A Return To Therapy: A Tale Of Two Sessions

So, somehow or other I got through five weeks of no face-to-face therapy (man I still hate summer therapy break with a passion!) and last Monday saw the long-awaited return to the room and, more importantly, my therapist…not that I had missed her or anything!

As the day approached I started feeling conflicted about going to my session (no change there, then!) What is that about?- The absolutely overwhelming desire to see someone gets replaced with an ‘I don’t want to go’ a couple of days before and ramps up steadily until on the day, on my way to the session, I text my friend saying that I wanted to turn around and go home because I felt sick amongst other things.

I recognise, these days, that this resistance that happens when I’m within touching distance of my therapist is the time where some of the parts start speaking up. The young parts finally settle when therapy is in sight and that allows the teen part some additional space to express how she’s feeling. (She’s pissed off!) She can’t bear the thought of therapy being awful, feeling disconnected, and the young parts getting irate again when they’ve only just stopped screaming. The teen harbours a fair amount of anger about being left (rejected/abandoned) in the first place, and then to be ignored on top (texts) doesn’t make the reunion any easier.

Despite all the misgivings I have never yet not turned up to a session. Sometimes I feel like I am dragging myself there but the need of the youngest parts always gets me into the room … even if all I do is sit there and say nothing!

I felt nervous as I rang the doorbell to my therapist’s house but as she came to the door adult went online (thank god!) and walked in, sat down, and just started talking…about life stuff. The small talk was comfortable; catching up on day-to-day stuff that’s been going was fine. I don’t remember trying to gauge where my therapist was at or whether she was safe. I think I had maybe subconsciously decided to keep the session adult. I don’t know. I can’t remember now what we talked about but basically for twenty minutes it was absolutely ok and then bam – I was gone- instant dissociation the moment she asked if I wanted to talk about the picture I’d sent her via text during the break.

You’d think that opening up that discussion might’ve been a good thing (and ironically most of the time it would be – I want her to help open up difficult conversations) but on Monday, even after twenty settled minutes, it spooked me. ‘Agh I’m exposed. This is scary!’ and off I went deep into myself.

My therapist noticed that I was barely breathing and suggested that I was doing everything I could to hide. Yep! My body was killing me. My legs were heavy/achy. I was able to tell her how I felt in my body. And the moment I told her all that physical pain in my legs evaporated and I thought I was going to throw up. The nausea was incredible. I could hardly speak for fear of vomiting. It was horrendous.

She valiantly attempted to bring me back to her but all I could do was listen to what she was saying. I couldn’t even look at her, let alone make eye contact. Does that happen to anyone else? You want to connect but can’t- the fear is too great- and so instead just listen very very carefully to what they say trying to see if they ‘get it’ and whether or not you might be able to connect eventually?

This is a bit of a strange analogy but sometimes it feels to me when I dissociate badly that I have an internal power cut – mains power is lost. I lose my ability to be present. It’s far from ideal. My therapist has to scrabble around to try find an alternative power source. Most of the time she finds some rechargeable batteries but, unfortunately, they’re dead. She doesn’t give up though. She slowly starts charging the batteries up with her insights, validation, and care. If we are lucky she might do enough to give me enough power to work again before the end of the session. Sometimes the charge happens really quickly and other times it take nearly all session.

That’s what happened on Monday. She was really insightful and understanding and validating. She spoke about the really strong emotions that I was feeling: the anger that she felt in the text that I had sent her ‘file under unread’; the horrible feelings of rejection and abandonment I experience when she doesn’t reply to me; the belief that she doesn’t care about me. She talked to me about it all but I could only nod here and there. The batteries we soooooooooooo dead after the break that it took a long time to power them up.

With about five minutes to go I could feel myself starting to connect to her. The vulnerable parts wanted to talk to her and the teen had felt like she got it and cared. She asked me how I felt and I said ‘sad’. She asked if it was because we were coming to the end of the session and there were things I needed to say that I hadn’t been able to. I nodded. She told me we still had a bit of time left and maybe I could make a start now and we could pick it up on our first Friday session. So, once again I took a running jump and said perhaps the most expensive sentence I have said in a while:

‘I really missed you; five weeks is really a long time.’

It mightn’t seem like much but it really was after such a difficult session. Saying something that feels so exposing after a break feels really hard. I always struggle to tell my therapist how I feel about her. I feel like she’ll think I am weird. I don’t want to embarrass her. Of course, any time I let her know how I feel she is really kind and non-shaming. It’s just so hard to reverse the automatic pilot that tells me feelings are bad and dangerous, that showing someone that you care for them and need them will result in something negative.

I guess I just need to keep saying how I feel, keep getting met well, and maybe eventually I might feel differently.

Anyway, that was Monday! I don’t think it’ll come as a surprise to anyone that I was left with an almighty therapy hangover! I’ve come to expect it now after a long break. I’m starting to recognise it as part of the process and just see it for what it is rather than feeling bad about how things are. I think all the stuff I had kept at bay over the break came flooding out and had me flailing about on my arse for most of the week. It was initially quite hard to work out whether I was heading into a depressive state or whether it was what was left from the break and the session. I tend to fear the worst when I am stuck on the couch for hours at a time unable to complete the tiniest of tasks.

I felt totally incapacitated. I felt ugh. I wanted Friday to get here so I could have another stab at connecting and feeling better. The great thing about this week was that I knew Friday (yay for two sessions a week) was coming and so even though the young parts were feeling separation anxiety and attachment pain it was nowhere near as bad as it has been previously. Wednesdays have been notoriously bad when I have had one session a week. I have felt stranded and uncontained. It’s been god awful! So, even though things were pretty bad they were WAY better than I am used to.

My Friday session isn’t a face-to-face session at the moment. The session time is too early for me to be able to make it in person and be able to get my kids to school and so we are Skyping. I’d had mixed feelings about this. The irony is not lost on me that only a few months ago I would have been ripping my therapist’s arm off for any extra contact – even a midweek text and now I am whinging about an extra session via Skype. *eye roll* I guess there’s just a part that wants to be with her in person. I’ve asked that when a later session becomes available that she lets me know so I can swap into it, but it’s likely to be several months.

When it came to it it was actually nice to do the session at home. I was snuggled up on my sofa with a coffee and it was nice and quiet. There’d been no rushing in the car to get to my session and I felt pretty relaxed. I think this feeling relaxed made a difference to how I was. Usually I only Skype when I can’t get to session because I have my kids at home (holidays or sick) and it certainly changes how I am. I am on ‘mum duty’ and don’t open up in the same way. Anyway, this session felt really nice. I remembered how much I like seeing my therapist’s face close up. Ha! And even better I DID NOT DISSOCIATE AT ALL!

Bonus!

Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t dive headlong into how the break felt or how difficult I have found being in therapy the last few months but we did lots of connecting work that I feel is paving the way for me to be able to have those conversations. I was able to tell my T how bad I had felt during the week and how just the day before I had burst into convulsive tears whilst running on my treadmill.

I don’t really ever cry and I certainly don’t cry in front of people. My therapist mentioned that I don’t cry when I am with her but that she feels I am fighting back tears sometimes and that occasionally a single tear will escape. She said that the idea of someone seeing me crying is hard for me. She talked about the huge expectations my parents placed on me to be a certain way as a child and that I had had to grow up too quickly and be what they wanted rather than who I am. It’s true. I never expressed how upset I was when my mum wasn’t there when I was a kid. It was just how it was and something I had to get used to.

I am realising now just how sad that little girl was to not have mum there from Sunday to Friday- from the age of 5 even if mum wasn’t perfect or especially nurturing. I look at my daughter who is now six and my son who is four and know how they hate it if I am not there for bedtime. I have to leave home at 6pm a couple of nights per week if I am going out to tutor and they moan (fair enough! I am glad they can!). I always give them a kiss and cuddle before I leave and come and kiss them goodnight (even if they are asleep) when I am back –they have never had to not have their mum/mums there for protracted periods. I am there for breakfast; I am there to take them to school and pick them up; I am there for dinner; I am there for parents’ evenings; I go to sports day; I drop everything when they are sick; I ask them how they are EVERYDAY. I hold them and tell them I love them EVERYDAY.

I had none of that.

I was a good girl who got on with it quietly. Accepted that I didn’t have a say in how things were.

That little girl doesn’t want to be quiet and accept it anymore.

She wants to cry about it.

And maybe she might start crying about it in therapy.

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File Under ‘Unread’

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So after two days of barely holding it together with rubber bands and chewing gum (I had no idea this blog name would end up being so apt!) today, at 11am, I found myself lying face down in my bed holding a pillow over my head convulsively crying about… yeah…you guessed it…feeling like my therapist doesn’t care about me after a pretty rubbish Skype session on Monday and a complete failure to acknowledge a message I have sent her since.

Believe me, there is a part of me that is seriously rolling my eyes and sighing in exasperation right now as if to say ‘for goodness sake, not this AGAIN’ as I type this.  Like really, this cannot be happening again can it? But it really is. And you’ve probably noticed by now – I tell it how it is…even if ‘how it is’ is fucking ridiculous and embarrassing. I tell it how it is in the here and now, as I experience it, even if in two weeks (or possibly even two days) I feel differently and can see things through an alternative, more rational lens.

I’m very aware that right now my left brain is offline and my right brain (where all the emotions are) is lit up like Piccadilly Circus. It’s probably not a great time to write a blog post but it’s either put it on the page here or start firing off upset/angry/needy messages to my therapist and that’s not a very good idea is it?

And so here I am again, trying to find a way through the difficult feelings in order that I don’t completely fall apart over the next two weeks. Does anyone have any glue to hold all my pieces together?… I am worried that the bands and gum aren’t up to the job this time around and am in danger of smashing into a million pieces.

I wrote recently about shame having just then started reading Patricia A. DeYoung’s book ‘Understanding And Treating Chronic Shame’. I’m no stranger to shame and having now read the whole thing, I have to say, the book is fantastic. I highly recommend it.  There’s heaps of really useful and interesting stuff in it and I plan to take it to my therapist and go ‘Here! Look at this. This is what’s happening!!’  (that is, of course, if one of the other parts doesn’t go to town with the text messages!)

Young suggests that shame is essentially caused by being ‘a self disintegrating in relation to a dysregulating other’. I mentioned in that post that I was concerned that I had somehow got caught up in a dynamic where my therapist was taking on the role of ‘dysregulating other’.

And. Yep. Skype session proved that point on Monday! More on that in a bit.

Basically, when a child is in distress it looks for connection and containment from the other to help regulate the distress. If all goes well the interaction soothes the child and the distress ebbs away. However, if the interaction between the child and other in some way misses the mark, is not attuned, a child is left feeling uncontained and out of control. It tries to place meaning on what is going on.  Basically, the child ends up blaming itself for the failure of the other to contain and connect.

It makes sense that when we need something really badly from an important person and they fail to meet that need often enough that we start to feel like there’s something wrong with us. Instead of blaming them we find fault in ourselves. It must be something we are doing wrong. Our need is too much. Feelings are bad. And so the shame cycle begins.  We see need as ‘bad’ and try and hide it.

So, we amble through life pretty successfully – well, you know, smoke and mirrors and all that! To most people I seem like a highly self-sufficient, high achiever, who ‘doesn’t need anyone or anything’  and if you’d asked me before therapy ‘I can do everything on my own and by myself. In fact other people are a pain and I prefer to be alone’. But now I see that actually I am not made of Teflon so far as emotions go and scarily: I have needs.

Who knew?!

Unfortunately, I seem hard-wired to feel bad about having feelings or needs and so in therapy it’s become a complete disaster zone because I have some very strong feelings towards my therapist and needs that I wish she could (although frustratingly know she can’t/won’t) meet.

I’ve noticed for a while now that I can go from ‘fairly normal’ to ‘away with the dissociative fairies’ in a matter of seconds in my therapy sessions. My therapist keeps asking for us to think about the process and notice what happens to make me dissociate and hide. For a long time I haven’t been really conscious of it, all I know is someone young comes online and then I am gone.

It’s like a switch gets flipped.

Because it’s been happening more and more lately I have been consciously trying to pay attention to the feelings that crop up and then what happens when I retreat inside myself. It probably won’t come as any surprise to you when I say it has its roots in shame. It happens so quickly and I am trying to work out how to stop it happening or how to get back from that dissociated, lonely space when it does.

Monday’s session was a complete shit pile but it kind of gave me some answers.

I am not stupid, I know that sessions after breaks are often hard. It takes time to reconnect (I’ve been here before. I know what I’m like!). We’d not seen each other for three weeks. It wasn’t face to face it was Skype. And following the virtual stepping stone in the river crossing (therapy break) there is now another two weeks until a face to face. It was always going to be a challenge to connect with my therapist. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to but I have so many defences… ugh.

I know that I was certainly trying to keep buoyant and surface level because I knew I would be on my own again for two more weeks the moment the call was over and I couldn’t face the possibility of falling headfirst in the pit of attachment pain for the next few weeks if I let her see the vulnerable stuff and it not go well. Ironically, yet again I failed to notice that if I don’t let her in I feel shit too!!!

Part of me didn’t want her to know how much I have missed her and wanted to shut her out a bit. But of course it didn’t last because as the session went on, surface level chatting, I could feel things stirring. I could feel that time was ticking away and I desperately wanted to connect, or at least part of me did.

I asked my therapist what the time was and it was 11am. I thought ‘oh that’s ok time to talk  and then the moment the thought went through my mind I realised I didn’t know how to get what I needed from her. It didn’t feel like she was receptive or attuned to me. I desperately wanted her to come closer to me, to hold my hand, hug me, and tell me that it’s all ok…but that will never happen.

The need feels huge.

The young parts screamed inside, burst into tears, realising that she was there but couldn’t see them and that we were going to be left until September…

…and then I was gone…

The shame of having those needy feelings and the pain that shame generates is utterly unbearable and that’s when I dissociate. I can’t cope with the overwhelming sense of longing and need for connection and feeling like I can’t get it, that I am not worthy of it, that she doesn’t want to connect. I feel like there is something wrong with me.

Like I say this whole process happens in a matter of seconds.

The rest of the session was hard. I think I just sat there making the odd ‘uh huh’ ‘yeah’ ‘no’ as she continued to talk to me about what I had initially started talking about (filler!). I felt like we were on completely different pages and was kind of glad when I hung up the call – not because I wanted to be in the throes of a further two week break- because it was so fucking excruciating feeling the minutes tick away and feeling like I didn’t know the person sitting opposite me. She probably felt the same way.

I felt awful the moment the screen went black and took myself straight into the kitchen to cut myself. That’s how bad it felt in that moment. Sheer desperation. I didn’t self-harm, though. I took a minute and thought about why I wanted to hurt myself. It was the need, the shame, the feeling unseen…and also very clearly having a sense of ‘what’s going on’ when it goes to shit in a session.

So instead of cutting I made this:

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and then sent it to my therapist as a text along with a note to ‘File under ‘unread’.  The teen part was feeling sarcastic. Like, ‘fuck it, I’m sending you stuff to try and help me and you won’t read it just like everything else, so shove it why don’t you?!’

Clearly, she hasn’t replied…and I feel rubbish about it. Not just because she hasn’t replied but because I feel so utterly overwhelmed by where I am in therapy and the therapeutic relationship and the break.

It just all feels kind of futile right now.

I don’t feel like I am moving forward. I just feel like I am stuck in trauma.

The teen parts are definitely wounded and feel like texting my therapist to tell her ‘we’re done, because what’s the fucking point in all this if almost every time we interact I am left feeling inadequate and like what I want/need from you is too much. I feel physically sick when I think about how much I care for you and contrast that with how easy it is for you to leave me/ignore me when I am struggling’.

[Ok. So that’s the work isn’t? it]

I have no idea how the next couple of weeks is going to go. I know I will cycle through heaps of emotional states. I expect I will go to my session on the 3rd because the young parts are so desperate and attached that they’d have me swim through shark-infested waters to see her. But, ugh, I don’t know. I don’t know how much longer I can keep putting myself through this.

x

“I don’t want you to go away”

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With just ten minutes of Monday’s therapy session remaining I finally said it. In words. In the room. To her face. Not written down. Not kind of implied and hoping she might read my mind. I actually said the sentence that has been persistently in my head for the last month (well, it’s always there) aloud. It may not have been very loud, it may have come from a young part, but it was loud enough for her to hear:

‘I don’t want you to go away’. 

OMG what just happened?! Did I actually directly tell my therapist how I was feeling about the summer therapy break and show vulnerability and need even when several parts were screaming at me to keep my mouth shut? Looks like it, doesn’t it?

We all know by now that these feelings are always there in one way or another. Every time I have to leave my therapy I feel like my therapist is ‘gone’ and it’s a huge struggle for the youngest parts to just make it through the week…but therapy breaks, well, crikey, they are the absolute pits and no matter what I do, or how I try and prepare for them I always end up on my arse, in a heap, sooner or later.

Ok, so I did kind of have to throw myself over the metaphorical ledge to get the words out and take a forty minute running jump at it: sliding through dissociation, silence, and shaking just to reach the drop off, but I did it- and you know what? It was ok. She didn’t freak out (of course she didn’t) and it opened up a really useful conversation about breaks and the difficulties I have with maintaining connection with her.

It’s fair to say that therapy has been a bit weird lately. It’s my fault. I do want to kick myself sometimes. I’ve been struggling to really connect with my therapist/hiding from her for a variety of reasons. Some of it is definitely a hangover from last Easter break and how she reacted when I finally properly let her in and told her about the eating disorder stuff. I have struggled to trust her with the big things since then because I am worried that if I so much as allude to issues with my body or food she’s going to overreact and write to my GP or threaten to ‘work towards an ending’  again (shudder).

My rational adult knows that I can trust her and that we now have an agreement (that we worked out together) in place around what we do if I end up struggling with eating and she is concerned that things are bad but even so, the teen parts are still hurting after how things were handled and most of what I need to say to my therapist comes from these younger parts. As I have said many times my adult knows what she’s doing and has it together…it’s the others that let the side down! They’re the ones that need the therapy and if they don’t feel like they can trust Em then we’re all screwed.

In addition to stuff around the ED I have been struggling to reach out or let her in because I’ve felt pushed away – and that bombshell about needing ‘to work towards an ending’ if I didn’t go to my GP has just got stuck on loop. Fucking soundbite from hell. I feel wobbly at the best of times and parts of me are certain that she wants to get rid of me… Disorganised Attachment 101. I do know this is really very much about my skewed perception of things rather than it being the reality but I don’t require a lot of evidence of her supposed lack of care in order to shutdown and hide. It is a nightmare.

For example when I asked for a regular check in around the time when the ED was off the chart bad and she essentially said she had no time I couldn’t help but feel like the whole therapeutic relationship was just a huge pile of shite and that she did not care at all. It takes a lot for me to express any kind of need and so to do it and then get a no was just hideous. Add to that the hell that was the beginning of July (cancer follow up at the hospital neatly coinciding with the anniversary of my dad’s death) wanting to reach out to my therapist and knowing I couldn’t, or could but she wouldn’t reply sent me into a complicated rage and devastation cycle:

 Why the fuck do I bother? She clearly doesn’t give a shit about me.

I wish she was there and could give me some reassurance. I miss her.

I’m done with this. I hate her.

What is wrong with me? Why doesn’t she care?

I hate myself.

It’s so hard constantly trying to juggle and manage utterly conflicting but intense emotions. I get that this is where the work is. On a good day I can completely see how my therapist is just a therapist and is doing her best to help me but other days it is so much more complicated than that. It drives me insane.

When the five week summer break started flashing persistently on the radar it added in another level of internal struggle. I absolutely want and need to be able to connect with Em before the break but the moment any kind of vulnerability or need starts to creep in the room I have dissociated. I am gone and it takes ages to try and get back to her. It’s been horrendous feeling like she is behind glass and I’m stuck in a long dark tunnel. This week was even worse than usual. There wasn’t even the ten minutes of adult small talk at the beginning before a plunge into young parts’ chaos and dissociation. Nope. I sat down, looked at her, and went numb.

AAAAAHHHHH FOR FUCK’S SAKE!!!!

It’s so annoying. I spend all week wanting so badly to be in that room in order to try and work on this stuff and yet my mind plays tricks on me. I can’t even really remember what we talked about in the session, now. I know that she was trying really hard to draw me out and connect. I really wanted to talk and yet there was a part inside freaking out ‘if I tell you how I feel you’re going to leave’ which is hilarious, really, because of course there is a therapy break coming up next week anyway, and she is leaving, so what’s the difference? I guess a therapy break isn’t forever, though, and yet to some of the young parts there is a real and genuine fear that I will get terminated for being too needy if I tell her how I really feel.

It’s that old chestnut: I am too much.

No matter how many times she tells me I am not too much and that she wants to hear everything I am feeling I still can’t trust in it fully. I really want to, though. I am trying. And I do get there eventually.

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So often what happens is that as we creep towards the eleventh hour in therapy I am able to talk a bit. I guess I build up enough trust, or perhaps enough desperation to let some stuff out the bag. I sense the clock ticking down and I get a ‘now or never’ sort of motivation but also an ‘oh she is still a safe person’. This is a pattern I have noticed in my sessions – the last ten or fifteen minutes is where the work is really done. But this is also true as we head into a break. I conceal how I feel for at least a month leading into a holiday (‘what’s the point in telling her anything, it won’t change anything’) and then suddenly the break is almost here and I let it all out. I don’t know why exactly. Perhaps it’s about feeling like I can’t contain it on my own during a break, or maybe it’s about safety. If I let all the really vulnerable stuff out just as a break starts then I have time to recover from it, let the dust settle a bit, we can pretend like it never happened if it is totally mortifying… I dunno.

So anyway, when I said ‘I don’t want you to go away’ I felt like I’d had some kind of out of body experience. Who the fuck said that? It was a young part for sure but I have never allowed that stuff out in this way before. Sure some of you might be thinking, ‘seriously, you’re getting wound up about this??’ but it was huge. Em handled it really really well. She asked me what I was scared of and I said ‘that you won’t come back’ and we talked a lot about how massively traumatising this all felt especially in relation to my dad having gone away and died on holiday.

I always feel silly getting stressed about her going on her summer holiday. It certainly is the hardest therapy break in the year and not just because of its length. It just falls so soon after the annual sucker punch of my dad’s anniversary. I have experienced someone I love not coming back from a holiday, and I have had it front of mind for the whole of July, and then off she goes on holiday for a month in August. The timing sucks.

I wish I didn’t get so scared and anxious that she would respond negatively to something that is fairly normal and understandable. Like surely it would be more weird if I was completely unaffected by her going away for 5 weeks especially given the timing. But I do fear her rejecting me. It is a huge stumbling block for me. I wish that I could retain all these positive therapeutic experiences where she responds to me as I need her to. If I could hold onto her and her kindness and care I know it would enable to be more open and vulnerable but unfortunately I just cannot hang onto these connecting moments and file them away in my memory banks to give me some courage the next time I have stuff to let out (which is basically every session).

I know it’s a process…but god…it’s long isn’t it?!

Anyway, that’s kind of where I am at now. I have one more session on Monday and so that revelation in the last ten minutes of the session might have been the start of the emotional flood gates opening. I kind of hope so. I don’t really want to sit on all this attachment stuff over the holiday and feel alone, unseen, and unheard. I want to tell my therapist how it feels so that she can help me put things in place so that everything doesn’t disintegrate the moment I walk out the door.

She said we are going to work on building on the felt sense of connection between us in session next week…..god only knows what that’s going to entail but I’m telling you now if she gets me to imagine fucking angels or a sodding box to hold positive feelings in I will throw my pebble through her window!!

X

 

 

 

Summer Therapy Break Is Almost Here…

I should be delighted right now. School’s out for summer and that signals six weeks off from tutoring; no more trying to make packed lunches at 6am only to realise there is nothing to make a packed lunch with in the fridge; no more washing and ironing uniforms (THANK FUCK!); and better still, no more negotiating with pint sized terrorists every morning to ‘pleeaaasseeee darlings just put your shoes on’.  I will certainly not miss doing school runs or racing around to get to my teaching. I can, for the next few weeks, sit here at 9am in the comfort of my PJs (TMI?!) and blog if I want to.

It’s all good.

Ok, so anyone with kids knows that the shine of summer holidays wears off about a week (day) in, but right now I am trying to picture myself as calm, together mum who plans nice trips, meets for play dates, bakes, and creates a generally harmonious atmosphere. (Who am I kidding?!) The truth is, before long I will probably be threatening to get out the ‘bin bag’ and throw all the toys away if the floor isn’t cleared before bed time and will be pleading with them to ‘be nice to each other’ and ‘stop snatching’ and ‘can we agree on something you both want to watch on Netflix?’

So, yeah. In my head I am aiming for Mary Poppins but realistically, just gotta hope they are both alive in September (that is a joke by the way!). Using the therapy speak – I’m hoping I do a ‘good enough’ job over the summer with my kids.

Oh, but wait, if school is out for summer then that means therapy is almost done with and the long summer break is coming doesn’t it?…

I’m totally screwed.

Ok, so it’s not like this is new news. I’ve been mentally counting down to the summer therapy break since Easter (I’m fun like that!) and once I had confirmation of the break dates from my therapist could start properly obsessing about how bloody long she is going to be away. She always takes roughly the same holiday and, actually, in real terms it’s only two weeks away for her but because my session falls on a Monday things always feel longer because before she even starts her break on a Monday it’s been a week since I have seen her (I think therapists forget this sometimes). The summer break is particularly crap, too, because there is a bank holiday at the end of August in the UK so I lose another session.

So, basically my last session is on the 30th July and my next face to face is the 3rd September…err that’s 5 weeks… There is a session in the middle on the 20th but I can’t get to it because the kids are off. I could, maybe, Skype but it wouldn’t be all that easy with the monsters causing havoc. I am also a bit reluctant to Skype after essentially three weeks break because I know what I am like, and much as I would like to check in, there’s a real danger of me stonewalling her and us getting nowhere and then there being two more weeks until we can sort it out. I know that is a recipe for disaster. So right now I have to think about what is the lesser of two evils: a long five week break or three weeks and then two weeks break back to back.

I can’t see that either is going to be great. I think it’s going to be about survival (again). I hate that I am like this. I hate that the attachment stuff causes so many problems. I wish I could look at this break as a chance to regroup and enjoy some time with my family but it doesn’t feel like that. Instead it feels like my safety net is being whipped out from underneath me or my anchor has been severed and somehow I just need to hang on and make it to September without something tragic happening. I know, spare the drama right?!

I did think about asking my therapist to write me a note for the break but after all the hell with the pebbles I just don’t think I can face it. I don’t want to create a situation that destabilises me before I even get to the break. But five weeks is a long time isn’t it? Especially when you are unable to hold someone in mind…

I don’t really know what to do.

The weeks between sessions have been getting increasingly more difficult recently and I have been dissociating a lot in my sessions (as well as outside them). I know it’s panic about her going away at the end of the month. The anniversary of my dad dying falling in July doesn’t help matters, either. My mind automatically lurches from the fact that he was meant to be going away for a month on holiday and never came back to the possibility that she may do the same. I can’t deal with that. I know it’s not rational but it is what happens in my mind. I panic. It’s like the grief of the loss of my dad swirls with the idea of losing my therapist and a shit storm starts inside me.

There is some good news in amongst all this doom and gloom, however, that I guess I should share and that is that as of September I will be having two sessions a week. A session time has become available on a Friday and so we are going to trial 6 months of twice weekly sessions and see how it feels. Unfortunately, the time is too early for me to actually get to the session in person (9:30am) as my therapist lives 50 minutes from me and I don’t drop the kids to school until 9. However, it does mean I can come home and Skype. When a better time becomes available I’ll swap into that.

I already know this change in session frequency is going to make a significant difference to how I feel in the week because whenever my therapist has a cancellation and can offer me two sessions in a week things feel way more manageable. We did this a couple of weeks ago and I can’t tell you how much easier things felt having that weight of anxiety lifted from me because I knew I would see my T on Monday and Friday. I didn’t get any of that shitty horrid attachment pain and physical ache that usually wipes me out on a Wednesday. I didn’t feel like I needed to dig deep or hang on tight in order to get through the week.  I was able to keep sense of my therapist still being out there – which was refreshing! I knew the child parts were there but they weren’t completely beside themselves. It was so freeing.

This week has been total shit, though, back to one session a week and no in between contact. It’s hit me like a sucker punch – even though it is what is normal for me. Two sessions now remain until the break. My session on Monday this week was ‘meh’. Adult me went in and talked shit for half an hour about ‘non things’ and avoided going to the difficult stuff because I’m in self-preservation mode. But then something suddenly shifted. It was as though the little ones clocked that only twenty minutes remained and they freaked out. They wanted to connect with my therapist but then the shame and embarrassment flooded in and rather than reaching out I started retreating inside myself and started to shut down.

My therapist quickly noticed I was starting to dissociate and tried to hang on to me. I could feel myself slipping but she kept talking to me. She said she could tell something was starting to change because my body had changed and that she has noticed I close my eyes more when I am starting to dissociate. I didn’t know this!

I wasn’t able to tell her why I had started backing away but could tell her how it felt like she was behind glass and that I was alone at the end of a very long tunnel. She asked me what I might need in the tunnel? And I said I didn’t know. I was too lost by that point to express the need for someone to be there with me but she said that she imagined having someone alongside me that I adequately trusted might help. I nodded.

She asked me how old I felt and I quickly answered ‘eight’. She said that that was the age where I had already learnt to cope by myself and not rely on anyone. She was right. As usual. I really wanted to be able to reach out to her, to ask her to sit closer to me, to connect, but I just couldn’t. That glass wall is too thick and the tunnel is so dark and long.

Before long the session was over and it was time to leave again. My therapist has really been talking a lot about how difficult the ends of the sessions feel and is more aware now (I think) that they feel like an abandonment or rejection to me and I seem to hit a very young place at the end, like I look frightened or something. She commented that I seem to feel like because the session is over and I have to leave that it’s automatically ‘out of sight out of mind’ and yet that just isn’t the case. She’s right though. It is how it feels to me. I struggle really hard feeling like she doesn’t care unless I am in the room and that is limited to 50 minutes a week. Because I can’t hold her in mind I feel like it works both ways. I find it really helpful when my therapist says things like this because actually the young parts need reminding that she cares. It really helps.

Although, it clearly doesn’t help enough when a break is coming. I just need to do a massive face palm. I know things are dire when my dreams start getting really vivid and regular. I dream a lot anyway but this last couple of weeks has been horrendous. I’m back into therapy stress dreams 101. The ones where I am vulnerable with my therapist, express a need for her, try and get close to her and she physically pushes me away with force. I hate them and they are occurring so regularly (a couple of times each night) that it’s hard to remember that they are only dreams and not the reality.

There have been times when my therapy dreams affect me so badly that I can’t even talk to my therapist properly – for like a month! I get so shut down and scared that I can’t even tell her anything. I fear the dream will play out in real life. It is utterly horrendous. Of course when I do manage to bring the content to session it’s nothing like the dream but it’s so hard when my mind is telling me one thing over and over and yet I am meant to try and believe that the worst won’t happen and trust in someone I can’t hold in mind. It’s so hard.

I think I’m going to write some stuff down tomorrow or draw some flow charts and take them to session with me. I don’t mean to be deliberately avoidant in sessions. Sometimes I just can’t talk and sometimes I can’t even bloody remember what has been paining me outside the session. Man, that is so frustrating! It’s like some kind of amnesia! haha. Ok, so it’s just a product of dissociation and fragmented parts but either way I think I need to take a map with me on Monday so we don’t get lost.

I think that’s all for now. I don’t really know what to say. Bleurgh. Bloody therapy breaks! I guess it’s almost time to:

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Dissociation

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

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

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

So, to last week…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great text right?

Yeah.

I didn’t send it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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