The Elephant In The Room

There are times when I feel like there’s not just ‘an’ elephant in the room in my therapy sessions but rather ‘a herd’ of elephants in the room with me. Some days there are so many jostling for position and distracting me that it can make it very difficult to do any work. I can’t even see or hear my therapist over and around the huge mass and racket that a number of metaphorical pachyderms generate in my mind.

I’ve been aware, for a long time, that there are some elephants that could do with moving on to make space for me and my therapist to work together. They’re quite stubborn, big buggers, though, and they don’t want to move!  It doesn’t help, either, that The Critic is doing everything possible to keep the elephants there…and we all know how powerful she is.

I know I can’t push the elephants out the door on my own, or persuade them to move on. I need my therapist’s help with this task. She knows there are elephants too. She mentions them a fair bit, but I don’t think she has always got an idea of which elephant is sitting between us on any given day; she just senses a presence. She tries to invite the elephant out of the shadows  –  she can’t miss my silence, she knows it’s there, but when I have an elephant’s trunk wrapped around my face acting as a gag I can’t say anything.

I’ve learnt over time that it’s not just as simple as my asking the elephants to ‘please go back to where you came from (so I can just talk about something else that is easy)’ in order for them to leave. I have to tell my therapist that they’re there, who they are, and together we have to coax the elephant into not feeling like it belongs in hiding anymore. We have to make friends with it, give it some attention, and then it gladly moves out for a bit, or sometimes even permanently (if we do a good enough job).

Whilst I want to set these massive beasts free because they don’t look at all comfortable in the small room, and I am certainly uncomfortable when they are there, it is not as easy as it might seem. See, the thing is, these elephants often feel threatening to me. Whilst The Critic is a fabulous ring master in this circus that is my therapy and can tell the elephants exactly what to do, I am less confident with them. I’m more of a cat person, really!

Part of the problem is that I worry about how my therapist will respond to the elephants when she meets them properly. I wonder (panic about) whether she will be able to help me with them or whether she’ll send me packing along with them when she finally sees just how destructive they could be. Some of the elephants are very young, vulnerable, and needy and just want to sit with her but know they can’t; others are absolutely raging and want to destroy the place.  It’s complex. Any one of them handled in the wrong way could result in a stampede.

Recently, after the Easter break, I was feeling brave/desperate/squashed and so I finally pointed out one of the long-standing, elderly elephants to my therapist. I felt a bit like David Attenborough as I described this twenty year old. Her name is Edey, or ED. Edey has been a near constant companion to me since my teens. She’s a skinny elephant and looks like she’s had a tough time over the years. My therapist knows of her but has never really come face-to-face with her before.

Edey is a shy elephant and frightens easily. So when she first met my therapist properly she was quite tentative and didn’t want to be fully seen. Little by little over the last couple of months she let herself be seen more by my therapist and I was able to talk about the problems Edey has. It was going so well. I felt like my therapist and I were, for the first time, really getting to grips with this massive elephant together. It felt like we were co-creating a plan for her. She was calming down, trusted my therapist, and was thinking about going outside.

And then something unexpected happened. My therapist took her by surprise and spooked her in a session and since then Edey has gone back to being one of the elephants in the room. My therapist and I both know she’s there, but for now I don’t feel like I can mention her because this sad, little elephant could be the one that gets me terminated from my therapy, or at least having to ‘work towards an ending’. And frankly there are other little elephants in the room who can’t bear the thought of that. Edey really couldn’t care less now. She wants to smash everything up and get all the others to join her and then march out the door.

I was worried about talking about Edey, in six years she’s rarely come up, despite having always been there with me, but after what’s happened (and yes, I know my therapist was just doing her job and has acted in my best interests etc- it’s not what has been done that’s the problem, it’s how it was done)  I am even more terrified about talking about some of the others. Edey is a tough old beast but some of the little ones are already so wounded that I am not sure they could handle my therapist treating them in anything but a gentle way.

Anyway, winding metaphors aside, I wrote my therapist a letter this week. I’ll type it up and post it on here, later. I am still unsure if I will hand it over on Monday.  This is a nothing post but I just had to write this because I saw this image on Facebook earlier and thought it was utter genius!

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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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Eating Disorder Relapse.

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

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

It’s exhausting.

It’s boring.

I thought I was over it… clearly not.

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

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

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

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

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

The critical voice is loud right now.

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

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

Shoot me now!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things are bad.

They’ve been bad before.

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

Here’s to that!

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Therapy Break Is Over!

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It’s hardly a secret that I find therapy breaks a bit of a (huge) challenge. In fact I think my blog ‘Rubber Bands And Chewing Gum’ should be probably subtitled ‘She Who Falls Apart On Therapy Breaks’! This year’s Easter break has been mammoth by my standards … sooooooo freaking loooooong. I mean seriously it’s not even funny!! I’ve been through the whole range of emotions over the last three and a half weeks. At times I have felt desperately sad and alone; I’ve felt needy and clingy; I’ve been angry and raging; there’s been a touch of not giving a shit ‘meh’; there’s been the odd bit of calm; some days of feeling sick and anxious; nights of feeling tired, small and abandoned… and frankly it’s been completely exhausting/ draining.

Thank god that’s over!

So, last Thursday was a bit of a weird one. I was due to end my therapy break (whoop, right?) by having a Skype call with my therapist. Thursday is not my usual therapy day, that’s a Monday, but given that my therapist was leaving me, ok having a well-earned break, for essentially four weeks – FOUR WEEKS!! – she offered me a session when she got back from her break to cut the length of the break down a bit. Three and a half weeks is so much less than four isn’t it? Grrrr …Ok, yeah, it really is when dealing with attachment pain!

Unfortunately the time my therapist had available meant that I couldn’t actually go and see her in person as she lives 45 minutes from me and I wouldn’t have been able to get back from the session in order to collect my children from school which is twenty minutes in the opposite direction. I took the session she offered anyway (of course) and knew that we’d have to Skype if my wife couldn’t take the afternoon off work to pick up the kids.

I’ve had quite a few Skype sessions now. I don’t mind them when I’m in the normal flow of therapy. It’s better to talk to my therapist than miss a session and it maintains a sense of continuity but by the end of the break I felt so disconnected from my therapist that I had gone beyond the ‘meh’, I’d cycled through anxiety and worry on Wednesday night and was in full on rage and angst mode by Thursday morning that Skype wasn’t exactly my number one choice. I was hoping I’d wake up on Thursday feeling happy to be able to speak with my therapist but actually I didn’t want to talk to her AT ALL. Or at least part of me didn’t.

My therapist had asked me at our last session before the break to text her on Thursday morning to let her know whether I would be seeing her in person or whether we’d Skype. I didn’t even want to text her! I was sooooo resistant to making contact and basically wanted to scream at her to just ‘fuck off’ (anyone got any guesses which part that might be?!). Yeah, so the teen was pissed right off but I could feel something else too and it was powerful. I felt a kind of nervousness and fear about going to therapy. I felt sick in my stomach. I was worried that it would be different now, or that she’d somehow have forgotten me (hello little ones) and was scared that she wouldn’t be ‘the same’.

So I text this:

Can we Skype today? I feel like I have snakes in my stomach and like I am going to be sick. It’s not good. Part of me just doesn’t want to talk to you at all but I’m trying to combat that because there are other bits that do.

It was the best I could manage but I suppose at least it gave her the heads up that things weren’t necessarily going to be straightforward… but when are they ever after a therapy break? It’s a bit of a pattern that therapy breaks disrupt everything and we are lucky if there’s not some kind of rupture that takes a month (or more) to repair!

So, given how fraught re-entry into therapy is after being in orbit for a good while, I wasn’t exactly delighted to be doing my first session back by Skype. I didn’t want to have to try and connect through a screen. I wanted to be there in person and because I couldn’t be I got even more cross and frustrated.

The session wasn’t until 1:45pm and, for once, I had the morning to myself. It was a beautiful day, properly gorgeous, the sky was perfect blue and, finally, that yellow orb in the sky made a decent appearance. I was able to wear shorts and a t-shirt to go walk the dogs. It hardly seems right that it was 23 degrees when only last month we had two feet of snow and a burst water main due to the weather conditions.

Anyway, where I walk the dogs is gorgeous. It’s very peaceful and I rarely see anyone else when I am there. It’s one of my ‘calm’ places. Only on Thursday it was not calm at all. The more I walked in nature the more pissed off I became. I mean not just a bit ugh but fully fucking raging. By the time I was half way on the walk I was all set to text my therapist and not only tell her I wouldn’t be Skyping with her but actually I would not be coming back to therapy. Grrrrrr.

I mean, yeah, there it is again – teen angst!

Fortunately, there is no mobile signal where I walk because it’s in a steep river valley. So I couldn’t text. By the time I got home something had shifted. I still didn’t really want to talk but I was a bit more curious about what was going on with me rather than being engulfed by the feelings.

What was going on?

I was angry about resuming therapy. I was angry that my therapist can just go away and leave me for almost a month and I just have to suck it up and get through it. I was angry that I get so overwhelmed on breaks and need her. I was angry that she’d be the same as ever and unaffected by the break (it’s her ‘holiday’ after all). I was angry that I can’t just leave and ‘show her’ what it’s like to have someone fuck off (not like she’d care anyway). I was angry that every time we have a break it’s so hard to reconnect. I was angry that I cannot hug her or touch her. I was angry that I’d been starving myself and over-exercising in order to cope with the crashing in of difficult and varied emotions that all the parts had been feeling.

I hated her.

I loved her too.

And I hate really that!

To add insult to injury, about twenty minutes before my session the window cleaner turned up… I was annoyed at that too! I had all the windows and doors open and was set to do my session on the IKEA therapy chair (you know the one!) with the patio doors open and then there was Mr Chatterbox with his bucket and ladders. I was polite (because I always am) but told him I couldn’t talk and that I had an important call to make and asked him if he could do the front of the house first.

He finished literally two minutes before my session and I was a bit flustered. I had panicked about being overheard. It was a relief he’d gone but then the computer was a nightmare. I never use Skype unless it’s for therapy and I couldn’t work out how to get the camera on. Yeah. I am a technical whizz you know! So the first couple of minutes of my session were basically me faffing about pressing buttons and wondering why I had a completely black screen. Not good. I disconnected and dialled in again. It was fine that time – phew… but I wasn’t fine.

It was soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo good to see my therapist’s face but sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo bad that it was in my screen and not ‘for real’. I struggled to talk. My therapist was lovely, because she is lovely, and she tried really hard to reach out to me. She acknowledged how troublesome breaks can be and said ‘two and a half weeks is a long time’ and asked me what the different parts were feeling. That would’ve been fine, maybe next session, but on Thursday part of me bristled at the question like, ‘hang on a minute lady, don’t you dare think you can just ask me to open up to you and trust you when you left the vulnerable parts for so long. I’m not going to let you in just like that! And it was three and a half weeks for me…I started the break a week before you went away…grrrr’ and so I said nothing and ignored the question for a bit and then said ‘I don’t know’.

I could feel the little ones crying inside wanting reach out and tell her that they had missed her so much that it hurt and that they had been very very scared that she wasn’t coming back. The thing is, I would struggle to say something like that even if therapy was in full swing and going well – the was no chance on Thursday when I was so defended by various protector parts.

We got about halfway through the session and my dog started acting like it was going to puke…which was on my mind to look out for given that she’d emptied the bathroom bin of tampons the day before. It is way more revolting than you can imagine. Disgusting animal. Anyway, she started behaving like a cat about to bring up a fur ball and I quickly let her out. I couldn’t be dealing with ‘that’ on my carpet. So I got up quick, left the Skype running, and took the dog out where she promptly stopped acting like she was going to chunder and started running around the garden and found her tennis ball! (side note – the dog has cleared the tampons in the early hours of this morning! – uuuugghhhh!)

I went back inside and resumed my session. Something had shifted. My therapist asked me if there was anything that had come to mind that I might want to talk about having previously told her that my mind was completely blank and my body was numb. Dissociated fun times! There was plenty that came to mind: the hell that the break has been; how terrible the attachment stuff has felt; how sad I have felt and how incredibly lonely it’s been at times. But no! The one ‘good thing’ about having ‘so many issues’ is that you can pick and choose something that isn’t the ‘main problem’ and yet it still seems like a ‘main problem’!

I decided to tell her about the issues I have been having around eating and my body over Easter. This is a step in the right direction – kind of. There was a time where there was no way I would have talked about this ‘secret’ but I am steadily getting there ‘bit by bit’ with the topic and so I must be making some progress and I must trust my therapist a bit – right? I trust her with anorexia and self-harm I just struggle to really let her see the young needs and pain around how much I miss her between sessions.

So, yeah, Easter has been weird… I knew early on that my go to coping strategies would be catastrophic with nearly a month to survive without any therapy. I’d felt my mind switch into the place that thinks it’s a good idea to run every day and not eat enough or cut or burn myself. So, knowing this I made a conscious choice – albeit a bit bloody bonkers – that every time I felt like not eating or self-harming, I’d eat Easter eggs and do something nice for myself. Basically I spent two weeks eating and eating and eating and watching TV in the evenings. My wife thought it was great to see me (usually I read in the evenings).

It was all going ok until one day I wanted to put on a pair of jeans that I like…and they were a bit tighter than usual.

No.

Nooo way!

Disaster.

Get on the scales.

Confirmation of disaster.

I had gained 2.5kg.

I had completely let myself go.

And in an instant the critic was back online. I didn’t write about this last blog post because I was so caught up in it that I was in a weird kind of denial about it – that happens. I think having talked about it with my therapist on Thursday I have slightly come out the other side – in that I have eaten a few proper meals and I haven’t run on my treadmill today. But leading into Thursday I had spent 7 consecutive days running on the treadmill and severely restricting my food intake to maybe 500 calories a day (less than I was burning running).

By my session on Thursday that 2.5kg was gone and I felt a little better about myself but I ached, I was exhausted, and by the time I came to open up about this, emotionally spent. I know I am not out of the woods with this stuff. I feel the strong desire/need to keep chasing the numbers downwards on the scales. I want to run. I feel like I need to. There is a lot going on in my day-to-day life right now and I feel a bit stretched. I need to strike a safe balance with the body stuff as I know how dangerous it can be when I get so fixated on my body. I am good at being an anorexic…which is a tragic.

So, tomorrow is my first face-to-face session with my therapist. Part of me can’t wait to see her but part of me is wary. I feel really exposed now – I told her as much at the end of the Skype session. She was incredibly understanding and validating about what I had told her. It felt like we really connected which is amazing after one session and it being via Skype. I am hopeful that tomorrow will build on what was started last week but I am also conscious of the fact that lots of parts are saying and feeling lots of different things so who knows what’ll happen.

I am aware that the break has highlighted to me again some of the basic fundamentals that I struggle with. I really need to discuss her writing me a note for breaks (but after the pebbles….!); I need to ask about some kind of check in in the week; and I need ask about her sitting closer to me sometimes. I can’t even go to the hug stuff again but, hey, baby steps right?!

Anyway, that’s about all for now. I have to sleep! It’s going to be a mammoth week this week and I am already dreaming of Friday and a rest.

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When The Critical Voice Takes Hold.

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I don’t know why I am so surprised that the Inner Critic has decided that now is a good time to show up and get super vocal in my head. I mean, let’s face it, the Easter therapy break starts on Monday and any time there is some kind of emotional upset or disruption on the cards it never fails to jump in quick and take control in the only way it knows how: by attacking me. It’s not as though this hasn’t happened before; it’s an established pattern. Sigh.

So maybe ‘surprised’ isn’t quite the right word to describe how I feel about the rapid return to power of my least favourite part. Maybe ‘disappointed’ is a more accurate reflection of how it feels to have that nagging voice taking over my brain again. Don’t get me wrong, the Inner Critic never truly goes away; it’s always there inside me waiting, as if on standby, for whenever things feel difficult. It’s just, lately, I’ve felt as though the adult has been able to manage the taunts from the angry one a little better, and so it’s unfortunate that the centre won’t hold now.

The Critic sees itself as a protector, the best, and feels it does a smashing job in its role; only I recognise, these days, that it feels less and less protective and more and more destructive… and that’s why I am disappointed. I am so aware of my coping strategies now; not only do I have awareness of them, importantly I know what triggers a descent into not eating and/or self harm.

I have tried really hard to keep in my adult head and talk with the critical voice, listen to what it has to say, and try and accept it. I try and tell it that whilst I understand what it’s saying, I’ve got this, and we don’t need to go on the attack anymore. That’s all well and good most of the time. If things are reasonably settled for me (ha! Remind when that was again?!), the Critic keeps a reasonably low profile. Rather than running the show full time, like it used to, these days it just takes on some consultancy work here and there – generally when the big shit starts to fly!

What constitutes ‘big shit’?: anything that feeds the attachment trauma stuff – so right now that is the therapy break; anything that makes me doubt myself and my ability – recently it was returning to tutoring; anything that leaves me feeling negatively judged – ummm not sure about this; oh, and CONFLICT, let’s not forget conflict!

So here’s the pattern that is repeating itself AGAIN now- it’s all about the therapy break and insecurity in the therapeutic relationship:

    1. The Child parts feel anxious and scared. They fear a real abandonment and annihilation as my therapist is about to go away. They scream and scream incessantly and it feels difficult. For a period of time adult me can cope with this because it’s not a lot different to how it is between sessions. It takes a shit tonne of energy and I feel powerless to make things better for the little ones as the reality of a protracted amount of time without therapy hits home. I can make it through a week but I can’t do four weeks on my own.
    2. The Adult reaches saturation point and a thick fog of depression sets in making day-to-day living incredibly difficult. It’s barely functioning, bare minimum, and totally draining. Basically it’s hell in my head. I feel hopeless. I feel pathetic that after so much therapy that I can’t find more resources to cope with things in a helpful way. I want to contain the child parts but they just don’t want me. They don’t even know who I am.
    3. The Inner Critic is alerted to what’s happening. It knows that I can’t wallow in self pity forever; I have to get on with life. I have to function. So it wades in. It will not allow a return to the needy child state because that will only result in more depression and repeating the cycle. It threatens them and tries to shut them down.

So the Critic, in its infinite wisdom takes charge and here’s how:

The Inner Critic is bit like one of those army boot camp guys you see on TV. It has a fixed plan and it’ll shout at me to ‘motivate’ me to do what it wants. I think the intention is good: ‘you need to get up and start participating’; it is a protector part, after all. The problem lies in how the ‘participation’ is achieved. It’s not good. The Critic whilst well-meaning at the start has become a bit of a sadist:

Look at you! For god’s sake, it’s pathetic. It’s no wonder you always get left. Needy. Whining. Woe is me! No one is interested in that. Grow up. For fuck’s sake! I go away for a few months and look at you! What did you do? Eat the entire McDonald’s menu every day? Fuck. It’s disgusting. How can you let yourself get like that? Don’t you ever learn?…’

Essentially it gives me a right bollocking, tells me I am worthless, and bullies me into action. That action isn’t simply ‘get up and do your best’ or ‘be gentle with yourself. It’s tough now but you’ve got this. Breathe and take it minute by minute’. If only it were that simple! Oh no. The price I pay to be able to function, to find the necessary energy to get on with life, is by attacking my body in various ways.

Yep. It’s mental. I won’t lie. It fills me with shame and embarrassment.

I really don’t feel good sitting here typing about this when I am now 35 years old. (I’ve written before about whether it is actually possible to really recover from self-harming behaviours). Sure, in my late teens and early twenties it wasn’t great, either, but it felt marginally more acceptable to be in the throes of an eating disorder and battling against the desire self-harm back then. Somehow it feels way less acceptable to be a proper adult with kids and still dealing (or not dealing) with this bullshit. I should, surely, by now have found a way out. And that’s the thing. I feel shit and then I beat myself up for it over and over. It’s a vicious cycle.

Great!

In my last post I said how I was in stuck in a depressed state and also suffering with being ill. I have a stinking cold and feel rotten – even now. The sensible thing to do would have been to go back to bed after dropping the kids at preschool and school on Thursday. It would have been a good idea to try and rest and recharge a bit. Recover!- you know, do some of that self-care business that I am utterly pants at.

The thing is, when my head is in that horrid, bleak, depressed place I just want to get away from it. I feel so utterly awful and defeated that I can’t bear it. Lying in bed trying to rest with panicked thoughts about the month that lies ahead as well as feeling the pressure to have ‘a good connecting last therapy session on Monday’ would’ve only sent me into an anxiety attack and I really didn’t want that to happen again after what happened at Christmas. I am so conscious of not having some huge meltdown and then creating some disaster (rupture) with my therapist as we head into the break.

So I didn’t sleep or relax on Thursday, instead I allowed (did I? doesn’t feel like ‘allowing’), ok, maybe succumbed to the demands of the Critic in exchange for some functionality – some energy – an escape.

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I had looked in the mirror in the morning- as you do- and had seen nothing but faults. Everything was wrong. I felt fat. And fat is not something I handle well especially when I am going to be in a swimsuit on holiday in two months time. Stupidly, I proceeded to get on the scales (whhhhyyyy???) and as suspected I have put on weight in the last week (birthday cake and chocolates hasn’t helped!)- I already knew this. I can feel it when I put my clothes on. I can see the cover of fat over my tummy that is never usually there.

There it was on the scales, confirmation that I’d ‘properly let myself go’: 47.6kg. Not acceptable (in my mind at least). I am 168cm which is neither short nor tall – it’s just average and so I really shouldn’t be concerned about my weight at all yet… but anyone with a history like mine knows what feels ok and what doesn’t. I am in the ‘what doesn’t’ bit now. Whilst the BMI calculator tells me I should be aiming for a weight somewhere between 52.2kg-70.8kg (70.8kg Really?!) I know that it’s never going to happen. I freak out at 48kg…ok, I clearly freak out at 47.6kg too.

The sad thing is, I can eat well, normally even, for quite a period of time, I dare to believe that I am over the eating disorder… but before long a switch flips in my head and I stop eating right. I can’t sustain it – especially when I feel emotionally on the brink. On Thursday, despite the streaming cold, I got on my treadmill to tackle my body. Yeah, I know…

I haven’t done any running since that pigging chest infection took hold last September (finally gone!) – but despite that severe break in exercise it didn’t stop me hitting a straight 50 minutes work out – oh and on an empty stomach. I was doing intervals of 8 minutes running, then walking for 4, and repeating – not really very much when I have previously been used to solid running outdoors for 10km+ every other day but it’s clearly not sensible when poorly. I (adult) know this but I wasn’t available yesterday morning. I was gagged and bound in the corner along with all the vulnerable parts.

My friend and I were chatting on Whatsapp whilst I was on the run – and in the end she refused to talk to me until I got off the treadmill. She could see the Critic was front and centre – and she doesn’t like it (neither do I)! I did stop running in the end and had a shower but had it not been for my friend coaching me through what was going on I would’ve stayed there another hour, easily.

Unsurprisingly, my body crashed shortly after and I spent an hour lying on my bed. Idiot. I’m not sure where I am going with this really. It’s so hard to think about it when I am caught up in it. I know that not eating and over exercising is not a good combination. I know that under-nutrition ends up negatively effecting my mental health. I know I become obsessive. I withdraw. I feel suicidal. I get it. I have been here a million times before.

I know, too, that this is all a reaction to the upcoming therapy break. I feel mortified that that is the case. I hate that I can’t handle my emotions better than this. I can’t stand the overwhelming feelings that come up around therapy breaks. I mean it’s pretty dire in the week between sessions but compared with how it feels right now that separation anxiety is just about manageable. But when there’s a break it feels like I am thrown slap bang back in the thick of the trauma of childhood: I am always left. I don’t want to be left. No one is there. No one cares. I am alone. I am scared. I need an adult and no one ever comes. …. and that’s how it feels.

Don’t get me wrong. I do totally understand I am a grown up now. I am not that child anymore. I have resources and a level of resilience that little girl didn’t have. I need to work harder at remembering that and keying into my strengths… but I do try. I try hard every day to keep on keeping on. I don’t know what the hell else to do now. And despite having a high-functioning adult, the little girl is still there inside me. For her having the new attachment figure disappear activates all the feelings that she suppressed back then when mum disappeared in the week.

I really want to be able accept those feelings and nurture that little girl  but sometimes her fear and emotional pain feel too much and so because I can’t settle or soothe her, I suppress her in the only way I know how. It’s the only way I know how to survive.

In addition to this, having had my dad go abroad on a month long holiday and die there when I was 25, there’s a very real adult anxiety operating simultaneously around breaks. Sure my mum would go away in the week when I was a kid and it would feel like an impossibly long amount of time between Sunday and Friday; but my dad went on holiday and he came back as a box of ashes alongside his backpack and diving gear. I can’t even begin to explain what that is like. I am terrified that my therapist will go away and never come back.

Not eating, exercising to the extreme, and self-harming are not the answer to this problem, I know that, but right now it’s all I’ve got.

I guess I need to really talk to my therapist on Monday about this stuff. We’ve been discussing these kind of behaviours in the last month or so but I haven’t told her that it’s an active thing – because it hasn’t been until now. It was a problem at Christmas but once we repaired the rupture it’s been largely ok. I’ve had the odd couple of days here and there where I have restricted what I eat when I’ve felt stressed but generally it’s been pretty good – although of course I am not the right ‘healthy’ weight so I guess you could say it’s not all that good.

I find it much easier to tell her about not eating and self-harming when I am not engaged in it. When I’m not eating and being self-destructive in the here and now I hide and I push her away. That’s the Critic’s input. It’s all about secrecy and keeping people out. But I need to reach out of this place, don’t I? I know that my therapist can’t fix this for me. She won’t be able to make it stop. But I hope that if I can find the courage to expose this, and let her see me when I am actually suffering, she might at least be able to make me feel less alone with it and maybe reassure me that she will come back.

I hope that on Monday we will be able to talk to all the parts that are struggling, the Critic included, and find some way of helping me get through the next four weeks because right now I can’t see how it’s going to happen.

I absolutely hate therapy breaks!

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Mother’s Day Followed By A Hint Of Therapy Break Dread…

Denial is good right?!

I’ve been putting off writing on the blog this week… which is strange because there’s been plenty of ‘crazy-making’ topics to talk about! I think it’s almost as though there is so much ‘ugh’ stuff running round my brain that I’ve just buried my head in the sand and tried to power through, pretending it was just a normal week rather than a recipe of emotionally triggering events set to send me over the edge! I guess it’s a survival tactic – head down and run!

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day in the UK. It’s the annual, in your face, reminder that my mothering wasn’t great (read: totally lacking, emotionally neglectful, and trauma inducing!) whilst great swathes of society celebrate their wonderful mother/daughter relationships. The shops are fit to burst with ‘Thank You To My Lovely Mum On Mother’s Day’ cards and gifts as soon as Valentines Day is over and it makes me avoid the shops for the month.

It’s not altogether different to how I feel around Father’s Day – everyone is celebrating a relationship when I am grieving a loss: my dad is dead. My mum might be alive but I’m in the process of grieving a loss; grieving the mother I never had but so desperately wanted and needed. Both days ‘parent’s days’ are tough in different ways.

I had to avoid most of social media over the weekend because I wanted to puke at the photos of mums and daughters together posting ‘she’s my best friend’ stuff or ‘thanks for all you do for me’. I totally get that it might sound like I am bitter or begrudging of people who have those ‘magical’ relationships with their mums and are, most importantly, securely attached… but it’s really not that at all. Honestly it’s not! It’s clear that a healthy, safe, nurturing mothering relationship is what I am longing for. I guess I am jealous.

I had to unplug over Mother’s Day because it’s just so hard having everyone else’s love and connection thrust upon me when I’m so very aware of the deficit in my own relationship with my mother. I feel like a broken record banging on about the mother wound but it’s huge isn’t it? I find that it’s hard enough navigating the week to week fall out of developmental trauma and struggling with maternal transference in the therapeutic relationship without this stuff being everywhere you go!

I find it sadly ironic that I was actually born on Mother’s Day and have had this almost farcical relationship with my mum. Mother’s Day is a day of celebration and yet it feels almost like a sick joke that I actually turned up on Mother’s Day and yet have always felt almost motherless.

The relationship was doomed from the beginning and as much as I resent what’s happened over the years, I can also see that my mum and I were subject to a bunch of shit circumstances that made our bonding experience very difficult, bordering on impossible. It doesn’t excuse everything that’s gone on but I can understand a bit why things are how they are… did I just make a concession?!

My birth was complicated (we both nearly died) and as a result my mum didn’t get to see me for the first twenty four hours of my life because she was so poorly and so was I. I spent three days in an incubator on a neonatal unit. When my mum finally got to meet me she didn’t recognise me as being hers she thought another baby was hers (this is a story she tells like it’s a joke, but working in therapy I realise how fucking tragic that actually is) and so that critical window of bonding was missed. We never had that lovely time of skin to skin contact that I had with my babies immediately following their births. There was none of that essential oxytocin released between us. We never got to know each other at the primal level.

I was not held or touched for three days apart from nappy changes and care from midwives. I was stuck in a fish tank – alone. I understand why. I was tiny and fragile. That’s what happened back in the early 80’s. These days they know so much more about the importance of those early hours and days with mothers and babies; they put little squares of fabric in with the mother and baby and keep swapping them over in order that the baby can identify the mother’s scent when they finally can come out of the incubator. It makes complete sense; build the connection and the relationship.

It’s hardly surprising that a young mum who had a difficult pregnancy, a highly traumatic birth, and who received next to no support would develop postnatal depression – again something that was nowhere near as understood as it is now. It’s like a hideous catalogue of errors that has led to a fractured maternal relationship. I really feel that if things had have been done a little differently I may not be struggling in quite the way I am today. I mean I get there was plenty of shit that went on as I grew up but I do get the sense that the seeds were planted very early on, before I was even born.

I feel so sorry for my mum, at 22, going through what she did. My adult self wants to befriend her 22 year old self and give her some support, some guidance, and tell her that it’s going to be ok. She is good enough, even if the world (family) is telling her otherwise. She needed a good friend, and a good therapist back then – in fact I suspect she could use those now. I am lucky to have both of these things today.

I feel so fortunate, I had really positive birth experiences with both my babies (planned c-section), bonded with them, they both fed easily, my wife was supportive, and the transition into motherhood as easy as it could possibly have been and yet there were certainly days where I was so exhausted from night feeds that I wondered what the hell I was doing. I can’t imagine what it must’ve been like for my mum. She was just a baby when she had me and even as a proper grown up at 29 when I had my first child I still found some days a trial.

Anyway, I saw my mum on Sunday and it was nice. We did a kind of joint Mother’s Day/birthday celebration with a cake. As I have said before I don’t really have a problem with the relationship my mum and I have now. Sure, we don’t touch and we don’t have a great deal of contact, but when we see one another it’s ok; it’s good enough. She’s kind. She doesn’t judge me. She’s great with my kids and that goes some small way towards repairing the damage…well my adult sees it that way…don’t dig too deep or ask to many questions to the others!

I’ve learned to accept what the relationship is in the here and now. Our adults get on fine. The problem I have is trying to come to terms with what the relationship wasn’t when I was small. I am trying to come to terms with the lack of nurturing and holding I received as a kid. That’s where the work is. That’s what’s so hard in the therapy. Some weeks I find it easier than others.

This week I am not finding it all easy. What’s up? If Mother’s Day was fine then what’s the problem? Well, this is week is hard because I’m now heading into my last session before I have a month long therapy break. I can feel all the younger parts groaning in unison. My dreams are filled with my therapist and I’ve felt steadily more unsettled as the week has progressed. Basically, because the therapy mother is about to disappear all the trauma and pain of the mother wound is right back on the surface…and that sucks!

I am both desperate for my session on Monday and dreading it. I so want to see my therapist but I also don’t want to see her because once the time is up, that’s it….I’m on my own… we all know how that worked out at Christmas and that was only 2.5 weeks. Eeek. Whilst I know she’ll be back (eventually) there are parts that feel abandoned and scared, and others that feel plain angry that she’s going away. Argh!

This Monday’s session was totally fine. We talked a lot about the stress I am feeling around my cancer follow ups and blood tests. It was front of mind because I had to go and get blood taken that afternoon ready for my consultant appointment on Wednesday. It’s a horrid time leading into hospital appointments because I never really know what news I am going to get. I never in a million years imagined I would be diagnosed with cancer 6 months after giving birth to my son so I never take for granted that these appointments will be fine. You just never know and that is really anxiety provoking.

We have started edging around the subject of my eating disorder in the last few weeks, too. And whilst part of me is cringing and wanting to run away there is another part that is relieved to tell her how things are, how they have been, and let go of some of the burden. I struggle not to judge myself as I tell her the details of what’s happened over the years and how much I battle still – but she doesn’t judge me and so I am learning to be a little more compassionate with myself.

I know it won’t last, though. I can’t sustain that without regular reassurance. I know that as soon as Monday’s session is done I am going to have a real problem on my hands. I don’t want to fall into unhelpful coping strategies but I also can feel it coming. It’s like a storm rolling in on the horizon. I already feel body conscious because I’ve been eating well for the last few weeks and that in itself makes my brain panic. I don’t want to feel abandoned and rejected and alone but I know that even if I manage the first week of the break, at some point the wheels will fall off. I’m not being fatalistic, I just know the pattern…

So, that’s kind of where it’s at right now. I guess we’ll just have to see how Monday goes. I hope I can go in and be open. I am worried that I will shutdown and shut her out as so often is the case as we head into a break. I don’t need that, though! I will endeavour to connect with her.

Wish me luck! I know that so many of us edge towards Easter therapy break now and so I’m sending you all holding and containing thoughts/wishes: you’ve got this.

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Anxiety and the wrong shoes

img_2559I am fluctuating wildly in my moods and behaviours at the minute. One minute I feel borderline suicidal and the next full of fight and motivation. I’d like to blame it on being hormonal – but I know it’s not just that. Sigh!

Last week I briefly spoke about how I had manically cleaned my house within an inch of its life in preparation for a therapy session via Skype (it doesn’t sound any less mental a week on does it?!) and how perhaps I was in avoidance mode; cleaning the house meant I didn’t have to focus on the ‘real issue’ at hand which was the rupture that my therapist and I had over Christmas and that we are (still) steadily trying to repair bit by bit.

I recognise that some of my behaviour recently has been a bit ‘on the edge of normal’ (whatever that is) and on reflection I realise that I have been operating from a point of high anxiety and it’s been subtly seeping into my day-to-day.

To be honest I am always slightly (a lot) anxious and/or depressed (what fun!) and am acutely sensitive to seemingly small things: changes in routine (especially my therapy) knock me for six and send me spiralling.

Apparently, I am a highly sensitive person (HSP); whilst this trait certainly has some benefits (being intuitive, empathic, feeling, with a complex inner life!) some aspects of it can be debilitating (social anxiety, noise intolerance, being overstimulated/terrified by violent movies, needing to retreat from the world when it feels overwhelming).

My anxiety escalated to an unmanageable level over the Christmas therapy break (anyone notice?) and although things are a little better now, particularly now that my therapy has resumed, I feel that the residual levels of stress and anxiety I am carrying are higher than normal and are massively impacting on my life.

Why am I anxious right now?

How long have you got?!

Clearly the usual things that bother me are still there:

  • My physical health (or lack of it) concerns me. I have been ill pretty much consistently since September and have so little energy that I have stopped exercising altogether (good for my weight but not a lot else) and am barely making it through the day even when trying to conserve my energy. My bloods suggest that I am still in remission from my Hodgkins but living on an 8 week turn around for check-ups is anxiety-inducing in itself. I live in a state of constant worry about if and when I’ll get ill again.
  • My fragile mental health – ugh! Therapy is causing me anxiety because although things are slowly getting better, my therapist and I still have a great deal of talking to do about the rupture that happened at Christmas. Whilst things feel so tentative my internal child parts are even less settled and contained than usual and so it is really hard to manage. This week all I have wanted to do is reach out to my therapist and seek some kind of reassurance. Don’t worry! I’m not stupid. I am not going to go down that route again. One rupture and sense overwhelming sense of rejection is enough to be dealing with; I don’t need to add any fuel to the fire. But it does nothing to alleviate my anxiety about feeling abandoned or rejected when I can’t reach out or even the thought of doing so reminds me of all that has recently happened.

 

Then there’s the extra shit – icing on the cake if you will:

  • My wife’s skin cancer is stressing me out. We are waiting on the results of her biopsies to know where to go from here-  but right now it’s a crazy limbo type space trying not to overthink things but underneath it gnaws away at me. I don’t have a brain that just shuts off, unfortunately. Oh my goodness I would love an ‘off’ button.
  • My best friend from primary school has been hit by the big C again and I am utterly devastated. As if it wasn’t bad enough getting diagnosed with breast cancer the day before your thirtieth birthday, going through chemo and having a mastectomy, she then relapsed eighteen months later – the breast cancer had metastasised and was now in her lymph nodes under her arm. More treatment. And now last week they’ve found it in her bones. I mean seriously. Wtf? I am so sad for her and her family. To face fighting cancer three times in less than five years with a young family is just hideous. I can’t help but become even more anxious about my own future, too.

 

Then there’s the minging glace cherry on top of the cake:

  • My neighbours. Ugh. It’s too long and dull a story to recount here but suffice to say I am not a crier (I struggle to hit those buried emotions) and yet found myself in tears on Friday due to an incident that happened. The ‘thing’ itself is not a big deal and yet because I am so on a knife edge with my ‘everyday life’ what happened last week sent me over the edge. My brain has run wild and my anxiety has spiked horrendously. When you don’t feel secure or safe in your home it’s horrid. I really struggle with conflict and even when I know I have done nothing wrong I struggle to not find fault or blame myself. I need to get better at managing stress!

Anyway. It’s been a bit tentative this week for sure. One minute I am desperately sad and frightened hiding in my bed, the next I am driving my car with the stereo on full blast belting out something from Pink’s new album (I think my teen part is quite lively at the moment – perhaps after the letter I wrote to her).

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Today Pink’s ‘Secrets’ was on loop in my car… the lyrics really resonate with me/the teen right now – it’s kind of how I feel about therapy like there’s a few things I need to let out the bag. It’s a right belter of a track too:

Secrets

What do we conceal? What do we reveal?
Make that decision every day
What is wrong with me, it’s what’s wrong with you
There’s just so much I wanna say

I like to make-believe with you
Da, da, da, da, do, do, do
That we always speak the truth…ish
I like how we pretend the same
Da, da, da, da, do, do, do
Play this silly little game, hey!

I’ve got some things to say
‘Cause there’s a lot that you don’t know
It’s written on my face, it’s gonna be hard to swallow
(Everybody’s got a secret)
I got some things to say
(Everybody’s got a secret)
‘Cause there’s a lot that you don’t know
(Everybody’s got a secret)
It’s written on my face
(Everybody’s got a secret)

I let the walls come down
I let the monster out, and it’s coming after me
Do you feel exposed where it hurts the most?
Can you wear it on your sleeve

Put it in the closet, lock the doors
Wondering which one is worse
Is it mine or is it yours
Put it in the closet, lock the doors
Wondering which one is worse
I’ll show mine if you show yours
I’ll show mine if you show yours, hey, hey, hey!

*

So, yeah, it’s been very up and down emotionally for me lately…To Monday morning, though. Get to the point eh?!

Usually I am pretty particular about what I wear to therapy. I try and dress well – not smart or anything like that, I just want to feel good in what I am wearing. I’m generally in some kind of jeans or dungarees (don’t judge me! I am a lesbian after all!) but I am fairly well put together – everything is clean and I make an effort with my appearance. Legs are shaved, eye brows are shaped, socks and pants are good! (like it even fucking matters! ha!)

I don’t usually wear makeup day-to-day but I generally slap on some foundation to cover the greyness and a bit of mascara to make my eyes look less tired on a Monday. I don’t think it achieves much but it is the mask I put on to go pour my heart out.

I’d describe how I dress for therapy as one of those casual no one would know you’ve made any effort looks – surf style. However, if I don’t blow dry and straighten my hair there’s an issue! I look like my granddad with his crazy bouffant hairdo. Oh man I miss my long hair that I could just whack in a tucked under pony tail. Damn you fucking cancer!

Sometimes I really cover up – even in the summer I can sit in a jumper with my arms concealed not wanting to draw attention to my scars or bony/skinny body. Other times I might choose to be more revealing – it’s a weird one. Sometimes I want to hide everything from my therapist and other times I want her to see me – I want her to know how things are. I’ve read a few posts about what people wear to therapy and I think it does tell you a lot about what might be going on both consciously and unconsciously.

Anyway. I felt pretty vulnerable on Monday (what with the rupture and having had the Skype session rather than a face-to-face) and wanted to snuggle up into something cosy and comfy (a onesie would’ve totally been perfect – but not ever going to happen!) and so I ended up in a pair of jeans I haven’t worn in a year or two (I have 25+ pairs – a bonus of having had the same frame since 17 years old) and a jumper I found when I cleared the loft out the other weekend… that come to think of it I had when I was in college too (hmmm maybe the teen part is more present than I thought!).

I was happy enough with the outfit but as it came time to leave home I had a problem. Shoes. Shoes? Yes. Shoes. I couldn’t find a pair that went with the outfit. Granted jeans and a jumper is pretty much all I wear and so really ALL my shoes go with this. But not on Monday. I couldn’t find a pair that felt ‘right’. I have 8 different pairs of Rocket Dog sneakers in various colours, trainers galore, and loads of other shoes…and yet for some reason nothing I put on my feet felt ok with what I was wearing. I don’t know what was wrong but I felt self-conscious about my feet…

The outcome? I changed my entire outfit to accommodate the shoes. I opted for my current favourite pair of shoes and dressed around them. I know. I think, maybe I need A LOT MORE help.

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All of the recent crazy has alerted me to the fact that I need to be very gentle with myself for the next few weeks – when possible. I know I am walking a fine line here and I absolutely cannot afford to crash and burn like I did at Christmas.

Positively, the session, once I arrived went well. My therapist and I really talked and I once I had got through moaning on about my current life annoyances/worries the conversation changed tack and went to a place that I am usually wary of going to for fear of judgement and feeling ashamed.

My therapist asked me outright about my eating disorder and self-harm. Yikes! Usually I recoil a bit from that kind of thing but I tried to stay present and open with her. Little by little we got onto talking about the therapy and our relationship. I told her how I have been feeling when I dissociate and how we need to find a way of working more effectively with the traumatised attach parts.

I managed, somehow, to stay in my adult but was able to be open and vulnerable with her for the remainder of the session and it paid off. I might be imagining it but things felt different. The session had a different quality to it and my therapist who almost NEVER self-discloses shared something with me and that made me feel much closer to her.

Anyway, the real challenge now is to keep on this path. I need to try and keep letting her know how things are and work through everything that has come up as a result of Christmas and before. I know she doesn’t deliberately do things to hurt me but because I am so frigging sensitive even the hint of a wrong word or tone can send me out into orbit. It’s really tricky.

My young ones are beginning to really struggle and it seems a very long time until Monday. I hate that it makes no difference to those vulnerable parts of me whether I have a good therapy session or a not so good one. I can leave the room feeling connected and cared for and yet I can’t hold onto any of it and still find myself feeling desperately alone and lost and abandoned by Wednesday. It’s devastating really. My stomach actually aches knowing that it is still four more sleeps until Monday. Adult me needs to try and soothe the upset little ones but unfortunately it is much easier said than done.

I don’t have a lot else to say really, so I’ll leave it there for now.

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