So, we’re in that weird bit between Christmas and New Year again. That notorious chunk of time where I seem to flatline and become incapable of doing anything much at all after running at 1000mph into Christmas. There’s been no deviation from the long-established pattern this year: CRASH AND BURN baby! It’s like I have entered into a state of inertia…or maybe it’s just burnout…or depression…hormones…all of the above! – but whatever it is I’ve been completely out of it for the last several days – and not in a good way.
It’s not unusual not to know what day it is in this weird ‘no man’s land’ – I mean that’s everyone right? I wouldn’t say I am dissociated, either. I have a shit tonne going on in my brain but I feel paralysed and unable to do any of what’s on my list and that’s what I hate. It’s mental torture. I want to be able to relax and switch off and yet I get plagued by crap. To be fair, my tax return is like a dementor right up the last minute on January 31st so I may as well accept that that won’t be done just yet!
So, what can I say? It’s been a while since I have posted (again). I’ve been meaning to post something, the laptop has been on beside my bed for three days solid now, with the screensaver endlessly going. I keep looking at it, thinking I’ll write, seeing as I have some time (and that would be a good use of time rather than endlessly scrolling through social media on my phone and then feeling pissed at myself that I am not using my time off more effectively. Honestly, I think I need a tech detox for the next little while!…Ummm, well, WordPress excluded obviously.
There’s quite a lot of bits I could write about here, stuff to catch up on – like, perhaps I should go back to a few weeks ago and fill in from there? – well, what I can remember of it! Or perhaps I should write something thematic – I’ve been thinking a lot about the ‘senses’ in therapy – particularly smell and touch, oh an let’s not forget the x-ray vision! And then there’s Christmastime itself and all that that can bring up. Or gifts in therapy (in a good way). Or a reflection on the year (what a bloody year!). I don’t know. This will probably end up a mash up of all of it, span 4000 words and end up making no sense…so same as usual then eh?!
Maybe go get a cuppa before we begin!
And also, before I get going, I just want to say that I hope you are all hanging in there. My reader has been fairly empty of posts this last month from what I can see and I suspect that’s partly because it’s been the mad time heading into the holidays but also that people might be feeling similar to how I have been – kind of in a limbo, not feeling quite right, and not being able to reach out. If that’s the case then, I get it. Lots of us have also had that hell time of impending therapy break to manage and then the actual break too so solidarity there. And I just want you to know that those of you who have written posts that I haven’t yet commented on, I will get to it…and I do see that you are there. So, that’s a long-winded way of saying I hope you are all hanging in there and that I see you x
Right, so where to start? The last few weeks have been a bit of trial. I mean I honestly was dragging my arse towards the finish line and the end of term. Only it’s not the finish line when you have kids and a family. It’s just dropping one set of responsibilities and commitments so you can focus on the others. Somehow, we got to Christmas day in one piece and the kids had the things they wanted. To be honest though, with a partner that works in health and social care it was inevitable that Christmas was going to a fucking washout. And we were correct. There were calls to Public Health on Christmas Day to report a COVID breakout and Boxing Day was trying to spread a very thin layer of staff across an already stretched service.
My wife has been working 14-hour days and has now, today, taken a suitcase to work and will be sleeping there- there physically aren’t enough nurses and care staff around and there is no alternative.
People might think that this new COVID variant isn’t a problem, “It’s just a cold” they say – but it is a problem when it’s EVERYWHERE and staff have to isolate who have got it. The workforce is decimated. Sure, we might not be getting the COVID deaths we’ve seen previously but when you can’t care for the most vulnerable in society in the health and social care sector because we’ve allowed the virus to run wild and there are NO STAFF…well, it’s criminal.
People are not receiving the care they deserve. Hospitals are cancelling procedures. Cancers are being picked up late. People are being discharged back into the community to free up acute beds when they aren’t really safe to be discharged because there is such a pressure on beds. I could go on and on.
I honestly can’t believe the burden that has been placed on key workers and healthcare staff throughout this pandemic. People are on their knees. The system is at breaking point. And the system isn’t a system. It’s people. People like my wife. People like my colleagues in schools. I am white hot with rage, and I cannot believe our government have allowed this to happen. Only I can. A bin fire of self-serving shits are running this country and we seem powerless to do anything to hold them to account.
Anyway, this isn’t meant to be a rant about the state of things, but I just feel so fucking angry. I’m angry that the government has shafted us. I am angry that some people aren’t doing more to limit the spread of the infection by just being fucking sensible. I am angry that the people that end up suffering the consequences are the people who have sacrificed enough already. I am beyond pissed off that we are throwing the clinically vulnerable under the bus as if having ‘a pre-existing condition’ means you are collateral damage for keeping the economy moving. And apparently, I am meant to send my kids back to school on Wednesday where no mitigations other than some open windows are in place, and primary aged kids are not being offered the vaccine in the UK. I mean for the love of GOD!!!!!!
Deep Breaths RB!
So, back to therapy, which is what you are all here for, right?!…
The run in to the Christmas holiday was a bit fraught. Anita had a week’s break at the beginning of December (I think that was when I last posted) and so that set things off a bit internally knowing there was going to be so much disruption over the month. There were a few sessions between her coming back from that break and before the Christmas break – I think two weeks/four sessions. The first session back was really connecting but also really hard.
I’d asked Anita if we could start sooner that day, but she couldn’t which set some of the parts off. I was anxious that I might arrive and get derailed by the protectors who were feeling pushed away. It was the last thing I needed but always possible after a break. Fortunately, Anita and I reconnected really quickly (thank goodness!), she felt really attuned and pleased to see me and I settled quickly. I was cuddled into her and catching up when ‘out of nowhere’ (but also not out of nowhere) all the stuff about being a tick came up for the young parts and it was agony.
I guess I was panicking that after the separation we’d just had she may find my need to be close too much, like Em. Anita was incredible, really reassuring and holding, but there just wasn’t enough time to put it all back away at the end of the session. I left feeling a bit unsettled and off for the next few days. Anita and I exchanged some messages and she was really responsive and containing and it was enough to get through to Friday but I was more than ready for the session by the time it got to Friday morning. The young parts felt like they were hanging over a precipice and I just very badly needed to connect.
My best friend ‘Girl In Therapy’ wrote and published an excellent article that weekend that describes perfectly how triggering talk therapy can be for people with CPTSD – here’s the link:
– definitely worth a read if you haven’t already seen it.
The huge irony wasn’t lost on me as the next hour played out with Anita and how closely it matched the article.
I felt a sort of anticipatory dread as I walked up the drive. Something felt off. The dog started barking at the window and then I noticed her daughter’s dog was there, too. Ugh. I never have to ring the doorbell as the dog always alerts Anita that there’s someone there. That day the noise of the dogs really fucking irritated me – even though they settle once I’m there. I guess I was feeling sensitive and seeing her daughter’s dog triggered the jealousy and all that stuff about being inadequate and ‘less than’. Great.
It took a while for Anita to come to the door that day, not ages, maybe a minute or two – but that’s REALLY unusual. I started to feel myself panic. Anita finally opened the door and she had wet hair and looked absolutely done in. Basically, she didn’t look ready or in the right space for therapy which sent the parts that were already in a panic into freefall.
My need was huge that morning, I was already experiencing a vulnerability hangover from the tick stuff earlier in the week, and so it didn’t take much for me to read the evidence before me “Anita isn’t up to ‘me’ today” and go into hiding. I need Anita on her A game, not an Anita who was trying to ‘phone it in’. I’d clocked all this before I had even got into the room, and so by the time I sat down False Adult had taken over and was shielding the young parts. As children we were so good at knowing how to behave and adjusting to what was ahead of us and this hypervigilance has stuck. Sometimes I think it’s a superpower and sometimes it’s a complete bind.
Even though Anita had been so present and available and validating earlier in the week, I still feel a lot of shame about my insatiable ‘need’ and so my perception that Anita wasn’t fully there meant I could just avoid what was going on – pretend like Monday had never happened. I still feel so embarrassed that I am so affected by what happened with Em. I am terrified of Anita finally seeing me for what I am. She swears blind that what happened isn’t my fault and that Em is not fit for practice. She told me she thinks I have a very strong case for a complaint to Em’s governing body but also said that she doesn’t recommend a complaint because it’s a horrific process to go through (having raised a complaint herself).
Anyway, as the session went on, I could feel my young parts getting more and more distraught inside but the False Adult was so good, there’s no chinks in her armour, that there’d have been no way of Anita knowing. Especially as Anita was a million miles away. She had no idea what was going on. She didn’t seem curious, either… like, “RB, last session was really really hard and we left things a bit up in the air. You text me in the week and I know you feel unsettled after the break too…and you’ve spent half an hour talking about COVID and Brexit. Is there anything else going on for you that maybe we need to look at? Are the child parts ok? What do you need today?”
I could see the clock ticking down and I felt sick inside. I knew I wasn’t going to get what I needed that session and that I was going to be left holding all this over the weekend and it would be carnage. The session was over. I felt abandoned and rejected … unseen. I stood up and gave Anita a half-hug as I left. It was weird. I can’t remember the last time we didn’t touch in a session but it was setting all kinds of fireworks off inside. Mentally I was calculating that there were only two sessions now until Christmas break….AND IT ALL FELT LIKE A HUGE DISASTER.
Touch is such an important part of my therapy now. After all those years of there being ‘no touch’ and being made to feel like I was some kind of…tick…a parasite…for wanting to be close to Em I can say that the physical proximity and closeness that I usually have with Anita has done so much for moving things forward for me. I have said before that it is often when I am safely physically held that I feel able to look at the hardest, most vulnerable stuff. Anita can be so much more attuned – she can physically feel when I start to tremble, or I hold my breath, or whatever the fuck else happens that might not be evident or visible from a distance and respond accordingly. There’s just more of that co-regulation and so my nervous system can settle quicker and we can do the work.
Anyway, it sucked that day when I really needed to be seen and held both emotionally and physically and instead left feeling completely untethered and alone. It’s hard enough ‘detaching’ at the end of a ‘good’ session but never having connected in the first place is agony.
I text and called my friend when I got home – False Adult had gone offline and the Angry Teen had taken root. I was so upset, angry…all the feelings. Anita not being ‘present’ sent shockwaves through my system. There was a part that felt like I wasn’t deserving of her attention and care and so felt awful, there was another part that couldn’t work out ‘what had changed’ and another part that was furious that she wasn’t doing her ‘fucking job’! Somewhere on the outside of that was Adult who knows that A was probably tired or just a bit off, like we all are sometimes, but unfortunately all the noisy parts weren’t having it, “She’s just had a fucking holiday, she should be better than this!”
Anyway. Fortunately for both me and Anita I had to teach a double lesson that afternoon which meant no one could take to WhatsApp and let rip. Lol. After my lesson I had simmered down a bit and all that was left was a little part wondering where Anita was. What had happened? What had gone wrong?
So, I simply text:
Where were you today?
A replied that she wasn’t very well, had started to feel ill in the session, and had taken herself to bed, and was sorry that she’d felt distant.
Adult me understood it but there was another voice that couldn’t understand why she hadn’t said this during the session. If she’d have said, “RB, I’m really sorry but I don’t feel great and so I’m sorry if I don’t seem myself…” or anything really. Trying to carry on like I wouldn’t notice she ‘wasn’t there’ is daft. I could see it. The problem is, the narrative I create when she seems far away isn’t that she’s sick, it’s that she’s ‘sick of me’ and wants to be away. Ugh.
Anyway, I got through to Monday’s session which had to be an evening because my kids had broken up. And ARRRGGGHHHHHH fuckola. BAD BAD BAD. I don’t remember what happened – dissociation! Anita felt a long way away again. The distance was unbearable. Having listened back to the recording I can hear she was trying really really hard to get to me but I was totally frozen. At one point she asked if I would like a hug because she would like to hug me…and I just shook my head. I hate it when that happens. Every little part inside was screaming out and there I was frozen and unable to get out my prison.
The session ended and I felt absolutely desperately sad. I moved to put my shoes on and just fell apart, crying with my head in my hands and shaking. Anita shuffled over to me and wrapped me in her arms and I just sobbed as she held me close into her body. It was awful. I felt like the time had just slipped through our fingers again but at least I wasn’t going to leave completely disconnected.
Fortunately, my session being the last session of the evening Anita had a bit of time to run over and we had fifteen minutes where we really connected, and fixed things as she held me and I cried. She reassured me that she was still there and that we were going to be ok and that she understood that my defences were up because parts don’t feel safe and are scared. She acknowledged my fears and things felt sooooo much better.
It was time to go, though, and Anita gave me one last tight squeeze, kissed me on the top of my head, and said, “I love you, you know. I really do. You are very precious.” I got my elephant out my bag and handed it over. She took it and said she’d have it washed and ready for me for Friday ready for the break.
The week flew by as it always does at this time of year. I had to pack a lot into the week and before I knew it, it was Christmas Eve and the final session of the year. It felt nice to see Anita so close to Christmas and for the break not to be three weeks long like it used to be with Em.
I walked into the room and sitting there was my elephant and next to it, a gift bag of presents. Our stories were out on the side, too. The session was light but connected. I asked for a hug pretty close to the start of the session so there was none of that horrible feeling of space and distance. I have no idea what we spoke about but I know that it felt fine and safe. Anita said that she’d bought me some little things that were silly but had made her think of me and that I could take them away for Christmas and handed the bag to me as I left.
I gave her a big hug as I left and walked out feeling about as good as I could going into a break.
Earlier in December I had bought Anita a Christmas gift of a glass rabbit ornament with snowflake patterns on.
She always does her house nicely at Christmas and so it felt like a perfect present given our story ‘The Rabbit Listened’. She placed the bunny beside the candle lantern I had given her last year. I didn’t notice it as I was walking up the stairs and she said, “Did you see bunny? He’s sitting next to the present you gave me last year.” It doesn’t sound like a lot but actually, to have A remember what I got her last year and to put these things up in her home…well… I don’t need to explain do I?
Oh, and just an aside whilst I think about Christmas and hypervigilance…GROAN… last year I had an evening session before Christmas and got to see all Anita’s lights outside her house (in the day you don’t notice them). This year, again, I got to see them in the evening. As I walked in the door I said, “Did you change the lights on that bush?” and she said that she had as the set from last year had broken. This is how much shit my brain stores- a single evening session a year ago and remembering the type of lights on a bush in a fully lit and decorated garden…trauma anyone?!
Anyway, we’re kind of up-to-date again. This holiday has been ok. Like I said, I have been quite lacking in energy and not doing much but I haven’t been overwhelmed with that attachment slime. Last night I was struggling to sleep- after really doing nothing but sleep in the last week – I missed A (very ready for Tuesday session now) and so I grabbed my elephant and breathed in its smell – Anita – and fairly quickly the young parts settled and fell off to sleep. I felt settled because that young needy part of me was quickly transported into the safety of Anita’s arms through the smell of the elephant.
I can’t say strongly enough that it is these things, the touch, the texts, and the willingness to try and meet the needs of the young parts (within reason) that have meant I can do a better job of regulating myself outside the room and holding the young stuff for myself. And it’s because I have something tangible to tap into. There is evidence all around me of my relationship with Anita, and it’s within me, too.
I can imagine what it is to feel safe because I have felt safety with Anita. I can imagine how it is to feel held because I have been held by her. I no longer have this longing and unmet need to be held – because she’s done that for me. And whilst I might miss her and wish I could see her, it’s not the same pain of wanting but having that need unmet – deliberately withheld week in week out.
I can easily bring Anita to mind and feel grounded because I can feel her. I know she’s out there and will be back on Tuesday – which is huge because in the past she’d disappear cease to exist, and it was massively distressing. I know I have a disorganised attachment style (I mean duh!) but I do think that bit by bit A and I are working towards building an earned, secure attachment. I’m not there yet – but things are so much better than they were!
I wish I had more energy to write that out properly and explain it as I am sure there will be some people rolling their eyes – but it’s really down to infant experiences that were missed being filled (to an extent). I guess it’s a kind of limited reparenting. Parts of me are healing through Anita’s willingness to repair some of what was missing.
Some people believe that the time for those wounds to be healed and those needs to be met has passed – we, as clients are not children anymore, and so instead we need to grieve for what we didn’t have and accept that. We need to hold everything on our own. Be our own parent. That was Em’s philosophy.
No touch. No outside session contact. No transitional objects… no “colluding with that young part that wants to be held” (puke!).
I don’t think it’s as simple as that. I don’t think it’s an either or. I still have to grieve for all that never was and that should have been. I am regularly faced with the limitations of the therapeutic relationship and have to grieve what I can’t have in Anita. But that’s not to say that there isn’t a lot to celebrate, because there is a lot that I do have and there is a lot that has been soothed that was left raw and in agony before. It’s ok for there to be a level of dependency because eventually there’ll be interdependency and then independency… or at least that’s the plan.
Anyway, this is SOOOO long and I need to go and feed the kids!
Take care and here’s to a better 2022. X
Oh, and here’s my gifts! 😊