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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What It’s Like On Wednesdays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

X

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

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Ultimatum

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So I realise that my blog has fallen by the wayside a bit these last few weeks (but I’m back now with a humdinger of a post!). I usually try and write something here at least once a week in order for me to keep some kind of regular record of what’s going on for me. I used to write a journal on my computer following each therapy session I had; the blog became a bit of a replacement for that – a sort of diary that the public can read (although I have been having some thoughts about that, lately, too – weird paranoia maybe? Or just a need to draw close and be private…I don’t know).

I’ve been so busy running around like a headless chicken or maybe, more accurately, with my head wedged up my vaguely anorexic arse, sorting my kids out, and tutoring most days that now there is very little time to actually sit down and reflect on what is going on in my internal world on the page (currently writing this from the edge of a swimming pool while my daughter has her lesson!). I haven’t not been writing because I’m short of things to say- far from it- my mind is all over the place and overflowing with the usual angsty crap: attachment pain, therapy worries, bad dreams, health, the eating (or not) stuff… and now, in addition to all that, I’m in a spin over my therapist’s ‘ultimatum’…

I have really missed my writing time. I so need it! Hence stealing time where I can now before I explode! A couple of hours each week to ponder and process, I am discovering, is more important to me/necessary than I thought. I need to try and find time for this but like so many of ‘my’ things, it doesn’t take precedence when there are so many other pressing things that actually have to be fit into the day. I do need to prioritise time for me, not just for writing, before I sink even further into quicksand I seem to find myself in.

Even if I write reams (maybe piles!) of emotional diarrhoea here (and having just proof-read this it does turn into a big splurge- sorry) and it makes no sense to anyone but me, I find the writing process really cathartic. It helps me get my head above water/out the sand a bit. It’s a good way of letting stuff out when all too often I feel overwhelmed or full of emotion.

I think some of why I find it so helpful might be that I actually sit down in one place for a block of time and have a hot (rather than luke warm/forgotten about) cup of coffee – it certainly can’t hurt! I was speaking to a friend the other day and I likened myself to a bee stuck in a jar. I am always buzzing around like a crazy thing. I don’t really stop.

Of course, I also have my therapy session on a Monday which is where I should get stuff off my chest, slow down, decompress, but more often than not the session stirs up more than it lays to rest and then I am left trying to make sense of it all on my own during the week. I find the first couple of days post-session extremely hard going and it’s no secret that I feel emotionally at sea and struggle for a good part of the time between my therapy sessions. I really haven’t got to grips with that emotional containment thing yet.

Actually, I’m having a hideously rough time this week and it’s crap right now, so I am looking forward to Friday and feeling like I am over the worst of the week. Having said that, usually I am pleased to get to Friday because it means it’s actually almost Monday…but this week I am not sure how I feel about my session on Monday. I am not sure if I am going to go yet. I don’t know if I can face it. Of course the little parts want to go and have some chance of reconnecting with my therapist but right now my teen part is off the chart raging, angry and let down. Underneath that, there’s also a real fear that I have broken my therapist and it’s all going to be downhill from here.

I’ll get to the point shall I?

Last week’s session (1st May) feels a really long time ago now. I can’t really remember what happened. I sometimes get this weird amnesia following a therapy session. Does anyone else? Like I have a vague idea of what happened or sense the general feeling of the session but it’s not clear exactly what happened. I usually have a very good memory for detail in my life and remember all sorts of useless information so I wonder if I am so frequently dissociated in session that I lose what’s gone on?

I do know that we talked about the eating disorder stuff – again. My therapist asked me how things were going and said that although I may not like her bringing the subject up, that it was too important for her to just let go – indeed she couldn’t/wouldn’t let it go. The session was fine. I told her how things were and filled her in on what was going on now (level of exercise, what I am eating, how I feel about my body, and the physical symptoms I was experiencing) and what it’s been like in the past. It was ‘the no-filtered version’ of life with an eating disorder.

I think she finally has an accurate picture of what it’s like  for me and she seemed to get it. I guess part of me was quite relieved for her to show she cared and build on the phone check in we had had on the Thursday night. I felt exposed but also like I wasn’t completely alone with this burden anymore. Yet again, I failed to bring up any of the issues about the attachment and the feeling disconnected from her but on the whole it was ok.

The week was a bit wobbly between that session and the one I just had on Monday (8th) – but when is it ever not wobbly?! I can’t suddenly let the cat out the bag about the anorexia and not be impacted by it can I? So, yeah, it was very bad in the early part of the week again. My tolerance levels were shot, my temper was short, and I was beating myself up in a big way. It wasn’t good. Some of it was undoubtedly hormonal but I know a larger part came not having really eaten properly in weeks: my blood sugar was low, fatigue was massive, and all the stuff that I just about have a handle on from week to week was suffocating me.

On Wednesday evening things felt so utterly overwhelming that I almost just got in my car and drove away….you know, just wanted to leave everything? I was done. It wasn’t good. I’d been having dreams about all the stuff surrounding my dad, friend, dog, all dying – upsetting as hell. I had also dreamt that my therapist had left me – nooooo. Oh and then I had a dream about my very good childhood best-friend, the one with metastatic breast cancer, and planning her funeral with her. It was a week where my sleep was filled with death and loss. The feelings crept into my waking life and I felt on the verge of tears every time I woke up, and every time I felt a bit tired.

Thank god for good friends with an ability to talk me down is all I can say. A twenty minute phone call was the difference between me falling off the edge altogether and regrouping and having another stab at moving forward. Things are on a knife edge.

By the end of the weekend I had reached a place where I wanted to really talk about ‘big stuff’ with my therapist and had steadily been eating a bit more each day which undoubtedly helped with my mood. Don’t get me wrong, there was still the voice telling me I was fat, and lazy, and can’t even succeed at an eating disorder… yeah, really!…and that is not easy to have doing the rounds in my head. But there was a part of me that was trying hard to hang on and not sink down into the place where I would, before long, have been passing out. Dizzy spells, cold hands and feet are enough. I was pushing myself too far. I know that how things have been since Easter is not sustainable. I was losing the battle with the eating and it wasn’t good. I wanted to unpick this properly.

I needed to explain why the attachment stuff feeds this kind of damaging behaviour and relationship with food and how things need to change – although I have no idea how to get round this myself but if my therapist at least has an accurate picture of just how bad it can feel we might be able to put a plan in place. The eating disordered behaviour simply masks other issues. Sure there is a large dose of body image stuff thrown in the mix but primarily not eating allows me to focus on something other than feeling the pain of neglect and abandonment. It temporarily shifts focus away from the Mother Wound.

Despite feeling embarrassed – mortified, even- that my young parts are so traumatised and get triggered every time I see my therapist, I think it’s time she heard the truth about how affected I am when I can’t see her…the real truth, not just the watered down insinuated version of things. I wanted to explain how I long to connect with her but part of me feels distant and like I can’t trust her. I want her to know that when I am not with her in session the young parts cannot cope at all and it is utterly overwhelming. I need her to know that breaks aren’t just ‘a bit difficult’ they are ‘a fucking disaster zone’. I wanted her to know that touch, or lack of it, has become such a huge issue for me that it’s massively impacting my ability to function in the relationship and is attacking my self-esteem.

I sit in session every week feeling like there is something wrong with me because we are so physically distant. I need more proximity if I can’t have touch because my mind tells me that my therapist doesn’t want to hug me because there is something disgusting and repulsive about me and she is only tolerating me because she has to. It must be the idea of touching me, even holding my hand, that is nauseating to her. It’s not the first time this physical rejection has happened to me and it’s hardly surprising it’s coming out in the therapeutic relationship now when so much of the work is about my mother. Yay for huge whacks of maternal transference with my therapist! Ugh!

For me, the ‘no touch’ boundary feels just the same as my mum refusing to touch me at fourteen saying ‘don’t hold my hand. People might think we are lesbians’. We’re twenty one years down the line and since then I’ve never had any holding from my mum (I mean there wasn’t much before that point either!) and the sense that ultimately ‘being a lesbian’ is a bad thing has stuck. Little did my mum know when she said her casually homophobic remark that I would turn out to be gay and those words branded into my brain.

I know it’s not my therapist’s job to physically hold me but I am not sure she realises how traumatising not being touched at all is for me. Every session with her reminds me that I am not worthy of her physical care – and might it be because I am gay? Is that the problem? I know it’s not rational. Adult knows this. But there are plenty of others inside that feel it to be absolutely true. The young parts of me want to be physically close to her and not being able to be feels utterly rejecting. How can a young three year old part make any sense of why an attachment figure won’t come close?

To my therapist, no physical contact is just a therapy boundary but to me it confirms everything I believe about myself as being unlovable, untouchable, and repellent to be true. That’s how it is. It’s hurting me. It properly makes my stomach ache and my chest feel tight and I want to cry when I think about it. It’s a big wound.

So yeah, with all that ready to air it was going to be a big session! I had reached that ‘now or never’ place. I was feeling brave. Go me!

So, I walked in, sat down, made some passing comment about the lovely weather and how I wanted to go to the beach – I’d actually been considering asking if maybe one day we could have our session on the beach seeing as it’s only about a five minute walk away. I looked at my therapist and immediately sensed something was up.

Fuck.

What was wrong?

My internal system went on high alert. My poker face went on. I steadied myself. I waited.

And then out it came…

We needed to talk about the eating disorder stuff and she said it couldn’t wait until the last few minutes of the session. She’d been thinking a lot since the last session about what I’ve told her since coming back from Easter break. She said that she was very very concerned about my well-being. She was worried about my low BMI. She was worried about the fact that my body is clearly struggling and shutting down. She was aware that the dynamic between us had shifted and that she’d fallen into being more like my mother and almost policing me by talking about what exactly I’m eating and suggesting strategies to eat more [sounds fair enough]

But then came…

She was not prepared to hold this level of risk and be so worried about my physical safety. It was not her job. She wanted me to go to the doctor, get bloods taken, have an ECG, and get weighed. She wanted the doctor to confirm I’d been seen and communicate with her. Or if I wouldn’t go of my own volition she wanted to write to my GP and ask for these things to be done. She wanted someone else to be responsible for my physical well-being. She needed a safety net.

She said I was either agree to all that or we’d have to work towards an ending.

After the words ‘work towards an ending’ I didn’t hear a great deal more. I shut down. Properly shut down. I was a mess inside, though. Like utter full-on flat-out panic. The young ones wanted to burst into tears right there and then. It felt like a hole had opened up beneath me and I was falling. Not seeing my therapist anymore would be akin to a bereavement. This. Cannot. Be. Happening.

The Teen part stepped up, though and waded in. Her thoughts?:

There we are then. Confirmation that when I let stuff out and trust someone with my shameful secret it backfires. I am too much for my therapist. I am too much for everyone. She isn’t prepared to work with me alone. She said she would be here for as long as I needed and now there are conditions attached. Why did I trust her with this? I’m an idiot. I fucking hate her.

Look. I (adult) absolutely get that what was said, and what came afterwards in the rest of the session, was coming from a place of care and it wasn’t only about my therapist covering her back. It is completely reasonable that she would need a safety net for if things get bad so she has somewhere to touch base and get me help if I needed it. It’s no different from when I saw her in the NHS and she had my details on record. But that wasn’t how it came across at the beginning of the session. To be given an ultimatum within three minutes of sitting down where the choice was ‘go on record about your eating disorder and enter into the NHS circus again or we’re done’ didn’t feel like much of a choice if I am honest.

I’m glad that she didn’t leave this stuff until the end of the session because we needed an entire session of talking about this stuff back and forth – as painful as it was. The moment she mentioned the possibility of ending I felt so sad and scared.

We like to convince ourselves that our therapists will be there no matter what. Well actually, I struggle to believe that is the case and am always feeling as though shit is going to blow up at any given moment so I best be vigilant. For me it’s been about trying to believe she is as good as her word. That she is reliable. That she won’t abandon me when the big stuff comes out. I was starting to believe that maybe she won’t leave and that as long as I need her she won’t let me go – hence finally telling her fully about the eating. It’s not true though. When it comes down to it, she can and will sever the tie. It is just a job to her. Sure she cares but she has to work within a framework and that means being hard line sometimes.

I get that she wasn’t actually saying ‘you’ve said x and now I am terminating you’ far from it, she said it isn’t her job to be neglectful and I’ve had too much of that from others in the past. She isn’t trying to let me down, in fact it is the very opposite… but the very mention of the ending sent me into orbit. I know it was probably a bit of tough love and she was maybe riding on the fact that my attachment to her is strong that I would help myself rather than lose her. I dunno.

Even though we’ve left things on ok terms I still feel massively unsettled now. I mean things were already a bit all over the place and now it’s like I am on very shaky ground. Unsurprisingly the eating is feeling really hard again now…because I feel out of control and like I am going to maybe lose the person that I need to help me.

The initial request/insistence that I must go and get checked out or work to ending has changed a bit/been negotiated over the course of the session we had. Somehow in amongst the teen shut down there were periods were I strongly advocated for myself. I have now given her my GP details and agreed that she can contact my GP if we discuss it beforehand. I’ve said that if she thinks things are bad she can act but I have to know about it first; I don’t want to suddenly get a call from my GP asking me to come in because my therapist has contacted them and me not be aware it was happening.

The reasons we got to this point are that I had been eating and had been looking after myself a little better this week. I was honest with her and said that things haven’t gone away but that I am not in immediate danger right now. I probably was the week before and so her reaction was entirely reasonable. She had cause to be genuinely worried about me last week. I was genuinely worried about me too. I told her I would tell her if I was slipping. I know that this is going to be a challenge because part of me is worried about ever bringing up this topic again.

I also reminded her that as part of my cancer follow up care I get full bloods taken every eight weeks and I get weighed (which I hate but I can’t really argue with). They monitor me very closely and so I said that if they are not overly concerned about my BMI (it has been mentioned but nothing done) or my blood chemistry then I think that’s good enough. She wasn’t aware I had such a thorough work up at the hospital so this went some way to settling her concerns.

I said that my eating disorder is definitely an issue, has been massively active, and it is absolutely something I need to work on but the idea of going back to weekly weigh-ins and GP appointments would actually make things worse for me. I don’t want to run away from this stuff anymore (hence letting her know about it) but equally I know what hasn’t worked for me in the past. If I get weighed all I want to do is chase the scales downwards – not maintain.

There were times in the session where I was really reactive and grumpy and shut down and dismissive and ‘I don’t care’ and ‘what’s the point?’ but she could see it was all a reaction to what she’d said. I’d sent her my post about the Mother Wound and asked her to read it because, actually, I know that this is where so many of my issues stem from. She didn’t have time to read it before the session and so I felt a bit irritated about that. Remember I was in pissed off Teen 😉 and when she offered to read it in the session I just couldn’t bear the idea of her sitting there reading the vulnerable stuff and then having no time left to discuss it.

I left the session. I didn’t want to go. I wanted to settle things properly and leave feeling better. Doesn’t work like that though does it?! Time’s up. We over ran by five minutes but I knew I had to leave. I drove home and had a good think about what had happened and then sent this text to her about one o’ clock:

Today felt really hard for me. Having had some time to reflect and untangle – actually the request for my GP details really is a non-issue and had you just asked for them and explained that it was because you feel like it’s important to have back up, I would’ve given them to you. I completely understand why it’s a good idea that you have them and it’s fine if we agree communication beforehand if it becomes necessary. The thing that shut me down/activated stuff was how what you said was delivered. It felt like you were giving me an ultimatum along the lines of – ‘see your doctor or we’ll have to work towards and ending’. All I heard was ‘we’ll have to work towards an ending’ and so every vulnerable part felt the rug come out from underneath me. This is the sort of thing I dread happening but am always sort of expecting, and why I am always reluctant to let stuff out. When it feels like things are so tenuous my instinct is to leave before I get left- hence how I was today. It’s been really hard opening up about all this stuff especially just after the Easter break when I feel like trust is an issue and still feel disconnected (I really missed you) – and to feel like that was essentially being me with ‘it’s too much’ (even if that’s not what was intended) is not easy. Unfortunately, there is a part that struggles to believe that this isn’t actually just about getting rid of me and there are other parts that feel completely bereft. Trying to be rational but it’s not always my strong suit. Anyway, that’s about it I think.

Of course there was no reply to that. And then I started second guessing myself. Texts haven’t gone well for us and after what happened at Christmas where she thought I was criticising her and nothing was good enough I wondered if what I had text might be read as another criticism of her rather than just saying how it felt for me. So at six pm I sent this (groan….when will I learn to just shut the fuck up and manage for myself?!):

And none of what I said in that message is meant as a criticism – in case it comes over that way –it’s definitely not my intention. It’s just what happened in my head when you said what you did. What I hear and what is meant can be quite a distance apart…which highlights to me just what a mess my head is. I wish this young attachment stuff would just go away but it gets triggered so easily. That part is always there listening, and then it doesn’t settle down and becomes another jumble of mess to manage. On the plus side, I’m delighted that you don’t feel I’m psychotic.

(We’d had a bit of a joke at the end and that was what the end bit of the text was about.)

Obviously, it’s been complete radio silence since those messages on Monday – which sucks. But it’s the boundary…another that I seem to have no say in. Ugh. It’s felt pretty rotten at times over the last few days and yet now I feel I can’t reach out to my therapist for help or support. I can’t text and ask for a check in or an additional session like I did a couple of weeks ago because I feel like I am already too much for her. It’s horrible. I need to work this stuff out with her more thoroughly and yet it feels impossible and so I am sitting on it all, brooding, and cycling through the whole range of emotions. I don’t like rollercoasters but I seem to stuck riding one right now.

This morning I woke up at 5am feeling sick after having another dream about my therapist leaving. I’m just about hanging together with rubber bands and chewing gum but it feels like I have done it now- I have broken the therapeutic relationship. I am frightened that I will go back in on Monday and she’ll terminate me. She’ll have had some more time to think and that’ll be that. It’s a complete head fuck. I’m trying not to get worked up about something that is unlikely to happen but unfortunately some of the parts have different ideas!

So that’s that. Nothing earth shattering or insightful – just how it is in the therapy and life of yours truly!

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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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Skype Session #2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Panic over.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a good session.

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

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

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I don’t know what to do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hate indecision!

 

 

Rupture in the therapeutic relationship: where do I go from here?

It’s been a week since my last post where I talked (cried, moaned, wailed!) about the rupture between myself and my therapist that came about after the exchange of a couple of text messages last Wednesday (I do see how very dramatic that seems!).

For those of you not familiar with the context, I had been really struggling with the therapy break (that old chestnut) and had worked myself up to a point of high anxiety where I was barely able to function….that is how it was and so I won’t downplay it. After three days of intense emotional struggle, not eating, and almost self harming, I decided to reach out to my therapist to ask her reassure me that she was still there and that the relationship was still ‘ok’ via text message…

And then it all went to shit! Like huge amounts of gushing diarrhoea shit! Ugh! I still can’t believe that I didn’t see it coming.

I know that it sounds bonkers that a 34 year old woman can’t maintain a sense of connection to a therapist that she’s seen for three years, but then I struggle with object constancy and it’s all part and parcel of disorganised attachment. The feeling of anxiety and all-consuming panic that floods my system, and worrying that I have been left is enormous. It’s excruciating, actually.

These feelings don’t come from nowhere. They feel enormous now but they were also enormous when I was 10 months old and my mum left my dad (and the country) without telling him or anyone else (you know, as you do!). I have a very clear image of myself at two years old standing on the back porch, looking at the snow, wearing a red snowsuit saying ‘where’s my daddy?’ – I don’t know if it’s a genuine memory but it came to me in therapy one session when I had been particularly dissociated.

So where was daddy? Not there then, and certainly not here now. He left me unexpectedly when abroad on holiday. He didn’t mean to. He had a sudden heart attack three days into a diving holiday. So daddy is gone gone. Little girl doesn’t understand and adult me never saw a body or had a funeral so can’t really understand that daddy is dead now. Part of me thinks he’s still on holiday.

We returned home to the UK when I was 3.5 years old. My mum got back together with my dad. Happy times right? No. Next thing to happen was for my mum to disappear on me 5 days a week from the age of four to go away to study. That makes sense to my adult but the little girl part of me still feels that intense confusion and fear that mummy has gone. I was always left wondering when she might return because one day, two days, three or even four doesn’t mean anything to kids – their concept of time isn’t like ours. Mum wasn’t there so maybe she was never coming back.

What I am clumsily trying to say is that the anxiety I feel on therapy breaks or in between therapy sessions does not belong to my adult. Sure the grown up part of me would like to see more of my therapist, but the dread and fear I feel it is that of a little girl that has had no emotional stability or consistently safe caregiver for her whole life. It makes sense to my adult that being away from the new attachment figure would stir up all kinds of chaos for the young ones.

Anyway, back to the text debacle. In fairness to my therapist, she did respond to me, she didn’t leave me hanging- unfortunately, though, the messages she sent did little to reassure the little girl who was absolutely beside herself and the messages felt cold and misattuned to those needs. Little girl had a meltdown!

Lots of readers commented on the post and could see why I would feel devastated by the perceived tone of the messages I received. It felt comforting, on Thursday, that at least some people could see how upset I might feel and that I wasn’t completely unjustified in feeling utterly bereft.

By Thursday evening I felt quite overwhelmed by the comments on my post because they seemed to be confirming what I was feeling was understandable and justified. I didn’t want to be right, though. Because if my feeling were justifiable….then that meant my therapist had cocked up and missed the point…and I didn’t want that to be the case. It’s much easier to take things on myself than see fault in others. I can change me but I can’t change somebody else. I didn’t want for it to be the case that maybe she didn’t care. That felt too devastating.

I’d felt completely abandoned and rejected by my therapist on Wednesday and I can see now that a lot of my reaction to her messages was about my coming from a very triggered place. Perhaps my reading of her words was not quite as they were meant – she said as much on Monday. Unfortunately, though, my therapist’s messages felt rejecting regardless of her intention and that is what I need to work through.

I had shared what had happened with a friend on Wednesday. I was utterly distraught. She could see how I felt and also felt that the messages felt cold. She recommended a therapist in my area and suggested that perhaps it might be good to get another perspective on things. I agreed this would be a good idea, not just because of this rupture but for some of the other things that have been niggling away at me in the therapeutic relationship.

I emailed the therapist to see if she could offer me any sessions to help me work through the rupture with my therapist. Essentially, I wanted her to help me see if I could find a way of working through the issues I have in my current therapy or whether it might be time to look for a new kind of therapy.

The therapist responded quickly and the reply I got was really warm and empathic even though all I had said was that I had had a rupture with my therapist – I hadn’t given any detail. It was a world away from anything my therapist has ever sent which was both refreshing and painful. How can someone who doesn’t even know me be so open and warm and yet someone who knows me intimately be so business-like? I know. I know. Two different people with two differing approaches…but ouch.

The therapist had spoken with her supervisor following my email and agreed that we could do up to four sessions to work on this stuff and that she had some availability for the next two Tuesdays. I jumped at the chance to get additional input and support because the situation felt/feels utterly horrendous.

Part of seeking out additional therapeutic support was that I wanted to know if my responses to some of the things that have happened are over the top or actually justified (I know she wouldn’t use those words, and actually my feelings are my feelings – rational or not they are real to me), and also to better understand things from a therapist’s perspective.

I know the new therapist is not ‘my therapist’ but she would objectively be able to look at the situation and maybe signpost things for me on how to get through this or at least help me clarify what it is that I need to say to move forward. So that was positive. I felt too, that having this space on Tuesday would mean I would have a sounding board for whatever happened on Monday…and that in itself allowed me to consider going in to face things.

By Friday morning I had begun to settle down a bit, or detach, or perhaps I was a bit desperate… I am not sure what was going on, really. It’s weird. Different parts were doing and feeling different things. Looking back I can see that even though there was a huge part of me that was hurting and angry there was another part that couldn’t bear the thought of not seeing my therapist. The attached child part longed to see my therapist and to try and make the situation feel better and wanted to believe that she cared.

The last message I had sent to my therapist on Wednesday was that it was unlikely I’d be coming to session but that I’d let her know on Friday because she needs 48 hours notice of cancellation. On Friday morning I text her asking her to read the blog post I had written because I needed her to understand how I felt in the moment, even if it was reactive, and even though I might feel a bit less wounded now:

‘I’m still at a loss about Wednesday but I think where I have got to is that you don’t ever deliberately do things to hurt me and I have to trust that you know what you are doing – and so I guess we need to talk on Monday even though part of me just can’t face it. I’d really appreciate it if you can find time to read the linked post before session because I really think you need to know this stuff but equally we’ll need all the session to talk. If you let me know on Monday how long it took to read then I’ll just add the extra to the payment. Have a good weekend.’

 She replied almost immediately:

Ok, I’ll read it. See you on Monday’.

This message was short and to the point but it didn’t feel rejecting…which made me wonder a bit about how I reacted to the first message on Wednesday which was clearly longer and addressed more of the content of my request. Why was my reaction so different then?

I guess what I would say is that the point at which I was reaching out for reassurance my adult was not online AT ALL. I was fully caught up in a trauma response to feeling abandoned in the break and so the part that needed reassurance needed a very simple, caring message. I needed the kind of thing that you might say to a very distressed child: ‘it’s ok, I am here, I know you feel scared, but I will be there on Monday and we can talk about this’…or something along those lines. 

I think this is one of the pitfalls of working with clients who have fragmented parts. It’s not always easy for the therapist to see which part is communicating a need (especially through a text or email) and so it’s hard to know what to say or how to adequately respond- which is why my therapist will not usually reply to texts. She says that when she can’t see me she can’t get a true sense of what I am feeling and she may hone in on completely the wrong thing and leave me feeling unseen and unheard because she misses something that is massive to me….doesn’t stop me wanting to reach out though!

Having said all that, on the occasions where my therapist has responded to me or sent a prearranged message at a particular time she seems hell bent on keeping the adult front and centre in her communications. So often it feels like our exchanges seem to miss the mark because she only talks to the adult part. She doesn’t acknowledge the child parts outside session. It’s different in session, thank god.

Through her messages I think she wants to bring the adult part back online (and that makes sense) but actually all that happens is that my young child parts feel rejected, unseen, and abandoned, when she sends messages aimed at the adult. It takes a lot for me to show any level of vulnerability and need and so to have it almost ignored feels absolutely crushing to the little parts. And that’s exactly how it felt last week. I felt like I had been annihilated and struggled to get my adult self back online.

I don’t know what the right thing to do in this situation is. I know that how what she does makes me feel awful but perhaps there is some kind of therapeutic rationale behind the way she communicates that I just don’t understand. For me, I feel that if she at least acknowledged the child parts, then it’d settle them a bit and allow adult to come back online. Ignoring the young ones just agitates them even more. The attach parts are set to scream until they get a response from the attachment figure, after all so ignoring them doesn’t shut them up.

Anyway, Friday went by steadily. The feelings of pain, rejection, and abandonment from Wednesday were still swirling around and distressing the child parts; the inner critic was doing a smashing job of attacking my body – I only ate twice between Tuesday and Friday. The teen part was feeling very much ‘fuck her and fuck this’. I could feel an additional cloud move in as Friday progressed. I sunk into a really very bad place. I’m not just talking depressed and lethargic. I was bordering on suicidal and I don’t mean that in a flippant way. I literally wanted to die. I haven’t felt like that since my breakdown in 2009. I really felt desperately unwell in my mind.

I text a friend and tried to dig my way out of my hole before having early night. I had bad dreams about therapy and then woke up feeling anxious but not like I wanted to die. Thank goodness. It was crap still, but not end of the world crap. When it gets bad I have to try and remind myself how quickly these feelings can move in and out.

I think what I am beginning to understand now, is that perhaps I am not a massively changeable, volatile, and, unstable person, but actually instead there are many parts of me and they have lots of different feelings. I need to become more aware of who’s running the show at any given moment.

Who is the ‘holding it together’ one and who is it that wants to die? Who wants to attach and who feels left and wants to run away? And so on. Because whilst I know they are all part of me, they are exactly that, fragmented parts. That’s why it is so unnerving to feel so conflicted so much of the time, there are so many voices from so many different times competing for attention. Sometimes some are silent and sometimes they are screaming. It really just depends on the moment and what triggers there are.

For example, this week I have really been aware of Eleven (my eleven year old self) being close to the surface. I don’t see a lot of her but this week I have felt her pain and that pain runs deep. I feel how sad she is about having tried to tell an adult how bad things have felt for her and what it is like to be shutdown for it and to not have her feelings acknowledged. She longs for someone to listen to how scary things are for her and validate those feelings but no one ever does. And because she copes so well (on the surface at least) no one ever looks beyond what they see.

By the time it got to Monday I was in a really bad way physically. I think not eating properly (bearing in mind I am always teetering on the edge of normal eating anyway) had really started to mess with my body. I mean you just can’t live on 400 calories a day when you already have a BMI of 16. There are no reserves to draw on. I was shaky and lightheaded but that numb feeling gave at least some part of me a relief.

I didn’t think it was all that noticeable to anyone else but I have just been to get blood taken for next week’s haematology/cancer follow up and the lovely nurse took one look at me and said, ‘you’re looking really pale, are you ok?’ and then as I got up to leave, ‘you’re looking very slim, are you eating ok?’ I said I was fine and that I’ve just been fighting a virus which meant I’d lost some weight…we get good at making eye contact and lying like it’s the truth don’t we?

So to Monday…As I drove to my session I was physically shaking- from nerves more than low blood sugar I think. My mind had shut off, I felt numb, but my body was clearly sending up distress signals.

The first thing I said when I sat down on the couch was ‘I’ve been shaking in the car’. I had no idea how the session was going to go but I didn’t feel especially hopeful. Something felt off. My therapist’s tone and body language felt all wrong. I know I am sensitive to these things because I have always had to be. I’ve always been in a necessary state of hypervigilance because I never knew when the next attack was coming. I needed to be alert to the warning signs.

I might have been projecting negative feelings onto my therapist and maybe she didn’t feel cross or annoyed with me, but something was telling me that things weren’t ok.

The session was stilted and difficult. I found it really hard to talk and I felt like my therapist didn’t really try and draw me out. Sometimes I listen back to sessions and I can hear how hard she is working with me, trying hard to connect with me, trying to make me feel safe. There was none of that on Monday. There was no warm voice or understanding non-verbal gestures. It felt like she didn’t want to be there. It felt like she thought I was criticising her.

I felt as though she didn’t really understand that although I now saw that the response to her messages was quite extreme, that the feelings of abandonment we real to me in the moment. She didn’t acknowledge how feeling ignored and uncared for felt. She said that she had responded to me and that that showed that she was there. I get what she was saying but it felt like we were at crossed-purposes. She wanted me to see that because she had text me that she had proven she was there; and I wanted her to see that she felt impersonal and distant.

On paper there was nothing wrong with what was said in session. Technically everything was correct in terms of theory….but that’s the problem. There’s more going on here than applying theory to a struggling human being. Knowing your stuff can still lead to empathic failure.

Being told that the time for my ‘young infantile needs to be met has passed’ is all well and good (hell don’t I know this, I’ve written about it enough!) but I needed some empathy too. i.e ‘you know the time for your young needs for holding to be met has passed. I know the little girl part of you wants me to hold her and make her feel safe, and I understand how painful it must be for me not to do that for her. I know that she feels rejected, but I am not rejecting her.’ – you know? Something that expresses the theory but also shows how it feels to me with her in our relationship despite the theory. She did acknowledge it was painful – I guess I’m splitting hairs.

I left the session feeling a bit hopeless. I had hoped to go in and repair the rupture and to find some common ground and reconnect but instead I left feeling like I was alone with all these feelings. I mean, the huge issue has long been feeling disconnected between sessions and then struggling, yet this time I felt disconnected in session…and so it’s not great now. Usually my leaky bucket takes a couple of days to dispense with the warm connected feelings. This time I left session with an empty bucket.

Fortunately the session I had with the other therapist on Tuesday was positive. It was a completely different experience to what I am used to and quickly allowed me to tap into emotions. I was staggered that I felt the urge to cry – usually those feelings are on lock down. I felt heard and understood. Bonus!

I have come away feeling positive about moving forward either with my therapist or, if not, someone else. My feelings were validated and I feel as though there are potentially other ways of working that may help me better if I can’t resolve things with my therapist or find a way to meet in the middle. Ultimately my goal is to try and sort things out with my therapist. I love her and really value her. I just need to find a way of expressing my needs and hopefully getting a few more of them met so that I don’t repeatedly find myself drowning in disaster therapy breaks.

Right, this is enormous and so I am going to go…don’t really feel like I have said much!

p.s Thanks to everyone that commented last week and supported me.

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The Mother Wound

Oh man, where do I start with this one? The Mother Wound. It’s a biggie isn’t it? Part of me feels like I should just throw this out there to all you therapy bloggers and we could do one of those exercises where we each write a single line on the paper, fold it, and then pass it on to the next person and by the end we’d have collected a story about the Mother Wound. The paper part would be tricky but maybe we could do it in the comments box?

I’m referring to a ‘Mother Wound’ here, but essentially what I am talking about is the damage inflicted on a child by the lack of one, or more, caregiver’s reliable care and emotional holding. It could be a deficit in care or sometimes abuse/neglect by mum/dad/grandparent/other guardian or the entire family (I guess). It’s the damage that is caused by lack of safety- either emotional, or physical, or both. It’s attachment trauma.

Even though everyone’s life experiences are different, and their relationships with their mothers/primary caregivers unique, from what I can work out there are quite a few of us battling very similar demons caused by this early emotional injury. I can only talk accurately about my own experiences and causes of the Mother Wound but I will also try and bring in some of my observations from hearing/reading the stories of others too.

The effects produced by the mother wound on an individual seem fairly standard on first inspection: at times intense feelings of anxiety and/or depression, a fragile sense of self, difficulty with trust in relationships (attachment issues), fear or rejection and/or abandonment, low self-esteem, an over-developed self-critic which often has led to the development of one or more negative coping strategies: eating disorders, self-harm, alcohol abuse, drug dependency to name but a few things. And sometimes it gets really very dark and the thought of suicide or even possible attempts at suicide become part of the fabric of life. Oh, and the shame. I can’t forget that! A deep deep sense of shame around the expression of feelings and emotion.

I understand that it’s not the case for everyone and not all elements I’ve listed above are relevant to all people and, of course, there are more issues that I haven’t mentioned. I, for one, don’t drink or do drugs but this is largely because I think I have quite an addictive personality and would probably end up in real trouble if I did. We are all different but when I read these blogs the one thing that stands out is that that there is so much vulnerability and longing out there. So much pain.

People, fundamentally, just want to be loved, and to love, and yet the pursuit of this ‘love’ is anything but straightforward because of what has happened in the past. The lens through which we view intimacy is faulty and distorts everything. Our perspective is tainted, even as adults, and it negatively impacts on our ability to form and maintain healthy relationships. I find all that information both comforting and utterly devastating.

I have no problem whatsoever with forming friendships but I struggle to really let people in. I am that reliable person that others turn to in crisis, the level-headed one, the one that throws a good party but is also the person that sits listening to heartbreak on the phone at midnight. I am a good friend to others but I can count on one hand the people who ‘know’ me and I have let close to me.

I am not interested in making hundreds of acquaintances. I can be life and soul of the party (when I can be bothered) but more often than not seem aloof or stand-offish in social settings. I just really don’t like big crowds and small talk. I just don’t see the point in it. I’d rather be on my own.

Since I started blogging in the summer, for the first time I feel as though I am not completely alone in my feelings and as though I finally have a space where I can express exactly what feels so wrong with me/in me. Not only that, that what I have to say is accepted and met without judgement but actually, more often than not, a huge amount of empathy and compassion. That’s massive.

To be able to finally get the words out after all these years and say how it feels is, in itself, enormous but for other people to go, ‘yep, it’s really tough, and I get it. You are not alone’ is life-changing, because frankly sometimes these feelings feel terribly frightening and unsettling and isolating.

Sometimes it is easy to be swept up and away with how bad it all seems. It can feel like there is no light at the end of the tunnel, and there is no point in continuing. It can quickly become a negative downward spiral. A (perceived) bad therapy session can leave me feeling desperate and helpless and adds fuel to the fire of intense and difficult emotions I’m already battling.

To know that I am not alone in this kind of struggle makes me feel less weird, a little less like there is something very wrong with me, and is helping me move towards the realisation, that ‘f*ck!Things weren’t right when I was small and IT WAS NOT MY FAULT!’ How I am now is a product of what was done to me. What an enormous revelation that is!

It’s also comforting to know that other people are struggling with the constraints of therapeutic relationship (argh boundaries!), feeling deeply attached but also terribly vulnerable, repairing ruptures, having good and bad sessions, cancelling and uncancelling sessions, sitting in silence, raging and longing, moving and stagnating. We’re all giving it a good go and it really isn’t easy! I certainly never imagined therapy could be like this when I entered into it years and years ago.

Over the years, I have seen so many therapists and yet I have never got to this place with any of them – which is both a blessing and a curse! I am finally connecting with emotions after years of talking about the events of my life in a detached way – like whatever I am talking about has happened to someone else. But now I feel like I am caught up in something that I am entirely unprepared for. That’s unnerving.

I like to be in control and therapy doesn’t feel like that right now because adult me isn’t there all the time. There are young ones in the mix now and they are not quite so adept at filtering the feelings that come up. They act out. They are clingy and needy at times and at others completely shut down and avoidant. I really struggle with disorganised attachment: sometimes I totally trust and feel safe with my therapist and at other times I feel like the therapeutic relationship is dangerous and is ultimately going to hurt me.

Reading your blog posts is comforting but also totally harrowing at times: how can it be that there are so many incredibly lovely people out there feeling this way? Why should it be that such vibrant, intelligent, caring individuals who have so much to offer are living day-to-day struggling to exist in the wider world trying to pretend that they are not wounded? The attachment wound it so big it is overwhelming and yet it’s as though it doesn’t exist, or isn’t allowed to exist.

It’s like Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet when he has been mortally wounded by Tybalt. Benvolio asks if he is hurt and Mercutio replies:

‘Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch’

(Romeo and Juliet Act 3:1)

And that’s what we do most of the time. We play it down. We cover it up. This is not for our benefit, but rather to try and keep up appearances, to not rock the boat, to not let people down…and strangest of all, to not let the perpetrator of the damage know we are even hurt.

We don’t ever allow anyone close enough to show them how damaged wereally are because somehow the culture in which we have been raised makes us feel that there is something inherently wrong with us. So we try very hard to carry on with life, and we do a pretty good job at living with the wound (indeed some of us have even managed to block it from our consciousness). It’s always there, though, and depending on how we move and flex our minds and bodies dictates how able, or not, we are to go on with the show.

My goodness aren’t we great actors and don’t we have insane levels of stamina? But sometimes it gets too much doesn’t it? It’s too real, too painful, too exhausting, too bloody gory and we just cannot carry on. We finally reach a point where we must discover and face our own truth. We can’t live like this any more. We need to be honest and tell someone about our injury. We need help.

In Mercutio’s case it’s his best friend Romeo to whom he tells the truth:

ROMEO: Courage man, the hurt cannot be much,

MERCUTIO: No tis’ not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church-door; but ‘tis enough. ‘Twill serve. Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me grave man.’

Mercutio admits that he has been injured and that he will die as a result.

Sometimes it is not immediately apparent to us where our wound has originated from because over the years there have been many, many wounds inflicted and so that the attachment wound gets overlaid with other things and becomes simply ‘depression’ or ‘anxiety’ or ‘stress’ or ‘self harm’ or ‘x y z’.

Eventually the inevitable happens: we can’t really function. We reach a time where it becomes almost life and death and we are teetering on the edge. Sometimes the breakdown is averted and other times a breakdown is exactly what drives us into therapy.

Often it is in therapy that we finally realise what the problem has been all along. Sure there are loads and loads of other life experiences that we work through and process. I would hazard a guess and say that most people don’t walk into the therapy room for the first time, sit down and say, ‘So here’s the thing, I am suffering with the fall-out of developmental trauma and my attachment systems are causing me to struggle in relationships and in my life in general’. How wonderful it would be if we did though?! I’d have saved thousands of ££$$ if I’d have really known what I was dealing with in the beginning.

Instead, over time we gently peel back the scab layers that have sort of healed over but not quite. And then we reach it. The core wound. And my god it’s fucking enormous. It’s like staring down into the abyss. How was this level of injury ever survivable? How could a small child endure such damage and still live? Well in my case it came through shutting down/dissociating, repressing memories, and freezing that little girl back in time as well as attacking myself, in various ways, for years.

I have grown up now. I have an adult body. From the outside I have the trappings of a successful adult life: some decent qualifications, nice house, wife and children. But there are certainly parts of me that have not emotionally matured. There are several parts loose and unhappy inside.

When faced with the wound, instinct tells you to run far away and try and forget about what you’ve seen. It’s too much.  At the same time another part of you awakens the moment that gaping wound is exposed to the air. Despite everything, the child is alive still. Its need for love and care and holding is still there as much as it ever was back in the past and it is terrifying to the adult. The feelings are enormous. The need is overwhelming. What on earth do you do with that?

How can you care for that smallest part of you when it isn’t your care that the child wants? Indeed, that child has no idea that you even exist. The child wants the love and care of the person who has helped uncover the hidden it. It is that caregiver to whom the child is now attached. They want the person who has taken the time to draw that wounded small child out to rescue them. Session after session of steady work, of calm, understanding, validating conversations lead to this moment. The child loves the therapist how could it not?

The child’s hopes of being loved, held, and contained unconditionally reawaken in a flash, and there it is. Hope is ignited. Maybe this time that hole, the wound can be filled with the therapist’s love. If we can just get enough of it…

Oh, if only it were that simple!

It’s only natural that when you realise that you are severely injured that you would want to pack the wound, fill it, and close it over. The desire for the wound to heal is huge and it often feels like the only way to heal it is for the therapist to pour more and more love, and time, and evidence of care into it. If we could only get more contact with our therapist, more sessions, contact between sessions, more tangible verbal reassurances, physical holding, and emotional containment then perhaps this wound will heal up. We scream out for ‘more more MORE!’ of the good stuff…

There’s a problem, though. This wound is like a bottomless pit isn’t it? No matter what you throw into it, no matter how you try and pack it, it never fills. It can’t be filled by the therapist’s love alone. We can’t sit back and watch and hope that this person can magically fix us. We have to turn around and look deep into that hole and see how it is constructed because it is us that holds the tools to be able to heal and mend it.

It is agony staring down into that dark place. Realising just how much pain it contains is enough to send you insane. Somehow bit by bit that hole will fill and we won’t feel so empty, one day. We will learn to love ourselves and feel good enough and steadily those edges will close in. There will always be a scar, though. We can never fully take away the injury. I’m nowhere near healed. In fact writing this I can feel that hole gaping wide.

From what I can tell, not many of us feel comfortable exposing this wound to friends and family in any real depth. We might be able to talk about feeling depressed, or even allude to how bad things were when we were growing up. But when it comes to the intense feelings we feel towards our therapists and how much that impacts us on a day to day…well, it’s little wonder we don’t share that. It’s totally cringeworthy.

A lot of the time we struggle to admit the feelings we have about our therapists even to them in a therapy session so there’s not much hope of letting that out to others! We can’t face the shame, embarrassment, or the pitying looks but also the lack of understanding we are so often faced with.

Despite all the recent publicity and trying to normalise mental health issues in the media it just doesn’t always filter down into families. It feels like this in my wider family: ‘yeah, mental health issues need to be talked about and there needs to be more funding for it. Isn’t it terrible? It’s lucky that no one in our family struggles with their mental health. We’re all jolly and normal aren’t we?…what breakdown? Oh no, that wasn’t a breakdown it was a gap year, she didn’t want to work. She’s fine. Anorexia? No, no, she’s naturally thin and athletic…’

There is so much denial in my family about what has and hasn’t happened, who does or doesn’t struggle, that it’s almost funny. I can sort of accept the wall of pretence from outside the house and notch it up to ‘my dysfunctional blood relations’. I find it far harder when I face criticism and/or lack of understanding at home.

I’m sure it’s not just me that gets these kind of wonderfully helpful soundbites directed at them when the blood starts to seep through a bit and the ability to hide the gaping hole is lessened:

‘What have you got to be depressed about?’

‘You need to learn to let this go.’

‘You can’t change it so don’t let it bother you.’

‘Why can’t you see all the positives you have in your life.’

‘Why am I not enough for you?

‘Why don’t you let me in?’

‘Your depression isn’t getting any better.’

‘I won’t watch you destroy yourself again.’

How much therapy does one person need?’

‘Your relationship with your therapist is unhealthy.’

‘I don’t see any improvement in you since you’ve been in therapy, if anything I think you are worse.’

‘You need to try harder to be happy.’

‘I feel like there’s a huge part of you that I just don’t know, why won’t you talk to me?’

‘Can’t you just put it all in a box and forget about it?’

I could go on and on and on but I’m sure you get the idea and have several of your own to throw in there.

When, periodically, faced with those kind of statements it makes it incredibly difficult to open up and be honest about how things are. I think this is, in part, why the therapeutic relationship becomes so important to so many of us. We just do not have anyone who really, genuinely, can listen without judgement. It’s hard to be your real self when your true self isn’t what people want to deal with. They like the one that hides the wound and soldiers on.

Sure, our loved ones love us and care deeply about out wellbeing, but it is also so hard for them to witness how bad things can be for us. It’s not easy witnessing so much pain and being powerless to really help. They can’t fix us. They don’t really understand us. They don’t see the child inside or if they do, what on earth are they meant to do with it? They are desperate for us to be well and happy but it’s not a quick solution…and often in therapy things get worse before they get better. I think that must be terrifying for them and so it is understandable that, at times, frustrations air.

The problem for a lot of us is that we fear abandonment and rejection so much that these kind of statements can make us hide and build our walls even higher. I, for one, am a highly sensitive person and so any kind of criticism really hurts me. I feel like the emerging self is not the one that people want to know. The high-functioning adult is far more appealing than the vulnerable one who can’t just cope with anything that’s thrown at it.

I’m aware that this is a massive ramble and I haven’t really said all that I want to. It is certainly a subject to come back to at some point. As I have been writing this I can feel the little parts have really started to stir. I felt very much in my adult when I began and now I feel very small and sad and lost.

The little girl inside realises, yet again that Mummy isn’t coming and the idealised replacement mummy isn’t really a ‘mummy’ to her at all. Ouch!

And so, I guess, this is the bit where my therapist would say that I somehow need to summon up my adult, the one that is a mummy to two beautiful small people, and get her to pick up that little girl and hold onto her tightly, tell her she is loved, and that she is safe. I so want to be able to do that for her. I absolutely want to soothe that part of me but right now all I seem to be able to do is watch her suffer. I have no idea how to make things better for her. I know before long I will end up attacking myself because the pain is so overwhelming and that doesn’t help anyone.

The mother wound is gaping today.

 

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