll just have to see how things pan out in the coming weeks. The worst that’ll happen is I’ll password posts or something.

Part of me is too tired to even care about it. As things stand right now I have bigger concerns. It’s all about doing a reality check sometimes isn’t it?

Currently, my best friend from primary school is in agony with metastatic breast cancer that has now found its way to her sternum. She is battling hard, third diagnosis in five years, but we know that this is going to kill her. I am devastated – in fact I ended up bursting into tears on the bus from the resort to the airport on Thursday just thinking about it (and I don’t cry!).

Her struggle is so hard to watch and a potent reminder that my very good friend died of Myeloma just before Christmas less than two years from being diagnosed. I still haven’t processed the loss and keep imagining I will see her again. My brain is really not very good at dealing with death.

In addition to this, I actually have my own follow up at the hospital this coming week to check (and hopefully confirm) I am still in remission. So in reality, who cares if someone I know might find out a little more about my mental health? It’s not going to kill me. It’s not cancer. It’s only the truth.

Anyway, my holiday. I’m not sure anyone wants to really read about this but I think it’s important for some balance to show that not every aspect and minute of my life is a complete shit show! Ha! Having said that, since I got home I have slumped and the attachment feelings/pain have ramped up enormously. I guess I can’t really escape that.

The last time I had a proper holiday abroad was I was eighteen weeks pregnant with my son. He is now almost four years old so it’s been a while. I have always loved travelling and have been fortunate enough to visit lots of the countries on my bucket list, but since getting diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in early 2015 travelling abroad has been off the cards.

Until recently I have been pretty much uninsurable. Despite being in remission, I am now classed as having a pre-existing condition and so the cost of travel insurance has been insane. For example, when I finished my course of chemo and radiotherapy in January 2016 we thought it might be nice to get away in the May once my hair had grown a bit and I was a bit less fatigued. We needed a holiday. We found one. We almost booked it. And then I got an insurance quote for that week in Greece: £1000! It was more than my ticket!! So, needless to say we didn’t end up going.

I have intermittently generated insurance quotes for trips and until recently they’d still be in the several hundreds of pounds and made things unaffordable. It seems mad that I have no active disease and am fitter than almost anyone else I know: running, cycling, swimming etc, and yet have to pay such an enormous premium. I would understand if there was active disease or I was compromised as a result of having had cancer but I’m not, not really.

I get tired, of course I do, but then I pack a lot into my weeks and have two young kids. That’s being a mum not necessarily a cancer hangover. Or maybe I should say, the cancer hangover is not so physically debilitating as to stop me from going to an all-inclusive resort in the sun, sitting my arse on a sun lounger, reading books, and eating plenty… in fact that’s surely exactly what I need! Low risk and relaxation. I need stress reduction – because these days the biggest problem with having had cancer is the continual stress and anxiety about it coming back.

It was my 35th (wtf how did that happen?!) birthday in March and my wife and I were bickering with one another about absolutely nothing at all. We’d just reached that point where we needed a break, a proper break, not another midweek ‘break’, self-catering in a static caravan in Devon which is not really relaxing at all or long enough to unwind. We needed to get away properly. So before I even entertained searching for a holiday I generated an insurance quote….and low and behold it was £42. Win! Having said that my wife and two kids all got insured for less than £10 with a high level of cover so go figure…

I quickly found a holiday and booked for us to go away for half term week. The joys of internet travel agencies and credit cards eh?! It’s amazing what you can do in five minutes online…and how much you can spend!

The kids were super excited to be having a holiday when so many of their friends regularly go away. My son was in his element on the plane, ‘mummy, are we really in the sky?’ and my daughter was good as gold.

We arrived at the resort and I could feel myself relax instantly despite having left home the best part of 15 hours ago. It’s a feeling that I haven’t truly felt in a very very long time. I know that chilling out has always been a problem for me. My brain is always buzzing even when I feel low, but I hadn’t truly realised the levels of stress, anxiety, exhaustion, nervous energy that was the cocktail fuelling my system. I guess it’s not a surprise to anyone that reads this blog!! Haha.

It was so nice to be away from the responsibilities and routines of home. My dogs were in kennels for the week. My neighbour was feeding the cats and fish. I didn’t have to cook or clean. No school runs. No teaching. Just sunshine, swimming pools, and the spa. Whoop.

It was amazing.

The most surprising thing for me was that for almost the whole week I didn’t experience any of that horrible gnawing ache in my tummy. The absence of attachment pain feelings was a massive relief. I didn’t feel agitated and lost. I didn’t feel young. I didn’t feel angry. I didn’t want to harm myself. I didn’t desperately long to be with my therapist. Sure, I thought about her, but I wasn’t consumed by that need to be in contact. Seriously, having that weight off was incredible.

Sadly, it didn’t last!

I think it was Wednesday (bloody Wednesdays will be the end of me, I swear!) when those feelings started to creep back in. The young parts started making themselves known again. I could feel that shift in myself from predominantly adult to all the others. I started to feel snappy and short tempered and my wife and I ended up having an argument. It was nothing big. I was just being unreasonable and angry. I know it’s because of those attachment feelings coming up (might’ve been a bit premenstrual too!). Suddenly I felt suffocated being around people. I wanted to be alone…or with my therapist. Argh. What a shitter.

Fortunately, I got over myself, or rather, I returned to default – i.e having those feelings and masking them from everyone else. Don’t get me wrong, I was still able to enjoy the last two days of my holiday but I was very much aware of carrying that additional emotional baggage inside me again.

What also didn’t help matters in the least was the set of scales in the hotel room bathroom. I clocked them the moment I walked in. I ignored them for almost the whole week, determined to leave the ED back in the UK, but then once those attachment feelings, doubts, and anxiety crept in so did the body stuff. No real surprises there.

I knew it was a bad idea to stand on the scales. You can’t go to an all-inclusive resort and eat pretty much consistently for a week really packing it in: full English breakfast, smoothie, and pastries at breakfast (breakfast is a meal I never bother with!); a plate of hot food, a salad bar, bread, and a plate of desserts (yes, three or four different sweet items) for lunch; ice cream, drinks, and snacks beside the pool; repeat lunch at dinner time…. and then not gain weight. So yeah. Of course I put on weight. Still not enough to take my BMI into the healthy range but not a million miles off it either.

I saw this:

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I wish it were true!

For some reason I can’t cope with the idea of having a healthy BMI. It’s madness. I do get that. The idea of the calculator ever saying ‘18’ makes me feel strange. Usually my BMI is mid-16 and now it’s mid-17…and that’s fine isn’t it? Only it doesn’t feel fine. I feel stodgy and fat. I am due my period and so some of this will be hormonal stuff and water retention but my head is conflicted. I am trying really hard not to resort to my unhealthy coping strategies. I don’t like being caught up in active anorexic behaviour. It makes me miserable. I don’t function well. So it’s going to be a challenge. One of many!

Since getting home the attachment pain has ramped up even more. The little ones two and four are very active. I was delighted to crawl into bed in the early hours of Friday morning when I got home and snuggle with my teddy bear but I could feel that ache of not being read a story, held, or tucked in by ‘mummy’. Don’t judge me!

I have felt really flat and lacking in energy these last couple of days. Everything feels like it’s a struggle. I have got things done – all the holiday laundry is completed, I have mowed the lawn, and taken the kids out on their bikes but it has taken a ridiculous amount of coaxing myself through.

This morning I still feel flat but am going to try and take it a moment at a time. I have jobs to do today: painting fences and exterior walls and this will allow me to feel like I have accomplished something by the end of the day whilst appearing ‘present’ when everyone else is in the garden doing their own thing.

I also got my bike serviced whilst I was away on holiday and so I might go out on it tonight once the kids are in bed. I know once I am out I will enjoy it but I am not sure right now if I will end up in bed and sleeping instead. I guess we’ll see.

Tomorrow is my therapy session. It’s only been two weeks since the last session but it feels like a very long time ago. I am both desperate to see my therapist and dreading seeing her too. I want to have a good, reconnecting session. I need that with the week I have ahead of me. I have so much to do. But I am frightened that the session will fall short. So often a return to therapy after a disruption is not quite what I need. I can’t settle. It takes a while to rebuild trust. I’m hoping that it won’t be like that though. I need my therapist to see me even if I am hiding.

During the last session I had, I handed over my letter with about twenty minutes to go and we started to work through it. My therapist was amazing and said all the right things but obviously we didn’t have time to cover everything – in fact I think we only got through the first couple of pages in a light touch way and she quickly scan read to the end before I left.

She said that she thought there was a huge amount in it and that we should definitely come back to it when I returned from holiday and so we agreed that we’d continue to talk about it next session. So that’s what I am walking into tomorrow. The stuff about connection, touch, boundaries, transitional objects, outside contact….it’s all waiting for me.

Fuuuuccckkkk!!!

I won’t lie. I am nervous (shitting myself) about it. I know that my therapist always handles things well when I spell it out this clearly to her and we generally have really connecting sessions. I should feel encouraged by her response to what we talked about at the beginning of the letter but I feel anxious. This is big stuff for me. I know it needs airing. I’m just not sure that I am ready to hear the reasons why I can’t get what I want from her – no matter how kindly it is delivered. And I know that’s what’s going to happen.

I know tomorrow I must go and start to grieve another loss or, should I say, several losses. But I guess this is what therapy is about. It’s not always getting what you want. In fact many of the needs could only have truly been met in my infancy. It’s now about trying to work through it with someone who cares and has empathy for the situation. Adult Me understands all of this. Truly. But the little ones can’t accept or understand why they can’t get a hug or reach out when they feel sad and alone.

And that’s the conflict.

If we were working with Adult Me all the time I’d be fine…but as we well know, the work needs to be done with the little ones and therein lies the problem. I have a two year old screaming to be held, a four year old silently crying in a corner, a seven year old that wants to run away, an eleven year old that feels like she’s dying….and the list goes on….so many parts suffering in one way or another. And because I am dealing with child parts I keep hitting the same boundaries over and over again, circling the same issues time and time again. This is the work but man it’s tough going!

So, yeah, I went on holiday. It was great to escape, relax, and recharge a bit but now it’s time to roll my sleeves up and get stuck into therapy again. Really get stuck in.

Wish me luck!

x

P.S The reason I haven’t really gone into any detail about my last session with the letter is because I think I’ll write once I have been to therapy tomorrow and addressed the thing as a whole.

 

 

Letter To My Therapist (That I Probably Won’t Even Show Her!)

So earlier in the week I was really struggling. I always feel particularly unsettled in the first few days after a therapy session. It’s a pattern I am so familiar with now that I’ve almost accepted it as part and parcel of this therapy, albeit an uncomfortable side effect. It’s as though seeing my therapist stirs EVERYTHING to do with my attachment issues up and then I walk out the room with a bunch of inconsolable children inside me and some angry teens and have to survive the week as best I can. It is utterly draining and emotionally all-consuming.

The attachment pain I feel is agony. It’s been especially bad since Easter break where the eating disorder stuff got a bit (ok, a lot) out of control. The ED stuff was certainly triggered by feelings of abandonment and rejection around the Easter break and not seeing my therapist for almost a month. I feel huge amount of shame just typing that. I am so embarrassed that I am so attached to my therapist that not having contact can send me into free-fall and latching desperately onto my teenage coping strategies like a life raft on a stormy sea.

I hate feeling like this. I hate not seeming to have found a way of ‘not feeling like this’ after being in therapy for such a long time. If anything these feelings are getting worse rather than better at the moment. I know, in part, this is because I am keeping a lot to myself.

My last post was about The Elephant In The Room or rather the herd of elephants that are wedged in the therapy room with me! I was largely talking about the eating disorder stuff being a current and big stubborn beast but there are others. One of the most persistent and long-standing (so far as this therapy goes) elephants is the one about being unable to talk about touch and holding in the therapeutic relationship.  We talked very briefly about it last year – basically it’s a no from her- and since then I have struggled to acknowledge this really massive problem for me. In fact I would go so far as to say it is ‘the issue’ that activates all of my anxiety in the relationship.

I need to find a way of feeling ‘more held’ and I know that part of the problem with not feeling held and contained is that I see my therapist once a week. Before my last session I had reached the conclusion that it was time to ask about incorporating another session into my therapy or, at least, a check-in (because that made a huge difference the other week) and so I text her to ask if we could talk about this. I basically said that I can’t do the work I need to do with one contact each week. It’s just not containing enough.

My therapist was agreeable to the idea of an extra session, in fact she had suggested this might be a good idea this time last year, but as things stood financially with me not working it just was never on the cards. I hate that mental healthcare is so limited by your ability to pay in this country! Anyway, since I have taken on some home-schooling and tutoring work it’s just about doable to have another session.

Unfortuantely, my therapist doesn’t have any times available at the moment. Ugh. She has said it could be several months until a slot becomes available and in the meantime she has not got time for a check in. You can imagine how that went down with various parts of me. I sat there and absorbed what she was saying with an ‘it’s fine’ face – I mean it is the way it is, she is busy. BUT omg! It stung.

It wasn’t so much the not having any regular times available for a session that upset me – there’ll be one eventually- as soon as one becomes free it’s mine. No. It was not having time for a check in that hurt the parts that feel like she doesn’t care about me anyway. Like, seriously, she doesn’t have time for a five minute call at the end of the week to settle the parts that are struggling, or won’t reply to a text and say ‘Still here! Look forward to seeing you on Monday.’

I know we don’t have a good track record with texting but I was kind of hoping that if we spoke about it a bit we could reach a mutually acceptable way of interacting that would help contain those feelings that get so stirred up in the week. As it stands I feel stranded and alone and like I don’t matter. I know I should bring these feelings up in session today but it all feels so raw and activated that I suspect it will become another elephant.

I’m struggling, too, because when she told me that she had no time for a check in she said that the other week when we spoke on the phone it was an usual situation because she had had a cancellation. This simply isn’t true. She doesn’t work at either of the times she offered me to talk that week. And whilst I understand she mightn’t want to make it a regular thing working outside her usual hours, that is what she did that week. It felt like a big gesture on her part that she was willing to help me outside her usual working day and now it feels like something has shifted… she did mention that she felt that the dynamic had shifted…so maybe she’s gone back to the usual frame. I just have no idea.

I really want today’s session to be connecting and holding because we have another break next week. I am going away on holiday but my therapist would also have been away so whichever way you look at it we would’ve had a disruption (again!). I am so rubbish with breaks and the last thing I want is to walk out of my session today feeling anxious and lost and little – even if that is the norm.

My therapist said to write stuff down and bring it to session last week and so that’s kind of what I have done. I splurged on the page on Wednesday – a five page handwritten letter – and have copied it below. Today it feels unimportant, or less potent, somehow. I don’t know whether or not I will take it with me and hand it over. I guess it would prevent a silent session but I am not sure I want to be so vulnerable.

I find this whole process so bizarre. I struggle so hard for the majority of the week, the feelings are huge, it is so painful, and then I get to the weekend and things semi-settle down. I guess part of this is because I know I will have my session on a Monday and so the parts that struggle settle a little in the hope/knowledge that they may get what they need in session. I think there is probably also a bit of resistance from some of the parts. It’s almost like ‘you weren’t there in the week, so why should I care or talk to you now?’ I know!! It’s not all coming from an adult place!

Anyway, here’s what I wrote. No idea what I’ll do with it!

What It’s Like On Wednesdays

Wednesdays are notoriously the worst day of the week for me. Something horrible happens in the pit of my stomach when I wake up and it stays all day. It’s hard to explain how utterly crushing this feeling is and to anyone that’s not felt it, it must seem crazy. I know, however, that I am not alone in this and at least a couple of my friends understand.

Every week in session I struggle to talk about these feeling because they are totally mortifying. It seems so stupid that a grown-up can feel so small at times and so unsafe. What’s even worse is that these feelings are triggered in relation to you. I can’t tell you how awful that feels. I don’t want to feel any of these emotions and I certainly don’t want to feel them about you. I don’t seem to have a choice, though. Believe me when I say have tried to rationalise out what I’m feeling, to make sense of it , in the hope that it might go away…but it doesn’t.

You tell me that the young parts have done nothing wrong and their feelings are ok. Sometimes I believe you. Sometimes the way you say it makes me trust that actually you aren’t freaked out by this and you can handle whatever I am feeling. Sometimes I can feel the barriers coming down and there is a sense of connection. The problem is that a lot of the time I don’t believe what you have said, either because it’s been a while since you’ve said it (I hate that I need so much reassurance) or because I sense something is different in you. I might be oversensitive but I notice when your voice is different and how you are sitting – and even if those changes are only subtle, the parts of me that have always had to be on guard start applying a narrative to what might be going on. I don’t know how accurate it is because you rarely tell me how it is for you.

I know that my ‘worst case scenario’ thinking doesn’t do me any favours here ,but if I feel like you are annoyed or frustrated with me I shut down even further. I do, absolutely, feel helpless when it gets like that. I wish you were able to actually see what’s going on inside me when we are sitting in near silence and I feel like you are giving up on me. I know it’s difficult to picture a set of small children all alone and separate from one another suffering varying degrees of upset but that is how it is.

You said before that sometimes it’s like being blindfolded with me, and you don’t know who’s there – for me it’s like being trapped on the edge of a ravine. I can see you, just about, on the other side, but I can’t reach out to you. You cannot hear me crying. At least I don’t think you can. The critical part of me thinks otherwise and believe that you simply don’t care that it is so difficult for me and despite what you may say, are as embarrassed about how I feel as I am and choose to ignore it. It’s easier that way.

So, frequently the session is fine-ish. I talk-ish. You probably think things are ok-ish. And yet more often that not I walk out of the room feeling sad and deflated. I am frustrated that I can’t tell you how bad things feel. for the young parts. I’m still not really sure you get what I mean when I say I worry about you giving up on me. It’s not a mild sense of anxiety, it is utterly debilitating. And sure, I get it, therapy will end one day, but the youngest parts of me don’t even feel like you’ve really seen them yet and so the idea of an ending feels hideous.

I walk away feeling all sorts of agony. I really believe that it is only a matter of time before you pull the plug on the therapy. I understand what has happened lately with all the GP stuff and eating disorder stuff. I know it’s important to have a safety net but I can’t help but feel like you’ve started backing away from me because actually it’s all too much. This confirms what I have been thinking for such a long time and that is painful.

There is, of course, a bigger more horrible side to these feelings and this is what causes me so much difficulty from week to week, and on breaks. I know that I’ve said it a million times before but I don’t think you really understand that I am not being dramatic or over the top when I say that for parts of me it feels like you are completely gone – like dead- in the week. I feel panicked that you have disappeared and are not coming back.

Adult me knows that this is unlikely to be the case but the child parts have had a lifetime of people disappearing: my dad was ‘gone’ when I was nine months old until I was three and a half; and then my mum was ‘gone’ Sunday to Friday between the ages of five and eleven – and even when she came back she was often ‘not really there’. Top that off with my dad dying when on holiday – it’s little wonder that I struggle when you are not there and on breaks.

It should feel like I am onto a winner if I can hang onto the sense of you being out the somewhere but even that isn’t straightforward because when I can’t see you I miss you. And because I miss you I feel massive amounts of shame and embarrassment. It really is like having all the sadness and pain of my childhood playing out week after week and it is really hard to manage. I am convinced that you find me irritating and think I am deliberately keeping myself stuck and you are reaching saturation point.

I don’t like feeling this way. I want to find a way to make things feel better between sessions. I want to find a strategy that helps to contain the feelings. That’s why last summer I asked you to send me a message. You said after the break perhaps writing a message on a card would help and then the fucking pebbles disaster happened. I really wanted to succeed in making a successful bridge to get through from week to week and it’s not really worked because I still have no real sense of you, which I guess should not be surprising when the words were not yours.

So when I feel disconnected, like today –hellish Wednesday- I cycle through all kinds of emotions. The little parts feel completely alone and unseen and the older parts want to run away and give up. The smallest ones want to be close to you, to close the space between us, and the older ones want to tell you to stop hurting the small ones.

I completely get what you are saying about therapy needing to take place in the session and that sending long messages isn’t a good idea. I don’t want to ‘do’ therapy outside the room but really every time I send you something it’s to check you’re there. Obviously getting no reply doesn’t help matters in the least. I don’t know how to get round this. I feel like I am drowning with this stuff and can’t see how to make it better. How am I meant to feel secure when my brain conspires against me all the time?

I get to session and all the little parts want you to notice them and yet you don’t for a really long time. I try not to disappear when I see you because I want to be able to connect but there is such a huge fear of being seen and then being rejected that something happens and I don’t behave in a way that I recognise as even being me. I feel embarrassed when I sit there saying nothing because I feel like you are automatically judging me negatively. Sometimes I want you to come closer to me because my head is telling me that you can’t bear to be near me. I’ve said before that the space can feel enormous and when things are bad it feels awful.

I have no idea how to get around this. Sometimes I want you to sit near me but I don’t ask and then shut down because the shame and embarrassment of needing physical proximity feels awful. So when this happens it triggers another level of hell. It’s like I must be utterly disgusting to you, you can’t even tolerate being near me. This feels horrid, especially to the parts that want to be able to touch you and can’t. I don’t think you have any idea how big an issue this has become for me. Week in week out I feel like I am re-enacting the relationship I have with my mum. Every session we have confirms to me that on a fundamental level I am untouchable and unlovable.

I struggle, then, to trust in the relationship because on a basic level I have confirmation that you don’t want me anywhere near you. It feels so confusing because I feel like therapy did ought to feel more nurturing and connecting and yet I can’t help but feel like it is impossible to get close to you. And then I wonder what I am actually meant to be doing! Like what on earth is a therapeutic relationship?

You said once that boundaries are not barriers and I have never really been able to get my head to make sense of it because if they are inflexible then how can they be perceived as anything but barriers? I seem to keep banging hard into boundaries and feeling like I simply cannot get therapy right.

I can’t help how I feel. It’s doing my head in. I hate that wanting to feel close to you causes me such high levels of anxiety but I hate, too, that I seem to be caught up in wanting something that isn’t available. Right now I have a lot of children’s feelings and nowhere to put them and so, instead, have been trying to shut them down by attacking myself. It’s not sustainable but there feels very few options out there.

I think I still want you to read the thing I wrote about ‘The Mother Wound’ because I think it sums up just what we’re dealing with. But perhaps not now….

And lastly, finally (phew)… last week you said you would expect that perhaps I’d be relieved to have a break next week given how things have been. This really surprised me. I’m staggered that I give off such a strong sense of not wanting to be there or that I discern nothing useful from the process – but I guess that’s because I rarely show you the vulnerable bits that actually want to be there, to be seen, and to connect because they don’t believe it’s possible and are scared of showing up properly only to be told to go away.

X

Oh, and actually, I’d much rather know the truth about how things are – I might not like hearing that I am annoying you or that you think this isn’t working but it’s actually better that I know. I can’t keep doing things the way I am/we are and so something has to shift. I can’t currently work out whether that is changing things and ‘colouring in’ or ‘leaving’ – because I have no clue where we are at. All I know is that the levels of anxiety and physical drain is really hurting.

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

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

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

Sorry if this becomes a swear-laden ranty post!

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

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

The stages are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Rupture. The cold, hard truth: my therapist doesn’t care.

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I really didn’t expect to be blogging about a rupture in therapy here today. I thought I’d be saying something about almost surviving the therapy break and being nervous about my session on Monday, but also being amazingly glad I’d be seeing my therapist in person soon. That was the plan, anyway. But that isn’t going to happen because, as things stand right now, I will not be going to therapy on Monday, or possibly to my current therapist ever again.

I know. Spare the drama, right? I’m sure some people read that and think ‘put your toys back in the pram and get over it’ but I also know that there a few of you, especially those that have issues with attachment and feelings about abandonment and rejection, who will read this post and wince.

This isn’t going to be a neat, well-constructed post because right now my brain is scrambled and the various younger parts of me are in meltdown…actually, the adult part is devastated too.  I literally feel like I have been annihilated and that’s not an exaggeration. God I wish it was!

In fairness now is probably not a good time to write, I haven’t had chance to process what’s happened yet, I feel raw and activated, but actually right now my options are: sit here and type or do something horrible to myself – and so this surely has to be the better option.

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My last post talked a lot about how I had been feeling depressed and generally not quite right. I have been struggling really hard this week to keep my head above water. I’ve been plagued by therapy dreams where my therapist has rejected me in one way or another, or simply not cared about me and I have woken up feeling heartbroken.

Yes, I know. They are dreams not reality, but the dreams I’m having tap into the insecurities I feel in the therapeutic relationship and end up intensifying the worry and anxiety I feel when I am awake.

I can’t count how many times I have said this now, but I really struggle when I am away from my therapist. No matter how I try I can’t maintain a sense of connection with her when I can’t see her it seems almost impossible. It is bad managing from week to week but it is always really very challenging during breaks.

All the fears I have about being left or abandoned come up, but equally there is a real anxiety that something bad has happened to her. I can’t seem to get my head to a place that can accept that she is out there, safe, and that the connection is still there. It is weird because this isn’t a problem that I experience in other relationships.

I don’t freak out if I don’t see or hear from my friends for months at a time…but then I guess this might be because I don’t have this kind of complicated attachment to other people in my life and therefore the triggers that I have from being a child don’t play out anywhere else because the child parts of me aren’t active with friends. I don’t know.

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Those of you that follow this blog will know that we’ve talked about trying to create some kind of transitional object (pebbles/note) but not got anywhere with it…and now I understand why. I know, too, that I ought to trust my intuition. I see now that my reluctance to engage getting a message written on the pebbles because I was scared that she actually wouldn’t be willing to write anything that would soothe me is right. She isn’t willing to say anything to confirm that there is a connection in the relationship or that it is any way important.

These last few days my anxiety about the therapeutic relationship reached a whole new level of hell. I felt so ill that I couldn’t function. When I say it took me three hours to load and reload the dishwasher and that I didn’t shower or get dressed until two in the afternoon on Tuesday (and that was only because I had to run an errand) because I just couldn’t face doing anything it might give an impression of just how debilitated I felt. I felt utterly crippled with anxiety.

I felt sick to my core, at times was physically shaking, and felt like a little boat of a very choppy sea. No matter what I did to try and ground myself or channel myself into a place where things felt better I just couldn’t succeed. I knew on Tuesday when I was standing in the kitchen with a massive knife against my wrist that something had to give. I knew that not eating wasn’t doing me any good and that I needed to get out of this headspace. I needed to try and get the adult back online, settle the child parts, and power down the critic.

So after three days of debating with myself what I should do: reach out to my therapist or continue down the path of self-destruction, I thought the most sensible option was to simply tell her how it was, ask for reassurance and then hopefully just settle this sick feeling down and then go discuss it all on Monday and try and work out why it has felt so terrible this break.

I know that we don’t text or email generally unless there is something about scheduling. Most of the time that feels ok-ish but sometimes it feels really persecutory. When I feel like I have reached crisis point (which actually isn’t very often) the no between session contact thing is really difficult for me. Because there is this boundary in place, it means that I can’t just reach out when I need to and ask to get a need met, instead I spend a great deal of time beating myself up for having the need for reassurance which makes it all much worse. I’ve always struggled to ask for help when I need it and so this feels impossible.

I beat myself up for breaking her rules. I beat myself up for not being able to manage on my own. I beat myself up because I know that it’s annoying her. I basically drive myself mad and all the while the anxieties I have about making contact exacerbate the concerns and worries I already have: i.e she really doesn’t care or want to know when things are bad and that I am an inconvenience, and whist she can’t openly say it that frankly she wishes I would just go away.

So, if I do pluck up the courage to reach out I end up feeling sick and guilty that I have done it. It feels utterly impossible no matter what I do. I don’t know why it should feel so bad to express a need for someone but it does.

When I was writing my text yesterday, I had debated sending the link to my post Why do I always dream about my therapist when we are on a therapy break? in my message as this is where the spiralling into anxiety began, but in the end I decided against that in favour of taking it in and talking about it on Monday. I didn’t want to do a big mind dump on her, I simply wanted to check in and re-establish the sense of connection in order to settle myself down until Monday’s session.

Simple.

Or at least I thought it would be.

Only things don’t seem to work like that.

In the past if have reached out I haven’t always been clear about what my need is and so when she doesn’t respond part of me feels upset but part of me thinks that maybe I am expecting too much of her to read between the lines of something fairly innocuous. So I endeavoured to be straightforward this time. Tell it like it is but don’t drone on!

I didn’t want to go on about the self-harm, or the slip into anorexia, how much I missed her, or how very bad it has felt recently because I didn’t want to make the text about trying to do the therapy outside the room. I get why it’s important to do the work in the room. I just wanted a sticking plaster in order that the wound didn’t get any deeper or infected before our face-to-face session next week.

So at 11am I sent this:

‘I started having vivid dreams about therapy on Boxing Day. I wrote about it when it started happening because I thought it would help, but the dreams are happening every time I sleep and I just feel completely overwhelmed now. No amount of deep breathing, visualisation, distraction, or sitting with it is helping. It’s escalated to a crippling level of anxiety now and it’s making me not even want to come back on Monday. The critical part of me is delighting in how bad it feels. It’s taken three days of battling with myself to send this:

Please can you tell me that things are still ok.’

*

I forwarded the message to a friend,  because having sent the text I immediately felt sick and started shaking. I was worrying about whether it was too much and too needy, and she assured me that it was fine and that she’d sent similar messages in the past to her therapist and all that would probably happen would be that she’d reply to say, ‘she’s there and you’re both ok and it will feel better’, which is exactly what I had hoped for.

So after anxiously checking my phone for an hour I left it upstairs and went and tried to get on with the things I needed to do. In that time I was thinking about what it might feel like if she didn’t reply to me, which is what I expected, and how that feeling of rejection would probably make me rage. I went upstairs at 2pm and there was a message from my therapist:

‘From my understanding of what you are saying, I think that it is very common for people to have dreams about therapy and for people to have strong feelings about such dreams and I hope that you will be able to continue with the therapy and come to your session on Monday.’

*

I won’t lie. I was a bit taken aback by the message. Perhaps it’s just me but it felt so distant and cold. I sat with it for an hour because I thought maybe on rereading it later my feelings would change I’d be able to find some kind of sense of connection in there and sense that she actually cared…

I didn’t.

I messaged my friend this because I was still trying to look on the bright side:

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I wondered then whether what I had sent was too much about the dreams and not enough about stating that I needed a sense of her being there and things being ok. Perhaps it’d got lost in text? So after some thought I sent this at 3:15pm:

Yeah. I get therapy dreams are normal and can evoke strong feelings. What I’m trying to say is I feel like you are gone and that there is no connection, and now this is being reinforced every time I sleep which is just horrendous. What I wanted was for you to tell me that it is just anxiety, not based in reality, and that actually things are ok still and that you’re still there.

*

I felt a bit eeeeeeek sending it but thought, if  I don’t clearly communicate my needs then there’s no chance of getting them met. I thought she probably wouldn’t reply to the text but a message did come in:

Thanks for clarifying. See you on Monday.’

*

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And that’s where I felt like I had been annihilated. Even just typing that I feel a kind of shock in my body and utter confusion in my brain.

I mean what the hell am I meant to feel about that response?

Well. First was utter devastation and then that was quickly followed by:

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My gut reaction was to fire off something like ‘Seriously? Fuck it. I’m done’ but  I didn’t. Again I waited for a while to see if my initial feelings would settle down or whether I’d go back to the message and read it differently.

Nope.

At 5:15pm I sent this:

Honestly don’t know whether to laugh or cry about that message. I’ll let you know about Monday but right now it just isn’t going to happen. I know you need 48 hours so I’ll let you know by Friday.’

*

And that’s where it’s been left.

I don’t even really know what to say to her now. I mean where do I go from here? I want to feel like I am overreacting or something because that in some way makes those messages seem less, err, what? Abandoning? I dunno. But I am not entirely sure that I can convince myself that I am making more of it than there is.

It’s not like my therapist isn’t acutely aware of my issues with disorganised attachment, being unable to maintain a sense connection, and the problems that therapy breaks cause especially for the most vulnerable child parts of me- and to not be willing to offer up the most basic amount of reassurance when I reach out feels pretty cruel actually.

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I don’t know if I can come back from this.

I’ve spoken to a couple of friends about what’s happened, both are staggered by the exchange, and one suggested that maybe now is the time to find another therapist because repeatedly not getting my needs met or even validated is hurting me A LOT.

The rigid nature of the therapeutic frame doesn’t seem to be helping and there appears to be no flexibility in it. I had just about come to terms with the fact that touch was out of bounds but actually not even getting the most basic level of reassurance when things are about as bad as they get…well, what do I do with that?

I don’t know.

I feel like I was trying to find a better way of coping with difficult feelings. I was trying to get help. It backfired and now I am back to square one. Maybe there’s a reason that blades and starving myself have been so long part of my existence. Maybe deep down what I have always felt to be true is true: I am not worthy of care and I do not matter. On the plus side, I don’t have to worry about the Christmas weight gain now. Stress of the last two days and 2kg has just dropped away. I shouldn’t be pleased about it, but fuck it. I am done.

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Why do I always dream about my therapist when we are on a therapy break?

Just like clockwork, three days into the Christmas therapy break, my therapy/therapist dreams kicked in.  I wrote at length a while ago about dreams and how much dreams of my therapist can knock me for six.

I feel compelled to write on this topic again now because my sleep is filled with her again… I need to get this stuff out my system because it is still another 12 days until my next therapy session and part of me needs to process/let out what’s going on before I amass a catalogue of dreams and end up sitting down first session back and saying….‘So, err, I dreamt about you every night for two weeks…’ 

I wonder, is that more or less weird than sitting down after last year’s three week Christmas break and the first words out my mouth being, ‘Do you think I have BPD?’ I’m sure she’d sit there completely un-phased if I went in and told her she was repeatedly in my dreams during the break but there is a bit of me that always feels like it’s a bit creepy telling my therapist I have dreamt about her … and it’s even more cringeworthy if it’s happening night after night.

So often what comes up in dreams about my therapist are the anxieties I am feeling in the therapeutic relationship and so it is unsurprising that these dreams tend to increase in frequency during breaks when I can’t see her, or at times when I feel unsettled in the relationship, or there has been some kind of rupture.

These recent dreams seem, again, to be tapping into the underlying (ok surface level!) worries I am feeling about being on Christmas break and issues in the therapeutic relationship, mainly: feeling like I am unimportant to her and that the connection is broken; feeling angry about her not caring about me and that she’s abandoned/rejected me; and despite all this, still desperately craving closeness and proximity to her, wanting to repair the damage.

It’s all about conflicting feelings and emotions. What a surprise!

For the past three nights I have had incredibly detailed dreams about, and involving, my therapist.  There is a little part of me that is glad to ‘see her’ in my dreams because I find it so hard to hang onto any sense of her actually being out there in the real world during a break. I so easily lose my sense of her being safe and ‘there’ because on breaks she is not there. It’s long been one of my frustrations, being unable to reach out to her between sessions and check-in and try and maintain the sense of the relationship being sound.

Unfortunately, I start to emotionally wobble quite soon into any kind of disruption in therapy, and the dreams I have about my therapist aren’t usually massively warm and fuzzy. They don’t really involve lots of nurturing, love, and holding (which is what I would love my mind to serve me up in my sleep). It’s usually feelings of abandonment, rejection, and loss that come to the fore and leave me with a killer dream hangover for days (and sometimes weeks) afterwards. Sigh!

Mind you, having said all that, perhaps I should mention that I did have my first erotic dream about my therapist a couple of weeks ago (which after six years I think has been some time coming!) and that sent me through a completely different set of emotions – obviously. I won’t lie, it was a great/positive sexual experience (it wasn’t scary or threatening or pressured) but the moment I woke up I was flooded with shame and embarrassment, as well as confusion about it.

Although I am gay, and my therapist is a woman, I have never really thought of her ‘in that way’! She is attractive, definitely, and I have always had a thing for older women (oh but of course!), but for me, there’s been a shit tonne of maternal transference and so I have never consciously/unconsciously thought of her in a sexual way….until the other week!

My fantasies involving my therapist have always revolved strongly around being held/cuddled by her and her behaving in a very mothering way towards me. Basically I have wanted her to treat me in the way a mother would (should) treat a young child. (Isn’t it odd that I should feel less embarrassed writing that than saying I had a dream where I slept with her! ha!)

Thinking about it now, I realise the sex dream was really again about trying to get close to her (as so often happens in my dreams), only in a different way. The sexual element, I think, was about a part of me (maybe the adult) finally trusting her, being vulnerable, and allowing her to see part of me that I keep hidden which is kind of what’s been going on in therapy…I mean opening up to her and being vulnerable- not having sex! So although it was a bit ‘argh!’ at the time, in many ways I guess I should see that dream as a positive. I haven’t managed to tell her about that yet, and to be honest I am not sure that I ever will.

Still, back to the current batch of dreams… I know it’s not just me that is currently negotiating the therapy/therapist dreamscape during the Christmas break. Sleeptime for many a therapy client is firing out all kinds of anxiety-ridden dreams. Oh the joy and wonder of breaks eh? I’d be really interested to know just how many people are having therapy dreams right now and how many of those are positive, how many feel full of anxiety and if/how this reflects where people are at in their therapeutic journey.

Anyway, yesterday night’s dream stayed with me all day. I was a fucking pain in the arse all day as a result. Even this morning, I know that I am like a bear with a sore head. I have already been snappy and short. I can’t help it and I can’t blame it on being tired. I just feel so frustrated and sad and all kinds of emotions. The attachment pain stuff has kicked in massively and I feel really awful. It’s ridiculous, really. I should be enjoying the holidays but it is just so difficult when there are various parts of myself missing my therapist and feeling unanchored.

I know some of what I am feeling will be the Christmas hangover coming out. Christmas day was ‘fine’ on the surface, as I knew it would be, but inside I felt a little bit like I was dying. The little ones are always poised and waiting to see if Mummy will see them or acknowledge them. She never does. She never did. If she couldn’t do it when I was in my child’s body then I guess I am expecting too much for her to see beyond the body of a 34 year old woman.

The day wiped me out and I slept until 10:30 yesterday (which is unheard of – but then my wife got up with the kids and I think given the chance I could easily sleep like that everyday!). Christmas when it was just me, my wife, and my kids was lovely but when my mum arrived I could feel something shift inside me. It’s a subtle shift but I am very aware of it now. I become ever so slightly anxious and ever so slightly hopeful….which I know is what happens when I sit down in therapy. I hope that my therapist will ‘see me’ but also anxious that she won’t.

It was civil enough with mum but just not ‘warm’. We chatted for a long while, but not about anything in particular – other people mainly. It was small talk. The ‘real’ things seem to be off limits. Since she said ,‘therapy was for losers’ a couple of months ago (despite knowing I am in therapy and have been on an off for the last decade), I am not really feeling like my mental health is a topic to broach anyway! I mean I guess it’s not a Christmas day topic (why?!) but I don’t know when the, ‘Mum I am really struggling to cope with what it was like when I was younger and it’s really impacting on me even now’ will ever come up.

Anyway, as so often happens all my sadness and feelings of loss and abandonment which clearly originate in my childhood have been fully transferred onto my therapist and our relationship in 2017. I am not grieving my mother’s lack of connection and relationship with me. I don’t want her now. Of course I don’t. I want the person who has given me the closest thing to unconditional love that I have experienced. It is intoxicating to all the younger parts of me and the adult too….but of course that is just a fantasy that needs to be crushed and grieved for too….eventually. Not now, though! Give me time!

This dream is a long one, so feel free to skip:

I was walking alone along the coast path not far from my therapist’s house. A little further along the bay I could see the snowflake card that I had given for Christmas resting on a wall/gatepost. It was as though it had been displayed as an ornament but it was now falling apart and broken in places. It had been left outside, and because it had been raining it had started to disintegrate. Perhaps she hadn’t realised that the card was only made of paper and therefore fragile….or perhaps she didn’t care?

As I walked further up the path I became increasingly angry. I felt sad and disappointed that something I had put thought and effort into, and had bought to symbolise our relationship seemingly meant nothing to her. It was fine to leave it out in the rain.

When I reached where the card was it turned out to be the entrance to a pub but it was also where she lived (?). Part of me wanted to walk on by and ignore her but another part was drawn to see if I could find her. To get to her place I had to walk through the bar which was incredibly busy because it was Boxing Day and up some narrow steps to the door. The door wasn’t locked so I let myself in – there was no one there.

I wandered around the house knowing that I shouldn’t be there but at the same time desperately craving any kind of connection with my therapist in order to try and prove to myself that she did care, didn’t mean to hurt me, and wouldn’t deliberately disregard something that I had given her that demonstrated the feelings I have for her.

The house was really tidy and one of the windows had a window seat and lovely view out over the sea. It wasn’t raining at that point but I could see the snowflake card looking really sorry for itself on the wall below. I decided to lay down and wrapped myself in a blanket that was on the seat and try and take in the space, and by extension, my therapist, but I must’ve fallen asleep.

I woke up to find my therapist kneeling down beside me and gently saying my name. I woke up with a start. I was mortified! She didn’t seem angry that I was there, but feeling exposed  and off guard I immediately launched into an attack on her. I pretty much screamed at her that ‘she didn’t care about me’, that ‘I couldn’t believe that she would so easily disregard something I had given her, something that had taken me time and thought, but moreover something that really showed my feelings toward her’. I said ‘you told me that this card was about love. You know it is. Why would you treat my love like it doesn’t matter?’ I started crying.

She said, she was sorry and that she had put the card outside because it was beautiful so others could see it at Christmas but it had started raining when she was away. She was sorry that it had been damaged and was disappointed too. I petulantly (teen part) said ‘it didn’t matter’. I told her ‘I would never have left it outside’ and it just shows how I much I would value something from her if I had something and proves the lack of balance in the relationship.

I told her I still have every scrap of paper that’s she’s written holiday dates on for me. I said, ‘see how pathetic it is? – how pathetic I am? I hang onto the tiniest part of what you give me to try and sustain the connection. I have to try and make that enough and yet you couldn’t care less about things that clearly mean something, that are given with love’.

She said she understood how I was upset and wondered if there was anything we could do to fix the snowflake. I said ‘look at it, it’s falling apart, I don’t think it could be repaired and even if we could it’s not the fact the snowflake is broken that’s really the issue, it’s that you left it out in the first place, it doesn’t mean anything to you and it is not important to you’.

She told me that it was important to her and that’s why she had put it on display. She said she could see I was upset and asked what could make it better. I wanted to ask for hug. I so badly wanted to feel close to her. I knew that even though that was exactly what I needed I couldn’t ask for it because it was one of her ‘boundaries’. 

Having this thought come into my mind made everything feel even more awful because I felt abandoned and rejected and now couldn’t ask for connection because it was one of her ‘distancing rules’ (boundaries) that I have no say in and it made the anger rise up in me again.

I said ‘I don’t know why I am even here. I just keep hurting myself in one way or another with you. I love you so so much but to you I am completely insignificant. All that happens when I am with you is that I get reminded how unimportant I am to you, and that really hurts. I can’t keep putting myself through this. It physically hurts that you won’t let me close to you and I just can’t bear it anymore.’

Then she said perhaps we could take the card to a dry cleaners and see if it could be mended. I said that was a ridiculous idea, it wasn’t clothing and it couldn’t be mended. I said to stop going on about the card – that she was missing the point. I went outside and brought it in off the wall and put in on her table. All the words I had written had blurred into a watercolour of ink.

I said I needed to go. I didn’t want to go, though. I felt really hurt but I didn’t want to leave because I knew there was a long time until I would see her again and in that time I knew my upset and anger would increase and I may never return to therapy.

She suggested that we could go for a walk along by the sea together and talk things through. I said that I would love that (caving in)  and so we made our way downstairs through the pub which was now empty, and out for a walk.

We walked for a while but I said nothing. I didn’t know what to say. I still felt angry and upset and I was also aware that I was shutting down because I knew that I would have to leave her again soon. She looked at me and said ‘this has really upset you hasn’t it? You think I don’t care about you and that you don’t matter?’ I couldn’t look at her but nodded. She took hold of my hand and said ‘I am sorry. I really think there’s a lot to work through in this area’.

Then I woke up.

So yeah. Ugh! There we are another detailed version of the same old things. Whilst I know it is just a dream it taps so heavily into all the areas that bother me in the relationship. I have to remind myself when it feels this bad that what’s going on for me is not my therapist’s fault. The dream isn’t real. The issues are real but they aren’t of her making. I have deep-rooted attachment trauma and it’s playing out in this relationship now.

My adult knows (kind of!) that my therapist hasn’t just left me and stopped caring… but there are other parts who are not convinced that this hasn’t happened because this is their experience of what caregivers are like: they leave and they don’t care about me or my needs. I am not on the radar. I am not ‘kept in mind’.

I know my therapist is just a therapist (argh!) but there are parts of me that refuse to see her as anything other than the desperately longed for mother figure they need/ed. I know that the time for those young needs to be met has passed but the youngest parts of me don’t understand this at all because they are frozen back in time where it was possible. They are active in 2017 but they live back in the 80’s and early 90’s and to them there is still hope of things being ok, hope that whacking great mother wound can be filled with ‘her’ love.

Just writing this makes my stomach ache. It’s awful really. I have said this stuff so many times now. And, yet, whilst rationally I TOTALLY get it, I just cannot get accept it emotionally yet. I know that I shouldn’t ‘hope’ for the impossible but I would be lying if I said I didn’t.

I know this is why I am in therapy and why there is still a long way to run with my therapy…but right now, on Christmas break oh my god, it’s so hard! There was a period of time where I didn’t dream at all between 2013-16 (break in therapy) and I could go to bed to get away from things. Now I go to bed in the hope of escaping the emotional torment I feel and it chases me into my dreamworld and plays out there.

As I said a couple of months ago: ‘To sleep, perchance to dream’…but please, God, not about my therapist!

Sleep tight, everyone!

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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?

 

Flashback Friday: conversations we never had

When I re-entered therapy in 2016, long before I started blogging, I religiously kept a ‘therapy journal’. Although I would like to pretend the journal is beautifully handwritten, on handmade paper, and bound in leather, it soooo isn’t! It’s a Word document. A massive 120,000 words saved in my laptop! It may not be pretty but the format does allow for a bit of copy and pasting and therefore can, in part, be shared here.

My diary kept a log of what happened in therapy but mainly I spoke about how I felt in and about the therapeutic relationship. Isn’t that what they say? Therapy is all about the relationship?! I used my writing as a way to help me stay sane(ish) between sessions which is basically why I blog now!

I knew from having seen my therapist from 2012-13 that time between sessions wasn’t always easy but I never wrote about it back then. I wish I had because I have always found that my writing has helped me work through things.

So this time around I knew I should write, if only to be able to survive what I knew therapy was ultimately going to become again. When I left therapy last time I was in a really bad way: a self-harming, anorexic, attachment pain suffering mess. Had I not been seeing my therapist on a time limited basis in the NHS there is absolutely no way we’d have terminated when we did.

Anyway back to the journal. I pretty much always wrote it as though I was talking to my therapist, in some way trying to have the conversations that I needed to have with her in person. These diary entries were the unfiltered, honest conversations that (frustratingly) so often failed to make it into the actual therapy room.

I’ve just been looking back over my writing to see what, if anything, has changed in the last year. I think this time of year is often a time of reflection but also know that I always wobble before Christmas. I’m like an oversized emotional jelly being shaken on a rapidly vibrating plate right now- and so I wanted to see if there were any parallels to be drawn between then and now.

And, yes, I think it is fair to say the issues around holding and containment, fear of abandonment and rejection, and suffering with attachment pain are still there just as they were last year!

This healing is a slow process!

I know I am far more aware of my defences now and, of course, have been properly introduced to the younger parts of myself which was what made Christmas a frigging disaster zone last year. I wanted a spa day for Christmas and instead, to join with my Inner Critic, I got up close and personal with a bunch of traumatised children, turned out my Inner Child is comprised of: Little Me, Four, Seven, Eleven, and The Teenager and they had a total meltdown last therapy break.

The horrible sense of shame and embarrassment I feel about having feelings for my therapist is as raw as ever. The attachment pain is still rife. I guess the big difference now is that I know what it is and why I feel the way I do. We have slightly touched on hugs in therapy, or rather my therapist has told me, ‘it’s a boundary that I will not cross’ and since then I have shied away from discussing it because frankly every time I think about it it physically hurts.

Anyway, let’s call this ‘Flashback Friday’ and take a look at December 1st 2016:

At the end of the last session I really wanted to ask you for a hug – but didn’t because I couldn’t face the ‘no’ that I knew would ultimately be forthcoming. Rationally, I know that you not granting a request for a hug is not a rejection of me, it’s just one of the therapy boundaries – or at least that is the kindest way I can come up with for explaining it to myself because, of course, I actually have no idea how you actually feel about me, at all: bored and indifferent tend to feature quite strongly when my Inner Critic is in situ and when she’s shouting at her loudest. 

The critic does a good job of convincing me that you are repelled and irritated by me – therefore a therapy boundary is far easier to cope with. Emotionally, however, a ‘no’ last week would have felt like a knock-out punch to my stomach and total rejection when I have shown myself at my most vulnerable.

I so badly wanted to tell you how much I had missed you last week and how part of me had wanted to run and find you in the Psychotherapy Department and just hide out with you on Wednesday instead of having to put on my armour, be brave and face the Haematology Outpatients Clinic for my cancer check up.

I didn’t say these things to you because I know it sounds mental. I know it’s too much. I recognise that this is not a need of my adult self but I am struggling to give the child a voice/space because it is just too needy and ultimately highly embarrassing. Just typing that, I could curl up and die of shame.

It is so clear to me now, having gone through this cycle over and over and over (it’s like a broken record now)… that on the occasions where I let my guard down and let you see some of the real ‘me’ in session, I pay a ridiculously heavy price afterwards. When I gamble and make the shift from being closed off to more open it causes utter emotional carnage in the week.

I try and be authentic, build trust and emotional intimacy and it feels great in session to get closer to you….. and then I have to go and whoosh!- it’s like the flood gates smash open, I’ve lost control, and suddenly I am in massive amounts of pain because I am flooded by feelings and a bunch of needs that can’t be met by you.

I know there are boundaries but of course, that doesn’t stop the longing, and then the grief I feel about not being able to see you or reach out between our sessions. I can’t tell you how much it hurts, but there is a tangible physical pain in my stomach and chest.

By Wednesday evening even if we have had a good session I find myself feeling stranded and abandoned. I feel totally conflicted. The ache of wanting to tell you how it is for me and just express how I feel juts against the fear of what doing that would really mean: the potential of a huge rejection. So then I am back in this loop. I close off in session, I try and detach, and endure the discomfort of keeping my feelings to myself – which, actually, is probably almost as painful as the rejection I am so frightened of.

So yet again, it’s the same old story, I am terrified of you abandoning me because I feel like I care too much about you and that you are too important to me. My adult self knows that 50 minutes a week should be enough to work through what’s going on for me- but it’s not- and then I spend the week feeling like a toddler having a tantrum because you aren’t there. I need more of you than I can have and that’s horrible.

Most frustrating of all, is that I ultimately know that this is transference. I do like you a lot,  actually, if I am honest you know that I love you, but I also understand that what’s going on is not completely of the here and now – and so I keep trying to reason it out with myself.

I’m fine when my 33 year old self is holding the keys to the house; but often the 3 year old has got hold of them and is about to flush them down the toilet; and then sometimes the angry 17 year old feels like gouging a big chunk out her arm and then forcefully chucking them out the window- and that’s when it all feels unmanageable.

I know that we need to talk about where this fear of rejection has come from in emotionally intimate relationships but I feel really stuck! I don’t even know where to begin with trying to tell you this.

Something has to shift, though because I can’t carry on like this. I am dreading the Christmas break because I know that these feelings aren’t going to lessen. I barely made it through the Summer and that was after only seven sessions back in therapy….

*

So there it is, a year to the day, and it really feels like I could be writing it now.

I don’t really know how I feel about it. I guess part of me is disappointed that I still struggle with these issues and that I am not totally able to be fully open with my therapist for fear of her rejecting me.

We’ve just had two great sessions back to back on consecutive weeks where I really did talk and open up after months of being too scared or too dissociated to say anything about the therapeutic relationship. Last week I shared the 10 things I wish my therapist knew… with her in session and although it was scary and exposing what came out of being that vulnerable with her was massive. I felt really connected and held….

But as I said in last year’s diary entry, often it is the deepest, most vulnerable, containing sessions that stir me up the most. When I feel safe, secure, heard, and held it is agony going back out into the world knowing that I cannot see her for another week and that I cannot reach out for her in between.

This week my little ones are so activated that it is physically paining me. My stomach hurts and my chest aches. In the ideal world I would be held close in her nurturing cuddle right now but as that is a total impossibility I’d settle for being able/allowed to send a text message that says: ‘I really miss you and it’s hard’ and get back ‘I know it’s hard. I’m still here’.

This morning I emailed my friend a list of activities that our various aged inner children were going undertake today to feel cared for and looked after: finger painting and messy art followed by a picnic for the very youngest ones; story time and a special ‘big girls’ lunch for the four year olds; shopping and then onto cupcake decoration for the seven year olds; cinema for the pre-teens; chatting over hot chocolate and pottery painting for the young teens; rebellious acts of tattooing and piercings for the not quite of age teens; and a spa day and drinks in a nice bar for the older teens.

In my mind I absolutely know that my young ones need really looking after. They need their needs acknowledging and attending to. But as I have said before, it’s not me (even in nurturing Mummy mode), that the young parts of me want. They grieve for the mum they wanted but never had, and they desperately long for the therapy mummy to come fix the hole.

Why am I having such a hard time accepting the fact that The Mother Wound cannot and will not be filled by my therapist? Rationally I know it but emotionally I just can’t accept it. And because I can’t accept it, her being a therapist and acting as a therapist feels like she is rejecting me. I feel like she doesn’t care about me and that ultimately no matter how much love I feel it will not be reciprocated because there is something wrong with me. It is absolute agony.

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