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

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

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

Sorry if this becomes a swear-laden ranty post!

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

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

The stages are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Pebbles: The Transitional Object

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‘Small round hard stones click

Under my heels’

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

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

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

Sigh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It all seemed so simple…

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

Ouch.

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

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

Painful stuff.

Really excruciatingly painful stuff.

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, back to the pebbles!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Connecting In Therapy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I know. What on earth has happened here?!

So, what’ve I learned from all this?

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

 

 

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

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Eye Contact In Therapy

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Making and then maintaining eye contact with my therapist is something I find really difficult. In some sessions eye contact feels more possible than in others; usually when the session is light and I am rooted firmly in my adult. These are the days where I can look at her for a few seconds before looking away and our interactions feel more ‘normal’ – i.e real life, outside world, not massively emotionally charged. But of course there are those ‘other’ days, those painful sessions, where I will avoid eye contact for the whole 50 minutes, scanning the book shelves for the millionth time, or staring at the corner of the room. Should our eyes meet I look away almost as though I have been burnt. The meeting of our gaze can feel so exposing.

I’ve mentioned this kind of thing in passing a few times in this blog. It’s an issue that has been on my mind a lot lately and then this morning I got an email from a friend, who is also in therapy, asking me about my experiences with eye contact because it’s an issue she’s struggling with; and so I thought it might make for a good blog post – it can’t just be the two of us that have this problem!…in fact I know it isn’t!

I feel a bit woolly headed at the moment and I have noticed that my ability to formulate my thoughts in writing (and verbally, actually) is really proving tricky so bear with me here. I don’t know why, but I feel like I keep having to preface my posts with an apology at the moment. I can’t seem to get my mind clear enough to express things in the way I would like but I still feel like I need to write. I’ve been having a bit of a crisis of confidence and that was initially the topic I planned to blog about today but this is more interesting.

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So, yeah, eye contact.

Bearing in mind I have known my therapist for six years and been working with her for three of those years you’d think, by now, eye contact wouldn’t be an issue for me. Wrong! It’s funny (not funny haha more funny ironic), I’ve found the longer we’ve worked together and the more I’ve let her see of ‘me’ (whoever the fuck that is), the harder eye contact has become. It might seem counterintuitive that the closer you get to someone the harder it gets to look at them but it is how it has been for me and I think I am beginning to really understand why.

If you met me in person for the first time you’d be faced with a friendly, confident, articulate, caring person (that feels a bit ‘big headed’!) who does their best to make you feel comfortable in our interaction. I am a good listener, ask thoughtful questions, I make all the right noises and maintain just the right amount of eye contact. I am not nervous in new social situations (well, not outwardly, you’d never know what’s going on inside – quaking child ‘please don’t hate me’) and people say I am easy to talk to. But see that stuff doesn’t work in therapy does it? Because it’s not about looking after the other person (therapist) and so I can’t employ my listening skills in that way. I can’t deflect the attention away from myself.

Having said that eye contact shouldn’t be a bother, should it? …. and it wasn’t in the very beginning…

When I first met my therapist, I was far more able to look at her (I noticed this was the case when I went to see the other therapist in January following the rupture too). What’s the deal with that? Well in the beginning of the relationship I was operating from the adult persona and I wasn’t attached to her. I attended therapy as the person I have just described above. Sure, there was a reason I was coming to therapy but for all intents and purposes I was functioning and coping and together (on the surface at least!).

It took me about 9 months to properly settle into therapy with my therapist; part of that was because I knew it was a time-limited activity on the NHS (12 months) and I didn’t want to be left hanging at the end of it all if I did open up. I knew some of what was lurking in the depths and part of me knew that 12 months of therapy wasn’t going to be adequate. So for those first few months I talked and talked and talked and looked and looked and looked but I did not connect with what I was saying. It was almost as though I was recounting someone else’s story. It was easy to look at her because I wasn’t feeling anything about my story.

There’s been a lot of trauma in my past and yet for the longest time it has felt like it belongs to someone else. I would recount very matter-of-factly what had gone on but I felt like there was a concrete block between my head and my heart – a huge wall between my left and right brain. I still struggle with this. The level of disconnection from myself is massive.

Then it happened, the attachment stuff awakened in a HUGE way and I was done for. I would go to session and sit there, unable to look at my therapist knowing that soon I would lose her and I just couldn’t cope. I know she noticed the change in me because the therapy also changed. There was a different level of connection. I didn’t know how to handle my feelings and resorted to the usual well-used coping strategies. I started to lose weight and self-harm again, desperately trying to cope/run away from the impending sense of loss and abandonment.

I couldn’t name the different parts of myself at that point, that only really started to make sense to me about a year ago. Back then all I knew was that I was sinking. I desperately wanted to connect with my therapist but I was frightened to. I didn’t know that the fear was the fear of my child part. I didn’t understand that part of the reason I couldn’t talk was that she doesn’t have much vocabulary because she is so little. I didn’t know I was dissociating. I wish I knew then what I know now!

Even though my therapist succeeded in getting my therapy extended by an additional four months (because things had got so bad) I still couldn’t open up fully and eye contact was almost impossible by that point. It was tricky, I felt like I had secrets I wasn’t telling her (the anorexia/self-harm) and so couldn’t look at her. At the same time I wanted to be known by her, I wanted to share the burden of what I was carrying, but felt there wasn’t time so couldn’t look at her!

Fast forward to now and the issue hasn’t changed much…or rather it has but the eye contact is still a bit of a problem.

The issue with eye contact (in the therapeutic relationship) is that it’s all about being seen. Eye contact means vulnerability, honesty, intimacy and that generates …fear. There’s lots of other things but I think they’re the main elements for me. It’s a double edged sword. I long for that level of intimacy and connection with my therapist that making eye contact affords; I often find the times when I can look at her for more than a split second that I feel much better, more grounded, and less alone.

It seems like a simple solution really – look at her and feel closer to her, right?! Win. Unfortunately, it’s not just a case of looking at her and feeling better…my goodness I wish it was as easy as that!

As I said, if I am surface level talking I make a reasonable level of eye contact in session. If I feel secure in myself and with her, I am can make some eye contact. If, however, I feel unsettled, dissociated, activated, in a child state, teen state, or the critic is present it becomes really very difficult for me. I look at her, meet her gaze, and retreat immediately. It’s too overwhelming. It’s frightening. It’s too much.

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Sometimes I really don’t want to be seen, either. I feel shy. I feel ashamed. I feel embarrassed. Usually this is comes up when I am experiencing strong loving feelings towards my therapist or have really missed her during the week. I feel like if I look at her she’ll see right down into my soul. She’ll see the longing of the child that desperately wants to be held. She’ll see the intensity of the feelings I have….and then if she sees that, then she’ll run away. She’ll terminate. That’s the fear.

The adult part of me knows that she can totally handle all my feelings. Hell, we both know these parts exist and we know what their issues are. We’ve talked about it all enough! I know she can cope with my love as well as my rage…but in the moment when I am struggling to look at her, that rational part is just not online. The trauma parts are live and active and all they can see is that if I let her see how I feel, if I let her see the real me in that moment, I will lose her. It’s not great. It’s not rational. It does, however come from somewhere.

I’ve been trying to pinpoint where it originates from; I know some (ok a lot) of it is from being little but I also think perhaps it’s a huge throwback to what happened when I came out. It’s almost like because I am letting my therapist see more of me in session and am being more vulnerable the fear of rejection and something bad happening escalates. I have experienced what it is like to have my world fall apart when I have been honest about myself and my feelings and because I really care about what she thinks, the idea of her telling me I am too much feels utterly devastating.

I am really aware that eye contact is something I really need to work on in my sessions. It’s just daunting. The part that keeps running away from being seen is so scared of rejection and abandonment but at the same time I know deep down that part absolutely longs to be seen and known by my therapist too. It’s so hard to navigate this but I guess it’s something to work on ‘bit by bit’ as they so like to say! I have a lot I want to talk about in session on Monday but I think tabling some time for eye contact would be worthwhile.

I’ll let you know how I get on.

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Rainbow Bridge

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

What’s up?

I am heartbroken.

Devastated.

So very sad.

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ouch.

Grief.

I was going to be alone still.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wanted my life back.

I wanted my dad back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My darling boy is gone and I am bereft.

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Artwork above from: RedandHowling

What I hear vs What is said: Communication in therapy.

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I’ve been in therapy with my therapist a good long while now; in fact it’s been six years since I first wandered into the rather cold and depressingly decorated consulting room in my local NHS Mental Health Hospital (after a three year wait no less!) to begin a year of psychodynamic psychotherapy…at least I think that’s what we were doing!

Picture a small room with a tiny window at one end, two not particularly comfortable brown chairs (the kind where the back isn’t high enough to lean back comfortably and the sides are so tight that you are forced to keep your feet on the floor – no curling legs up underneath yourself!), a fluorescent strip light in the ceiling a la Girl Interrupted, woodchip wallpaper and durable office-style carpet (again brown) and you’d be in the room.

It was a consulting room like many others in the NHS I guess, nothing homely or that in any way reflects the therapist that works inside it – because many therapists use the room. It was as blank a space as the blank screen that my therapist was to me at that time. I’m not really moaning, though. I will always look back fondly on my Wednesdays in that cold little room in the grey stone building because it was there that I met my  therapist by complete chance.

I could’ve been allocated to anyone in the Psychotherapy Department as a space became available on their caseload but somehow fate decided that she would be my therapist and I am so glad it was her because when I had had a couple of assessment sessions in order to go on the waiting list I hadn’t warmed to the therapist AT ALL. I really didn’t like her and dreaded the thought of having to possibly work with her.

The moment I met my therapist I liked her. In fact looking back over my diary after the first session I wrote ‘Uh oh, I really like this one. She seems really nice’… ha!…wakey wakey attachment issues I knew nothing about at that point!!

Little did I know when we met back in 2012 that (after a too lengthy break – damn Cancer!) I’d now be seeing her privately in her home, in her very lovely consulting room by the sea. It’s a medium sized room but feels homely, with neutral – but not bland- soft furnishings, cream carpet (she must be mad!), a pale blue leather sofa and her IKEA therapist chair (you know the one!), chunky style natural/driftwood wooden furniture, several completely filled bookcases (and not just therapy books), art work and a wooden Buddha watching over proceedings. It’s lovely.

It’s amazing how a nice environment can help make things feel more relaxed. Ok, perhaps ‘relaxed’ isn’t the right word here but I do find that the familiar environment is a place I (mostly!) look forward to spending time each week; it’s a little oasis of calm where I can bring my storm and try and get settled and grounded before venturing back out into the real world. Of course that space, just like the little room in the hospital, would be nothing without the person that sits opposite me from week to week trying to help me navigate my way through my almighty mess.

Yes. I can see how this is getting a bit gushing…but that’s because tonight I am feeling nothing but love for my therapist. I would not, however, have been writing in this way on Wednesday about the therapeutic relationship! I haven’t seen her or communicated with her since our session on Monday and yet how I feel about her, and where the therapy is going, is a world apart from earlier on in the week when I was hurt and raging and devastated and considering terminating… and that is why I have chosen to write this particular post about what I hear in therapy sessions.

I trust my therapist (well the adult part of me does), and for the most part our in session communication goes ok – good even. Of course sometimes she says things that immediately hit a nerve or piss me off, but more often than not sessions go fine. I can see and feel that she is making an effort with me – and frankly I am not easy to work with. My window (letterbox!) of tolerance is minute and I can swing into a dissociation with no warning whatsoever. All through that she is with me and as steady and patient as a….what? Can’t think of a decent simile. She is patient!

Generally I leave therapy feeling ok and sometimes I feel very connected. And yet I keep stumbling over the same issue again and again and that is, as if by clockwork, the moment I leave the room and start driving home, things start to shift and morph into something else – something negative. What was a good session suddenly becomes terrible and I feel like she doesn’t care about me and before too long I’ve had enough of therapy, am angry and want to terminate.

I really feel for a couple of my friends who week-in week-out listen to me rant on about how ‘terrible everything is’ and how ‘I am done with this’ and how ‘unfair it all seems and why can’t she just give me what I need?’ and ‘why doesn’t she show me she cares?’ and they patiently coach me through my fluctuating emotions. It’s hard work being in my head on Tuesday and Wednesday and they must feel so bored by now!

The problem I, like so many of you, have is that is what my therapist says to me in session hits so many different trauma parts: Little Me, Four, Seven, Eleven, The Teen and not just my adult self. Communication, therefore, is really complicated between me and my therapist. She has frequently commented that it is hard to say something that is adequately soothing and talks to all the different parts of me. What the little ones need is very different to the teen and sometimes it is hard for her to know exactly who she should be talking to because I give very little away at times. And we all know that the littlest ones don’t really want to be talked to at all and nothing but physical holding will feel enough for them.

I can hide behind my adult self and she’d be none the wiser that the tiny two year old girl is crying inside. I actually think the coping adult front I bring to session is more damaging than when I shut down in a dissociated silence or the protector parts put things on lockdown. At least when I am like that she knows something is up and can try and connect to whatever part is having a hard time. When I (adult) go in, am articulate and talk about things (but not necessarily the things I really need to talk about) she has no clue that I am not telling her what I need to or that I will leave feeling uncontained and spiral in the week.

I am getting better at telling her how things feel but sometimes it doesn’t go well or sometimes, like last week, I leave what I really need to say to the last minute and we don’t have adequate time to discuss it and then I feel like I am left with loose ends and not quite clear communications. Ugh. Must do better at this.

I doubt you’ll be surprised to hear that I didn’t ask her to sit closer to me or tell her how much her moving closer to me the other week had impacted me – AAAARRRRGGGH! I can’t remember what we actually spoke about during the session, now! It was ‘stuff I needed to talk about’ but it wasn’t #1 on the list stuff that eats away at me!

With ten minutes to go I decided I needed to ask her about wtf was going on with the pebbles:

Why, when we came back from Christmas break, did you say that you felt like I was trying to script what you needed to say in the text messages and yet for such a long time you’ve been asking me what I want you to write on the pebbles? It doesn’t make any sense.’

I mean launching into a discussion about the text communications that caused the rupture and the failing effort at a transitional object with only ten minutes remaining wasn’t exactly a genius plan was it? The thing is, sometimes it takes me that long to build up the courage or feel safe enough to bring these things up – so in some ways it’s better with ten to go than not at all…

We talked a surprising amount and whilst she didn’t say anything explicitly hurtful or unempathic (adult knows this to be the case and can hear it on the recording that that’s not how she is EVER) once I had asked that question I felt a shift in myself. Adult may have appeared to be fronting the show but actually all of a sudden the most vulnerable traumatised parts switched their ears on and were listening intently to everything that was said, analysing every word and subtle nuance, projecting a narrative onto the conversation. Inside was a running monologue: ‘What is she saying? What does she really mean? Does she like me? Does she care? This feels rejecting. No she doesn’t like me. I hate that I need her and love her when she clearly feels nothing…’

I’m struggling to articulate clearly what I want here, but basically the moment I asked the question there was a part of me, if not several, that was automatically searching for confirmation of my deep held belief: she doesn’t care and no one loves me because there is something inherently wrong with me. To be honest no matter what she had have said I doubt I would have heard anything vaguely positive because I am so conditioned to hearing this negative narrative – even when it is nowhere near the case.

My therapist said that she often feels that whilst a part of me wants to be told affirming things and to be loved there is another part that is absolutely terrified of that and wants to run away from it or rubbish and reject it as not being genuine.

Every time she says that it drives me mad inside. Whilst she is right (I recognise this more and more now) it feels really rejecting to the part that does want the affirmation and clear displays of love and care. It feels like she is saying ‘you can’t handle what you want and so I won’t give it to you’. I feel like shouting at her ‘I’m not going to die if you give me more warmth or clear demonstrations of care and maybe if you do it enough I’ll stop doubting you and attacking myself for needing you and convincing myself that you clearly don’t care about me’.

It feels really like a Catch 22 situation. I feel like I need her to be more demonstrative in how she feels towards me and yet she feels like it would send me over the edge if she did. It sends me over the edge as things are so what’s the answer?

We left it that we would work more actively with the pebbles especially as there is the Easter therapy break coming up shortly – nooooooooooo!!!!!!! And so that is a good thing, I guess. I am a bit reluctant about how it’s all going to go. It feels like something simple has become unnecessarily complicated. My therapist said she felt that perhaps I thought she had been too pedantic or pernickety about it but that she wanted it to feel right and genuine. I, of course, heard that as ‘I don’t want to write lies on the stones and therefore have not done it because I don’t want to say anything positive about this relationship when I don’t feel it’.

Anyway, yet again I have navigated my way through the emotional rollercoaster that is the week between sessions. It is Saturday night and I feel quite stable and content in the fact that my therapist is out there, cares about me, and that she will be there on Monday and we can talk – who knows I might tell her all the angst I’ve felt this week about the conversation we had and about the one we didn’t have (proximity).

It’s strange. I always feel quite motivated and able to take these things to session at this point in the week. Monday morning at 10:30….a whole other story!

Ugh!

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