Eating Disorder Relapse.

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I knew this was coming. As the Easter therapy break approached I could feel some of the feelings that I associate with my eating disorder when it’s active stirring again. What I mean by that is I sensed the beginnings of a shift from having the voice that tells me not to eat in check moving towards only being able to hear that convincing critical voice. I don’t really know if that makes sense. I’m a mess right now and I can’t think amazingly coherently so writing is certainly going to be a challenge.

I’ve been battling with my body in one way or another since I was 15. I have had years and years of not eating properly, exercising too much, hating myself for eating…

It’s exhausting.

It’s boring.

I thought I was over it… clearly not.

Sometimes I am ‘almost ok’, as in I am not actively trying to lose weight or be super mindful of everything that I put in my mouth; but even when I take my eye off the ball I have never yet achieved a healthy BMI other than when I was pregnant with my babies. My BMI has always sat somewhere between 16-17 even when things are ‘good’, times when people would have no idea there is an underlying issue.

I’ve been in therapy with my therapist for three years in total- 16 months the first time round on the NHS and almost 2 years this time privately, and in that time I have only ever alluded to ‘not eating or doing whatever’ (basically anorexia and self-harm. I’m so eloquent!). I’ve never been able to blow the lid off the case that contains this massive secret with her.

We both know my eating is/has been an issue, but I have felt so ashamed about what I do to myself that I have rarely been able to bring it into the room. Occasionally I might mention how bad things were when I was in my teens from a detached adult place and only at times when I am not actually actively struggling with my eating. When I have had spells of over-exercising or starving myself during the course of my therapy I haven’t been able to tell her. Part of me knows she wouldn’t judge me but part of me is so embarrassed by my behaviour that I just can’t let her in.

I think it’s really common for people to shut down and become secretive when they are in the throes of an eating disorder. I keep quiet because I am ashamed but also I don’t want anyone to try and talk me out of what I am doing to myself. When I am in ‘the zone’, I might be destroying my physical self but I am slightly more removed from my emotional self…and we all know that’s where the problems lie. Not eating and over-exercising provides a kind of relief from my emotional pain – albeit temporary.

It’s not rocket science to see what happened over Easter and how I have ended up here with my body now. I wish I was in the dark about the reason I have started systematically destroying myself but I’m not. I am massively embarrassed about the reasons for how I find myself in this mess. I feel like I am some kind of attention-seeking loser who needs to grow up…

The critical voice is loud right now.

I was absolutely dreading the protracted time away from my therapist at Easter. I really need regular contact and the security that our sessions give me just to function. I wish that wasn’t the case but it is how it is. I knew that being on my own for almost a month was a recipe for disaster. All therapy breaks pose a challenge (I struggle just getting through the normal week between sessions!) but the Christmas break was something else this year and I knew that there was very real possibility of repeating the pattern over this break.

Over Christmas I got so worked up and anxious as the break went on that I became really self-destructive. I couldn’t eat (not through deliberate food restriction but through high anxiety). I seriously considered self-harming. And by the end, after the rupture caused by reaching out to my therapist and it going badly, felt suicidal. I really wish that that sounded less dramatic. Part of me is completely mortified that I am like this at 35 years old.

Shoot me now!

I really really didn’t want a repeat of the last break this time round. I knew the feelings about abandonment and rejection would loom large – they never go away. I knew that a month-long holiday would bring up all the worry I have about my therapist going away and dying on me, just like my dad did on his month-long holiday. I knew that the child parts would freak out and at some point I’d feel the need to reach out to my therapist to seek confirmation that she was still there…which would cause all the usual frigging problems about crap responses or no reply at all. I couldn’t go there. Not this time.

I told my therapist about my sense that the eating disorder stuff was coming online again a couple of sessions before the break and we talked a bit about it. I didn’t tell her that it was all linked to fears I had about my ability to survive the break and her going away. It was, however, the first time I had really brought the eating stuff into the room properly. I felt exposed and that was excruciating but I knew that it needed to happen.

I think I said in my last post that I tried to stop the anorexic behaviour from taking hold by deliberately eating and being nice to myself every time I felt like restricting food or attacking myself. Basically, I ate a lot of chocolate eggs, ice-cream, and biscuits for the first part of the break! That strategy worked to a point….until I put on my jeans and they felt a bit tighter than usual. Then it all came crashing down.

A 2kg weight gain was enough to send me over the edge and allow that critical voice to take hold. I’d done my best to keep it at bay but now it was fully empowered. I gave in. It’s hard to explain to people that eating well, or relatively normally, is a daily battle and that not eating has become my default setting over the years. It is less effort to me not to eat than it is to eat. Anorexia, for me, isn’t like a diet where I feel like I am perpetually punishing myself and wanting to eat. I couldn’t care less about putting food in my body. I want to not have to eat all. It makes me feel ill.

I lost 2kg in a week through running every day on the treadmill and eating less but it wasn’t desperately bad at that point because I had gained the weight over Easter. I was just back to baseline. I returned to therapy and told my therapist all about what was going on.

We had the Skype session last Thursday and our face-to-face on Monday and I swear to god I have no idea what has happened to me but I have just talked and talked and talked about what this fucking bastard eating disorder is like. When she’s asked me questions I have answered them rather than evading them. I have told her I want to physically cut bits of my body off. I have told her exactly what I am doing to myself. It’s like some kind of out of body experience. Who is this person? Where is the secretive, shut down, person that denies there is a problem and plays down the reality?

Well she’s still there to a point. Each time my therapist has asked me if some of what I am feeling might be down to the break we’ve just had (in addition to other things) I say nothing. I can’t tell her… yet. I will tell her though. I think. And soon!

Monday’s session was ok in that I spoke at length about the anorexia. It was connecting in a way…but the session also fell short because those little parts that had longed to see my therapist, that had been hanging on through the therapy break and counting down the days to see her in person, didn’t get any of what they needed. They were stuck inside me watching the session play out. My therapist was a million miles away on her chair and they were locked inside unable to reach for her. Why it is so hard to simply say ‘I really missed you and the break was hard’?  I have no idea.

I felt so sad when I left the session. In some ways it was a huge relief to have talked about the eating disorder, but as always when you have lots of parts with lots of needs kicking around inside, more often than not someone doesn’t get a look in or their needs met. It’s tricky and it can feel really destabilising.

This week has been a fucking disaster as a result. I have opened up the can of worms that is my empty stomach leaving me feeling all kinds of conflicting emotions: the critic is raging that I have told my therapist the secret, and the little ones have felt devastated that they have waited so long to see my therapist and yet still they haven’t been seen by her. Ugh. I feel uncontained and all over the shop meanwhile feeling less and less able to put up any kind of fight against the critic.

I’ve also been busy this week, too. I have taken on more tutoring work – some home schooling 1:1 three days a week (soon to be four) – which is great but means I am basically running around like a headless chicken from Monday morning until 7:45pm on a Thursday evening now. On Monday I had therapy and then had to rush to my teaching session, teach, and then pick up the kids, rush to martial arts lessons, and be mum again. Tuesday I dropped the kids at school and preschool, went to teach, picked up my son, did a staff appraisal for a member of staff at the preschool, went home, and then an hour later had to pick up my daughter, fed the kids, then went off to swim lessons…… blah blah. Same deal on Wednesday only also squeezed in a run on the treadmill and swapped swimming lessons for tutoring a GCSE student on the other side of the city in the evening.

By Wednesday evening I was exhausted and overwrought. Adult me has done really well and I am proud of everything I have achieved this week- especially as I have done it on essentially 400 calories a day. Needless to say, though, it’s all taken its toll. Physically: I have a headache, I feel weak, and I’m tired. My body weight is decreasing. I have lost a further 2kg since last Thursday so now 4kg in two weeks. I can feel my body starting to shut down. I have stars in my peripheral vision, and if I stand up too quickly everything goes black. I get dizzy. I am a mess. Emotionally: I feel very small and scared and uncontained. I feel bullied. I feel both in control and completely out of control. It’s pretty horrible, actually.

I decided to text my therapist on Wednesday evening before I went to tutor (sharp intake of breath!) to ask if she could see me on Friday or, if not, if there was any chance we could have a quick check in over the phone. We’ve never had a phone check in before, I’ve always had extra sessions if there has been a need, but I was feeling like the wheels were falling off in a big way and I needed to talk.

Actually, what I really needed to was to accelerate reconnecting with my therapist and to alleviate the mid-week sense that she doesn’t care and I am a nuisance. Of course these doubting feelings feel all the more potent right now because the critic is running the majority of the show. I needed urgently to feel better about the relationship in order to try and ground myself a bit.

My therapist responded and said that she wasn’t able to offer me a session on Friday. Ugh. As I read the first line of the text I could feel myself shut down. I had already berated myself for being too needy and for reaching out. I had been worried that she may respond with something like ‘I don’t do check ins and I’ll see you on Monday’ which would have sent me over the edge. There was more to the text, however, thank god! – my therapist offered me two possible times to talk to her on the phone or by Skype outside of her usual working hours. I would have settled for a five minute check in on the phone to touch base and settle down the child parts but there she was offering me a full half an hour to talk.

It might seem like a ‘nothing thing’ but actually it felt huge that she was willing to try and meet my need despite her having no time in her working day and actually having to find time in her own time. Not sure if that makes sense. To me it felt like she cared enough about me to try and help me. I guess I should know this would be the case after seeing her on and off over the last six years but clearly her care hasn’t fully worn a pathway in my brain. Part of me still feels like she tolerates me because she has to not because she actually likes me or has any caring feelings towards me- or that she cares in the session but not outside it. She has told me in words enough times that she cares but when I can’t see her that positive sense of her being there erodes.

Yesterday evening I was tutoring til 7:45pm and I had arranged to call my therapist at 8pm to check in. Rather than call from the house, where I feared I may be overheard and therefore feel less able to speak freely, I went out in my car and drove to a layby not far my house that has wonderful views over rolling hills. I parked up, turned the engine off, and wrapped myself up in a fleece blanket that I had taken with me. I dialled in, and we talked.

I can’t tell you how soothing it was to speak to my therapist and hear her voice after the week I’d had. We really talked and I really opened up about the struggles I am having. She was so warm and caring and she used ‘the voice’. You know the one- the one that makes you feel like you are being held tightly. I got off the phone feeling really contained and less alone.

It feels a long way off until Monday but the phone session has certainly helped settle some stuff down. The eating disordered behaviour is still here. I haven’t eaten yet today and won’t until dinner time. I know I will be battling with myself not to throw up after I have eaten.

Things are bad.

They’ve been bad before.

I will come out the other side of this…at some point. Only this time I am not on my own with it. I have someone else on the journey with me and I really hope that even though I have fallen into this space, in part, as a result of feeling abandoned by my therapist, that maybe this time it will be the therapeutic relationship that helps me get over this, and not just for now, in this crisis, but maybe we will be able to do some solid work that might mean recovery is lasting rather than temporary.

Here’s to that!

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Pebbles: The Transitional Object

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‘Small round hard stones click

Under my heels’

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

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

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

Sigh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It all seemed so simple…

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

Ouch.

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

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

Painful stuff.

Really excruciatingly painful stuff.

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, back to the pebbles!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturation Point

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I’m really struggling today. I’ve been sitting staring at this empty screen for almost an hour now and not been able to translate what is going on in my head onto the page. I basically need a page of grey with text that says, ‘I need an adult’ on it and that would probably suffice for this blog today!

I’m not really surprised things feel impossible to write down, I have loads I need to do today and yet have felt unable to do any of it. It’s no wonder the words aren’t coming when I can’t even complete basic day-to-day chores: the kitchen is a mess, the beds aren’t made, and the washing I put on this morning is still sitting in the machine waiting to be hung out. But as is so often the case when I have one of ‘these’ days, I feel totally incapable of doing anything. I hate feeling like this but I just have to sit it out and wait for it to pass.

I have no idea how I am going to snap out of this state and be ready to go and tutor this evening. It feels like a tall order. I know I will manage. I always do. But it’s going to require a huge amount of effort to put the ‘teacher’ hat on tonight (I have no idea how I am going to teach writing skills and selective use of language for effect when all I feel capable of is colouring in!) I am struggling enough with being ‘mum’ today let alone being a professional.

In fairness, probably a large part of this flat lining/depressed/knackered feeling is coming from the fact that I am ill and tired. My wife and son have been poorly for a week and it was only a matter of time until I started sneezing and streaming with a cold. I haven’t been sleeping very well this week as my son has been waking in the night coughing and needing me….11x on Sunday night! OMG!

So, if you like, it could be said that I am suffering from a bit of ‘man flu’. Everything feels worse than it actually is and I am just feeling really sorry for myself. Right now all I want to do is crawl into bed and sleep it all off – the physical and emotional stuff needs rest. I need to recharge. There is, of course, another part to it…yes I’m not well, and yes I am tired, but actually I am also feeling really really sad.

I feel totally unanchored this week and I could really use a bit of nurturing and care. And whilst I ought to be able to go, ‘righteo, then, let’s implement self-care strategies 101 today’ I simply don’t have it in me. My adult has reached saturation point this week through trying to meet other people’s needs whilst simultaneously sacrificing my own and I just haven’t got the energy to ‘do good’ for me. I just can’t muster anything up to help. In fact it’s a big enough battle to not do myself harm.

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I don’t really know how to explain it, but when I feel like this (utter shit mixed with a horrid dose of attachment pain) no amount of jollying myself along, making nice drinks and food, hot baths, reading, listening to music, meditating, visualisation or whatever really helps because (yes, here we go again…) the part that is feeling needy and sad and lost and abandoned couldn’t give a fuck about what I (adult) have to offer it.

My inner child doesn’t want me right now… we all know who she wants don’t we? (ARGH, this is getting so boring!) And there’s a problem because that person, my therapist, isn’t around. Cue screaming of a very young part and that horrendous physical sensation of having been kicked in the stomach alongside the critical voice telling me I am a ‘fucking loser’ and need to lose weight and get a hold of myself.

Last week when I posted, I was absolutely certain that Monday’s session signalled the start of the Easter therapy break. As a result of this I spent a good part of last week feeling miserable and sad about the fact that I had only had one session to patch myself together and try and get enough connection and sense of care to carry me through the hell that is a therapy break. So imagine my delight when I looked at the calendar on Friday morning and realised that I was totally out by a week and that I actually had two therapy sessions before the break. I did a little happy dance!

Don’t get me wrong. I was still very much in the stage of ‘shiiiiiittttt I am hopeless at breaks. Why does she have to go away?!! I can feel the wheels getting loose’ but knowing there were two sessions rather than one felt like a bit of a reprieve. Sadly, I am learning that life seems like throwing big fat spanners in the works where my mental health is concerned…or should I say, the UK weather has been so fucking erratic lately that it seemed perfectly reasonable to dump several feet of snow again over the weekend making it impossible for me to leave my village on Monday. Noooo! The bloody ‘Beast From The East’ reared its head again and blocked the roads.

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I spent the whole weekend being a miserable cow. I just couldn’t help it. There was some severe tantruming going on inside! I was so disgruntled that I wouldn’t be able to make it to my session. The child parts needed to be in that room and get some reassurance that things are going to be ok and that the relationship is safe and solid. I was really hoping that some miracle would happen and some tropical weather would come and melt everything – but no….it’s snowy even now.

The other hard thing about knowing I wouldn’t get to see my therapist was that I couldn’t really let on how devastating it actually felt to my wife. She just doesn’t get it at all and so we never talk about my therapy other than occasionally when she likes to say it doesn’t seem to be making me ‘better’. It’s not easy for her to understand that how I feel towards my therapist is not in any way sexual or even really coming from an adult place.

She doesn’t get what it is to struggle with all this attachment stuff because she is securely attached – lucky her! She can only quantify my feelings within her field of experience and, therefore, this deep love and need I feel for my therapist (not that she knows the extent of it!) must mean I want to have an affair and am being unfaithful. Groan. Totally unhelpful!

The ‘it’s not normal how much you need your therapy and how you feel about your therapist’ stuff has been the source of a few arguments over the years and now we just don’t discuss my therapy at all. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to discuss the finer details of my sessions with my wife (hell no!) but when I feel upset and unsettled because I can’t get to therapy I would like to be able to say what’s wrong and not just have to stuff my feelings down and pretend like I’m delighted that there’s another snow day and it’s all going to be great fun. I’d like to think she might understand that I am doing some deep work with my therapist and trying to repair a lifetime of trauma and that maybe a bit of compassion and care needs extending to me.

It’s not convenient if I am not functioning in ‘mum’ and ‘wife’ and so the sadness of the ‘child’ was heavy inside and made things feel really hard over the weekend. I text my therapist to tell her what was going on (i.e the snow, not the total meltdown I was having – even though I really wanted to tell her about that too! I hate the ‘formal’ texting when actually any time I reach out I want to tell her I miss her and can’t). She responded and suggested trying to Skype and just see how it goes. That sounds fine doesn’t it? We’ve skyped before here and there and it’s been fine. The thing is, I’ve never Skyped when the whole family has been here or when my wife is at the bottom of the stairs making conference calls and working from home.

How on earth could I talk about everything I needed to when there was a strong chance I’d be overheard? It’s hard enough to speak about those needy feelings in therapy or to discuss the issues I have around eating or self-harming or any of the rest of stuff in Pandora’s box as it is, but there was no way on earth I could do it on Monday feeling as though there was an audience.

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The session itself was ok but it was one of those ones that you talk plenty but not about anything particularly important – if my wife was listening in it would’ve been ok. I spoke about my cancer follow up appointment, tutoring, and anxiety about flying (we’ve just booked a much needed holiday) but not the real stuff; not the anxiety dreams I have been having nearly every night about needing my therapist and holding onto her like a tiny kid….I mean I am not sure I would tell her in session because it feels exposing, but there would’ve been a chance had I been there in person; the way therapy has been going lately, and my finding it more possible to show her my vulnerable side, I might have brought it up.

My therapist was really aware how hard I was finding it and did an excellent job of making lots of eye contact (even if I had my face covered and could barely look into the camera) and saying really reassuring things to me, including the fact that she cares about me. Since sending her that letter the other week she keeps reiterating it every session. I am wondering if she really just had no idea how much I have struggled to feel a sense of her care until then? Like it should just be a given? Whatever has changed I am pleased because it is making a difference to how I feel. Although I wouldn’t say I feel secure, I am building evidence to prove that she cares about me…. Uh huh, yes, mental, I know!

We spoke a bit about the break but I didn’t really tell her anything much about how I was feeling because that would’ve meant saying how utterly distraught I feel about ‘being left’ and again with the possibility of being overheard it just couldn’t happen. It was lovely to ‘see’ her and I’d always rather Skype than have no contact, but she said how unfortunate the timing was for this to have happened and how much disruption there’d been lately which wasn’t ideal with the break coming up. I am glad she acknowledged it as being an issue.

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The moment I disconnected the Skype call I felt sick. It was a combination of ‘only one more session’ dread and the young parts not getting enough of what they so badly needed this week- they needed to be seen and heard. I am struggling horribly with my feelings this week. I cannot believe it is only Wednesday. It’s like time is standing still. And whilst part of me wants Monday to get here quickly, there is another part that is anxious that we have one session and then almost a month long break. It feels like such a long time. And whilst I know I will get through it, and am pleased that she is taking a good long block of time to recharge and look after herself, not all of me feels optimistic or glad about it!

Fortunately my therapist is really good at trying cut the breaks down for me as she knows they are an issue. She always offers me an alternative time if she can. She has offered me a session on Thursday 19th April which takes a few days off the length of the break; unfortunately there’s no way I can get there in person because I have to do the school run and can’t get from her place to school in the time I have. Basically, I will take the session, but it’s going to have to be another Skype session. I am not sure how I feel about that.

I know I have a tendency to shut down and push her away after a break. The trust and connection I feel erodes over a break and I often sit there silent for a few sessions whilst the repair work is done. The gatekeepers take a while to let the defences down and so I am not sure how this will work over Skype. I guess we’ll have to see.

Anyway, this is really just a nothing post. There are things I want to say but I will wait until I feel better and more able to formulate my thoughts to write them.

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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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Cancer: the thief

*Trigger warning: cancer, cancer treatment, and death spoken about in no uncertain terms.

One of my closest friends is, as I type this, dying in hospital and it’s only a matter of time until the phone call comes to tell me that she is gone has died today.

When I started thinking about, and writing, this post this morning it was from the position of knowing that my dear friend was receiving end of life care in hospital and I wanted to express how sad, angry, and frustrated I feel about what has happened to her, and how unfair life seems sometimes.

It seems like an odd thing to be doing, carrying on with this piece of writing now, but I need to process this loss and writing is all I can manage right now. Every time I talk I burst into tears. I’ve cried and cried all day and now the tears have temporarily abated there’s a huge part of me that is grieving but another part that wants to tell everyone about this wonderful lady whilst I shake my fist and rage at cancer.

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I feel like I am perpetually being robbed by this fucking hideous, persistent, crafty, bastard thief we know as cancer. I live in fear of it every day of my life, like so many of us. We (my family and friends) try to pretend like it doesn’t exist and that I am/we are unlikely to be burgled again, but I know the truth: it is only a matter of time before someone I love is taken from me or that I will be taken from my loved ones because cancer just won’t leave us alone. It can’t. It’s so deeply woven into the fabric of our existence these days. With 1 in 2 of us now being subject to some form of cancer diagnosis in our lifetime, there is a sad inevitability about it: you will be robbed blind, it just remains to be seen in which way, will it be your life or the life of someone you care about that is targeted…or both?

The fact remains, if you’ve been burgled once you’re likely to be the victim again. Just like my beautiful, darling friend. She had breast cancer fifteen years ago and then got diagnosed with Myeloma (bone marrow cancer) in 2015… and now she is dying. I guess some people might say that she was lucky to survive the breast cancer and get more precious years with her family and friends but it’s hard to see it that way right now when for the last two years I’ve watched the bravest woman I know try every line of treatment available only to watch it fail. We all hoped desperately for success and yet one by one saw each treatment was unsuccessful – now there is nothing left to be done, in her own words to a mutual friend, ‘we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel now’.

I have known this woman for a decade now and feel utterly blessed to have had her in my life. She was an English teacher, like me, and when I took up my first teaching job she promptly took me under her wing and supported me in any way she could. At the end of the first year of teaching my dad died suddenly and she was the one who delivered flowers to my doorstep and planned my cover lessons. She was there for me all through my subsequent mental breakdown. She has always been there. She has two children around my age and she became a great friend but also a mother figure. She never dodged the difficult questions with me. She noticed when I was sinking into anorexia or depression and would always say something caring but not intrusive. She always made me feel normal and cared for and SAFE. Later she supported me in my return to work and then through my pregnancy when I was teaching. Since then she’s been there through it all with me, another baby, my own cancer diagnosis and treatment, and now, sadly, I have also seen her through hers.

I have watched a beautiful, loving, kind, and vibrant soul have her life stolen from her bit by bit by the cancer thief. I was devastated to find out she had been diagnosed with Myeloma just around the time I was confirmed in remission with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I had more chemo and radiation to go but I knew that my treatment was effective and it spurred me on. The relief I felt to have been successful in my own cancer battle was short-lived because I knew now what lay ahead for my friend. I couldn’t take it away for her and I knew that her odds and stats were not in her favour. My cancer was curable, hers only treatable.

So whilst at the beginning we thought she might get 5 years or more with her and were ready to cheerlead her through her treatment, we are now less than two years in and she is at the end of her life, there are possibly days left but more likely hours remaining. There have been no good spells for her because she has not responded successfully to any of her treatment. She has been fighting a losing battle but hell has she put up a huge fight.

This warrior woman is a rock and an example to us all on how to live life and how to cope when facing death. Now barely sixty years old she has faced her diagnosis with a grit and determination that I know I would have struggled to muster. I know, in all likelihood, somewhere along the line I will either relapse in my Hodgkin’s or get another cancer diagnosis as a side-effect of the ‘kill or cure’ treatment I’ve already had. I am terrified of that happening but my lovely friend has shown me it is possible to smile and live through hell. I just don’t want to. I am scared.

I’m not going to dress this up and if it’s too much for you then stop reading. Cancer treatment for Myeloma is hideous. The treatment regime has been gruelling. I have felt so powerless as I have witnessed her go through bone marrow biopsies (this is the worst pain I have ever experienced) chemo after horrid failed chemo, blood transfusions, infusions, injections, poison after poison in pill after pill, and none of it has been effective. She’s suffered hair loss/thinning (the least of her worries), severe jaundice, crippling exhaustion, desperate anaemia, neutropenia, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, constipation, aching, balance issues, weight loss, bloating, insomnia, physical weakness and pain….and so much more. To watch someone keep going in the face of total agony is harrowing. She has always put a brave face on and yet I’ve known how hard it’s been. There’s a look in her eye: fear, I think, that she doesn’t show to many people but because I have been through cancer treatment she knows I get it, she doesn’t need to hide from me.

Less than a month ago I sent her a message to see how she was as she’d just started on another (last chance) line of treatment and got this in reply:

‘You know the score more than anyone: bad taste in mouth, tired as hell, and a belly like a poisoned pup. Lots of fluid retention with this one so looking pregnant! Hey ho, what a week! At least I got through the five days of treatment. Three weeks to recover now’

Despite the horror of it, and believe me this treatment is horrific she was still chirpy. I have messaged several times over the last few weeks and then two weeks ago my friends and I got a blanket text:

‘Unfortunately I’m in hospital. I’ve been here since Friday and I’m not sure when I’m going home. You know how I feel about that! Hope all well with you x’

I was in hospital on Wednesday 18th in the haematology centre having my regular consultant follow up. Fortunately I am still in remission (phew). I knew my friend was on the ward literally through the door, but that she was too ill for visitors. Since then I have been texting and getting no replies, like everyone else.

On Thursday when I was house hunting in Cornwall I received a call from my friend’s husband saying that she was now too ill even to reply to messages and that he would keep us informed. In my head I couldn’t process what he was saying at all. I couldn’t read between the lines. Maybe I didn’t want to.

I spent some of my therapy session talking about my friend and how I felt about what was happening. I said how I am not ready to lose her yet and that I always thought having time to say goodbye to someone would make it in some way easier when the time finally came. I can tell you now – it doesn’t. I can safely say that watching a person suffer and deteriorate before your eyes is no easier than losing someone unexpectedly. Unfortunately, I now have experience of both types of loss. What I do know is that losing someone you deeply love generates a pain and grief that is inconceivable until it happens.

After my session on Friday I went to Tesco. I was ambling round the shop in a post-therapy daze when another ex work friend/mum replacement (I try and collect these mothering older women!) text me to say that our friend had further deteriorated and is now on end of life/palliative care. As I read the message I felt my world start to crumble. Things suddenly became real in a way that they hadn’t until now. I left my trolley and walked out the store and sat in my car crying. Despite knowing that treatment isn’t going well and that she is desperately ill in hospital, I am not ready to say goodbye to a woman who has seen me through the best and worst times in my life. I can’t lose another person whom I love.

In the early hours of this morning I had a dream about my friend. I was visiting her in the hospital and she was unresponsive in her bed, as she is now. I sat there holding her hand when another version of my friend walked in the door and sat with me. She was as I have known her before her illness, full of life, vibrant, exuding warmth and love. She came in and sat beside me and said:

‘This body in the bed isn’t me, darling. It’s just my shell. It’s what’s left of my earthly body. I am here with you now in the way I always have been. I’ve had a good life. I’ve been so happy. I want you to tell people about me. I was a good teacher, wasn’t I? We had a laugh didn’t we?’

and I replied:

‘We absolutely did! You were the best teacher but you are so much more than that. You are an unbelievable wife and mother. I am proud and blessed to call you my friend. You are without doubt the kindest soul I have ever met and my life is all the richer for having had you in it. I love you so much.’

she replied:

‘I love you too. I’ve got to go now but I’ll see you soon’.

I woke up sobbing my heart out and couldn’t stop crying for a couple of hours.

*

I found out that my friend died early this morning.

So today is a bad day. It’s right up there among the very worst days of my life. I am beyond devastated and I miss my friend so very much. I will always miss her but I will always carry her in my heart.

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