holding it together as I journey through therapy – a personal account of what it's like to be in long-term psychotherapy navigating the healing of C-PTSD, childhood trauma and neglect, an eating disorder, self-harming behaviours, as well as giving grief and cancer an occasional nod.
I am frequently on the receiving end of this nugget of advice. Clearly it’s well-intended and generally comes from an oracle who is extremely blessed not to struggle with anxiety or, indeed, any form of mental health difficulty (my wife)! Maybe she’s right. There is little point in getting wound up about things that are completely beyond my control and worrying about an eventuality that may actually may never happen- but just going on my experience, quite a lot of what I worry about seems to end up happening somewhere down the line!
I saw this on Pinterest earlier:
And whilst I completely get the sentiment, my reaction to it was, ‘well it always rains sooner or later so surely that’s just being prepared!’
I can’t tell you how much I’d love to be able to live in the moment and not have every one of my internal cogs working double time, under huge strain, formulating ‘what ifs’ but that’s just not how I am built. I stress about the past. I stress about the here and now. I stress (a lot) about the future.
Anxiety is exhausting.
I fret a lot. I know that I think about things too much. My sprouting grey hairs are telling me that if I needed evidence! I sometimes wonder if the saying ‘ignorance is bliss’ is really true. I never really switch off and find it almost impossible to relax… it’s hard work being me. That’s not a cry for sympathy, it’s just an acknowledgement that running on turbo charge takes its toll after a while. It’s not sustainable.
I keep myself very busy (avoidance tactics) and then periodically end up burning out and drowning in whatever it is I am running from. The problem with the ‘busy’ tactic is that the stuff that I am avoiding is still draining energy somewhere in the background. If I were a smart meter there’d be a level of energy drain that is persistent and continual. It’d be a really good idea to unplug those energy guzzling elements but I have no idea what is plugged in or where in the house those items are located (that’s what therapy is about). So instead of conserving energy, knowing that there is this continual drain, in my frustration I just overload the system and plug in some bigger items so that the underlying stuff is just a buzz in the background.
I’m not sure about that analogy. It made sense to me when I thought of it!
Over the years I have tried all sorts to switch off, calm down, relax…and not much has been effective. I can be in a really tranquil spot alone and still my brain whirrs. I have repeatedly tried guided meditations and my brain fights against it and starts compiling shopping lists or suchlike midway through. I’ve tried visualisations in therapy and whilst my brain can take me to snow capped mountains or gorgeous beaches my body has other ideas. It’s always on edge. I’ve tried body based therapies such as craniosacral therapy (love this but more the therapist than the process!) and reflexology. I’ve been for massages. Done deep breathing. I’ve exercised. You name it, over the years I have tried all sorts.
The hypervigilant, anxious, part of me so far has proven stronger than whatever I have thrown at it…. and I am beginning to wonder if it’s because somewhere deep down I know that those bits are still needed as somewhat unlikely protectors. If I dare to relax too much then when something bad happens I won’t cope because I won’t be ready for it.
Since my dad died I have been especially on guard and that was heightened even more after my cancer diagnosis. I’ve been stressing out for the last month (have you noticed?!) and whilst a lot of it is clearly based in the attachment stuff that gets thrown into sharper focus on therapy breaks (and subsequent ruptures with my therapist – sigh), none of this has been helped by the continual worry about hospital check ups and never being able to rest easy with my health.
I see my consultant every three months for a follow up to check I’m still in remission. For about half of that three months I feel passable, i.e I just about hang tight to the knowledge that my body is on my side at the moment – but as the appointment draws nearer the sense of panic sets in, sleep deteriorates, and I am cranky as hell. What if I’m not ok? What if my bloods show something? What the hell would I do if I get bad news? What about the kids?
It all starts to swirl in my head. The memories of undergoing treatment edge towards the front of my mind and I get increasingly worked up. Again, logically there’s no point in worrying about something that might not happen…but then at the same time I know there is a fairly strong possibility of things going wrong within the next few years for me. It’s just how it is. My original treatment was ‘kill or cure’ and because I know that, I am almost unbearable to live with the week leading into my appointment.
It’s been especially bad this time round because I have been ill with a cough/cold/flu thing on and off since September and I just can’t shift it. I have no energy at all. I wiped the kitchen surfaces down today and it totally wiped me out. I wish that was a joke. It makes me nervous because I was heavily radiated to my chest following chemo and I know that a potential problem in the future is lung damage and possible cancer. Great.
Anyway, I went to hospital with my game face on and the appointment was ok. I got a really good prod and poke and there’s no need to worry right now. The doctor was satisfied with me…apart from my weight…but that’s nothing to do with cancer is it?
My wife was right (on this occasion). My bloods are as they were – no change. They’re still not perfect, i.e infection fighting capacity is rubbish, but there were no markers for cancer. Good. I went and had a chest x-ray done to check there’s nothing untoward going on in my chest and I’ll hear back about that next week.
So that’s all good. Last night I slept a little easier.
Perhaps that should be a lesson in not worrying. But I do worry. Because as I said, there usually is something lying in wait round the corner ready to shit on you. My friend getting myeloma and dying when her treatment failed was heart breaking. How is that even real???? And today, my wife has been fast-track referred on the two week cancer pathway to dermatology as she has several confirmed skin cancer lesions by the GP. So, there we go.
I was right to ‘worry’ about the ‘dry skin’ patches and nag and nag for her to go to the doctor after months of her saying it was fine. Fucking healthcare professionals are the absolute worst at looking after themselves.
She’ll be ok. She is brave. She might have to have her face dug out and/or radiated but she’ll be ok….won’t she? She has to be.
So yeah, that’s some what’s going on here.
I’ve also got a therapy post to write at some point having seen both my therapist and the other one again last week – but right now I feel a bit overwhelmed and can’t even deal with thinking about what last week’s sessions were like or, indeed, what therapy will be like this coming Monday.
It’s unlikely to be anything near to what I need (holding, proximity, emotional attunement and containment) because I won’t tell my therapist what I need because my inner child is so scared right now since the rupture that it’s gone into hiding and I have quickly entered a dissociated state once I’m there… and so there’s a part of me that feels like cancelling….but another part that won’t because there’s that tiny flicker of hope that that 50 minute session will help turn off some of the plugs just for moment and help me recharge my batteries.
I haven’t listened to Travis since I was about 17…and yet today this song came into my head. Says it all!
*Trigger warning: cancer, cancer treatment, and death spoken about in no uncertain terms.
One of my closest friends is, as I type this, dying in hospital and it’s only a matter of time until the phone call comes to tell me that she is gone has died today.
When I started thinking about, and writing, this post this morning it was from the position of knowing that my dear friend was receiving end of life care in hospital and I wanted to express how sad, angry, and frustrated I feel about what has happened to her, and how unfair life seems sometimes.
It seems like an odd thing to be doing, carrying on with this piece of writing now, but I need to process this loss and writing is all I can manage right now. Every time I talk I burst into tears. I’ve cried and cried all day and now the tears have temporarily abated there’s a huge part of me that is grieving but another part that wants to tell everyone about this wonderful lady whilst I shake my fist and rage at cancer.
I feel like I am perpetually being robbed by this fucking hideous, persistent, crafty, bastard thief we know as cancer. I live in fear of it every day of my life, like so many of us. We (my family and friends) try to pretend like it doesn’t exist and that I am/we are unlikely to be burgled again, but I know the truth: it is only a matter of time before someone I love is taken from me or that I will be taken from my loved ones because cancer just won’t leave us alone. It can’t. It’s so deeply woven into the fabric of our existence these days. With 1 in 2 of us now being subject to some form of cancer diagnosis in our lifetime, there is a sad inevitability about it: you will be robbed blind, it just remains to be seen in which way, will it be your life or the life of someone you care about that is targeted…or both?
The fact remains, if you’ve been burgled once you’re likely to be the victim again. Just like my beautiful, darling friend. She had breast cancer fifteen years ago and then got diagnosed with Myeloma (bone marrow cancer) in 2015… and now she is dying. I guess some people might say that she was lucky to survive the breast cancer and get more precious years with her family and friends but it’s hard to see it that way right now when for the last two years I’ve watched the bravest woman I know try every line of treatment available only to watch it fail. We all hoped desperately for success and yet one by one saw each treatment was unsuccessful – now there is nothing left to be done, in her own words to a mutual friend, ‘we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel now’.
I have known this woman for a decade now and feel utterly blessed to have had her in my life. She was an English teacher, like me, and when I took up my first teaching job she promptly took me under her wing and supported me in any way she could. At the end of the first year of teaching my dad died suddenly and she was the one who delivered flowers to my doorstep and planned my cover lessons. She was there for me all through my subsequent mental breakdown. She has always been there. She has two children around my age and she became a great friend but also a mother figure. She never dodged the difficult questions with me. She noticed when I was sinking into anorexia or depression and would always say something caring but not intrusive. She always made me feel normal and cared for and SAFE. Later she supported me in my return to work and then through my pregnancy when I was teaching. Since then she’s been there through it all with me, another baby, my own cancer diagnosis and treatment, and now, sadly, I have also seen her through hers.
I have watched a beautiful, loving, kind, and vibrant soul have her life stolen from her bit by bit by the cancer thief. I was devastated to find out she had been diagnosed with Myeloma just around the time I was confirmed in remission with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I had more chemo and radiation to go but I knew that my treatment was effective and it spurred me on. The relief I felt to have been successful in my own cancer battle was short-lived because I knew now what lay ahead for my friend. I couldn’t take it away for her and I knew that her odds and stats were not in her favour. My cancer was curable, hers only treatable.
So whilst at the beginning we thought she might get 5 years or more with her and were ready to cheerlead her through her treatment, we are now less than two years in and she is at the end of her life, there are possibly days left but more likely hours remaining. There have been no good spells for her because she has not responded successfully to any of her treatment. She has been fighting a losing battle but hell has she put up a huge fight.
This warrior woman is a rock and an example to us all on how to live life and how to cope when facing death. Now barely sixty years old she has faced her diagnosis with a grit and determination that I know I would have struggled to muster. I know, in all likelihood, somewhere along the line I will either relapse in my Hodgkin’s or get another cancer diagnosis as a side-effect of the ‘kill or cure’ treatment I’ve already had. I am terrified of that happening but my lovely friend has shown me it is possible to smile and live through hell. I just don’t want to. I am scared.
I’m not going to dress this up and if it’s too much for you then stop reading. Cancer treatment for Myeloma is hideous. The treatment regime has been gruelling. I have felt so powerless as I have witnessed her go through bone marrow biopsies (this is the worst pain I have ever experienced) chemo after horrid failed chemo, blood transfusions, infusions, injections, poison after poison in pill after pill, and none of it has been effective. She’s suffered hair loss/thinning (the least of her worries), severe jaundice, crippling exhaustion, desperate anaemia, neutropenia, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, constipation, aching, balance issues, weight loss, bloating, insomnia, physical weakness and pain….and so much more. To watch someone keep going in the face of total agony is harrowing. She has always put a brave face on and yet I’ve known how hard it’s been. There’s a look in her eye: fear, I think, that she doesn’t show to many people but because I have been through cancer treatment she knows I get it, she doesn’t need to hide from me.
Less than a month ago I sent her a message to see how she was as she’d just started on another (last chance) line of treatment and got this in reply:
‘You know the score more than anyone: bad taste in mouth, tired as hell, and a belly like a poisoned pup. Lots of fluid retention with this one so looking pregnant! Hey ho, what a week! At least I got through the five days of treatment. Three weeks to recover now’
Despite the horror of it, and believe me this treatment is horrific she was still chirpy. I have messaged several times over the last few weeks and then two weeks ago my friends and I got a blanket text:
‘Unfortunately I’m in hospital. I’ve been here since Friday and I’m not sure when I’m going home. You know how I feel about that! Hope all well with you x’
I was in hospital on Wednesday 18th in the haematology centre having my regular consultant follow up. Fortunately I am still in remission (phew). I knew my friend was on the ward literally through the door, but that she was too ill for visitors. Since then I have been texting and getting no replies, like everyone else.
On Thursday when I was house hunting in Cornwall I received a call from my friend’s husband saying that she was now too ill even to reply to messages and that he would keep us informed. In my head I couldn’t process what he was saying at all. I couldn’t read between the lines. Maybe I didn’t want to.
I spent some of my therapy session talking about my friend and how I felt about what was happening. I said how I am not ready to lose her yet and that I always thought having time to say goodbye to someone would make it in some way easier when the time finally came. I can tell you now – it doesn’t. I can safely say that watching a person suffer and deteriorate before your eyes is no easier than losing someone unexpectedly. Unfortunately, I now have experience of both types of loss. What I do know is that losing someone you deeply love generates a pain and grief that is inconceivable until it happens.
After my session on Friday I went to Tesco. I was ambling round the shop in a post-therapy daze when another ex work friend/mum replacement (I try and collect these mothering older women!) text me to say that our friend had further deteriorated and is now on end of life/palliative care. As I read the message I felt my world start to crumble. Things suddenly became real in a way that they hadn’t until now. I left my trolley and walked out the store and sat in my car crying. Despite knowing that treatment isn’t going well and that she is desperately ill in hospital, I am not ready to say goodbye to a woman who has seen me through the best and worst times in my life. I can’t lose another person whom I love.
In the early hours of this morning I had a dream about my friend. I was visiting her in the hospital and she was unresponsive in her bed, as she is now. I sat there holding her hand when another version of my friend walked in the door and sat with me. She was as I have known her before her illness, full of life, vibrant, exuding warmth and love. She came in and sat beside me and said:
‘This body in the bed isn’t me, darling. It’s just my shell. It’s what’s left of my earthly body. I am here with you now in the way I always have been. I’ve had a good life. I’ve been so happy. I want you to tell people about me. I was a good teacher, wasn’t I? We had a laugh didn’t we?’
and I replied:
‘We absolutely did! You were the best teacher but you are so much more than that. You are an unbelievable wife and mother. I am proud and blessed to call you my friend. You are without doubt the kindest soul I have ever met and my life is all the richer for having had you in it. I love you so much.’
‘I love you too. I’ve got to go now but I’ll see you soon’.
I woke up sobbing my heart out and couldn’t stop crying for a couple of hours.
I found out that my friend died early this morning.
So today is a bad day. It’s right up there among the very worst days of my life. I am beyond devastated and I miss my friend so very much. I will always miss her but I will always carry her in my heart.
*I wrote the bulk of this post over the course of the day yesterday. I can totally see how the tone/mood of this post fluctuates as I go through it which highlights to me just how up and down my emotions are at the moment. Ugh. I’m so bored of feeling like I am on an emotional rollercoaster.
Help, I have done it again I have been here many times before Hurt myself again today And the worst part is there’s no one else to blame
Be my friend, hold me Wrap me up, unfold me I am small, I’m needy Warm me up and breathe me
Ouch, I have lost myself again Lost myself and I am nowhere to be found Yeah, I think that I might break Lost myself again and I feel unsafe
(Sia -Breathe Me)
It’s one of ‘those’ days again (although I fear this may not just be a 24 hour thing). You know how it is- you wake up physically exhausted and emotionally…fucked.
Today I feel everything and nothing all at once. Somewhere inside I am overwhelmed and terrified but externally I am NUMB. I am here but I am not here at the same time. I’m both in my body and not in it. Part of me is a spectator and part of me is long gone.
Actually, it reminds me of some of the lines in Romeo’s oxymoronic speech, where he’s out of sorts and lovesick at the beginning of Romeo and Juliet:
O heavy lightness, serious vanity,
Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms!
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health,
Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!
Opposing forces are violently clashing together creating one very uncomfortable conflicted state. I don’t really need to resort to Shakespeare to know that basically I feel like total shit today!
I’ve known it was coming, this… what is it? Depression? Probably. This feeling, place, space, whatever you want to call it, has been lingering just on the edge of my peripheral vision for a few months now, quietly stalking me. I’ve felt its presence but I have been coping, or surviving, or somehow evading it – to an extent. Something like that. I don’t know, really. My brain is so fuzzy….. and yet, oddly, strangely clear. I’m a complete contradiction today which probably won’t make for an easy read. Sorry!
Maybe today’s feeling is simply depression BUT I feel pretty low most of the time and I think ‘depressed’ is essentially my normal. It’s hard to say what this is. This ‘something’ is more, it’s deeper, more saturating somehow … it’s like I’ve been running and running and running for such a long time and today through sheer fatigue and exhaustion I’ve finally tripped and fallen. FLAT. ON. MY. FACE.
I feel like I’m face down in the mud, a thick fog has moved in along with the darkness and I am stone cold and shivering. I am so desperately lost. There’s a part of me wants to be found, picked up and held (probably the child) and a part of me just wants to lie here and give into it – stop fighting against ‘it’ and myself (the exhausted adult). I’m done.
Today it feels like I’ve finally given up hoping that there is someone to rescue me from myself…because there isn’t. There never has been. I’ve got to do it for myself and the little ones inside, but I just haven’t got the first idea how to achieve ‘recovery’ right now. Nothing I do works. I always just teeter along the edge- surviving, desperately clinging on. Part of me is losing hope. Has lost it, maybe. I just cannot do it.
Is this just capital letters DEPRESSION rather than lowercase depression? Is what I am feeling just the bigger, badder version of what I’m used to living with day to day? Is this the one that signals a proper breakdown- again? The entity I am always terrified of meeting after the last collision that sent everything so far off track I never thought I’d find the path back to the road again? I just don’t know. I literally can’t make sense of it right now. All I know is I just feel itand it is horrid. I am scared.
What am I meant to do when it’s like this? Dig even deeper? Keep going? Hang on tight? Hide? Stop? Ask for help?- who from? Who can understand this or help fix it? Who wouldn’t run in the opposite direction if they saw the reality of what I am carrying inside myself?
I know from experience that letting people see even a hint of this stuff doesn’t work out well. It doesn’t suit other people’s agendas. I am not meant to be like this. This is not who I am (apparently). I am the one with the plan. The glue that holds the pieces together. I am reliable. I am solid. I am a safe pair of hands. NOT TODAY I’M NOT.
It is inconvenient when I act like a ‘victim’ and ‘broken‘. Let’s face it, I’ve already put everyone through enough with the cancer diagnosis and treatment….we don’t need another breakdown on top that.
Surely I should be jumping up and down for joy having survived something that could very easily have killed me? Yes, of course I am. But I am so tired now. I have had enough of battling. I am strong but, fuck, I am so exhausted. I have nothing left.
Part of me just wants to reach for a razor blade and cut – to stop feeling and to feel. I will try not to act on that thought. I made a promise to myself in April but right now I ‘have lost myself again and I’m unsafe’. It’s easy to keep promises when things are ok, it’s much harder to keep them when things feel like they are falling apart.
I’ve talked about my internal soundtrack thing a few times in various posts, and about how important music is to me. Well Sia’s Breathe Me (YouTube link at the bottom of this post) is what’s inside today on loop. Strangely, I hadn’t heard it before until yesterday night – I know, I’m very late to the party on this one I think! Sometimes I hear a song and I know it’s one that’s going to stay with me for a long time, not just some passing thing on the radio.
Something about this song, the music and the lyrics, as well as her voice just really resonates with me right now. It basically is how I feel… which is both comforting and terrifying. It’s offering me a sort of outlet and yet, perhaps this is the last thing I should be repeating internally or listening to (although that’s not really how it works, there’s no choice, it just plays in my head regardless). Perhaps I need to try and find something uplifting rather than something that accurately conveys how I feel in this moment?
How the hell did I end up here again?
I had my therapy session yesterday and today is Tuesday which is usually when the therapy hangover starts or, perhaps, the therapy/therapist withdrawal symptoms begin. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised by how I feel right now given how things have been lately post-therapy session….i.e dreadful.
So, to yesterday’s session then! Because I still sound like someone with a serious smoking habit, when I sat down I spoke about how bad I have felt physically in the last week and how ‘tired’ I have been. I spoke about how last Tuesday my lungs had decided to give up and I spent the week wiped out.
My therapist asked how it’d been emotionally, ‘rubbish’ I said. She said it sounded like there’d been a ‘double-whammy’ of difficulty and acknowledged how Tuesdays can be emotionally hard for me anyway… let’s not forget to mention Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday though eh?!
I suppose in all of this dark pit of despair/nothingness/ugh/yuck I need to remember that I have been really unwell for a couple of weeks now and it’s really taken it out of me. Perhaps this emotional flat-lining is feeling so much worse because my physical stores are so depleted. I know I talked in my last post Why does physical illness always go hand in hand with a mental health crash? about how aware I was of my little ones feeling activated, distressed, terrified, emotionally unanchored and totally overcome by it all.
Maybe how I feel now is just an extension of all that that was going on last week? I don’t know. I really struggled to talk about how things had been emotionally last week, in session, yesterday. I could say how physically ill I had been but not how bad things had been in my head. I couldn’t say exactly what the problem was.
I’m guessing my therapist can probably work out that my silences or avoiding her questions have something to do with the vulnerable child parts and the feelings that come up in relation to her,and my adult feeling really exposed, ashamed, and embarrassed about the whole thing. But who knows?
I felt strangely calm in the room yesterday (even though there was a new sofa and a view change). Usually, I am agitated or anxious or some other uncomfortable mixture of feelings and we’ve spent ages trying to work out how to make me feel safe in the room in order for me to be able to talk rather than freeze -hence the visualisation stuff. Ugh.
I think part of the reason I felt more settled yesterday was because I had been down to the beach before the session and picked out some pebbles to write the ‘holding message’ we’re going to work on on. The sea was calm and still and the beach was empty. I would have liked to have stayed longer, actually.
Once I’d decided on the actual ‘therapy pebbles’, I spent some time writing some of my feelings and things I struggle to say in therapy on some other pebbles and then threw them into the sea which was quite cathartic. I’m just hoping they don’t wash back up with the tide! ha!
I guess my beach visit was, in some way, me being proactive about trying to fix the situation that I’d, yet again, found myself in during the week. I can’t go on repeatedly feeling so disconnected and rotten in the week because I can’t hold onto the sense of my therapist being there. I can’t keep hitting that place where I doubt the relationship and then steadily dismantle any sense of security and trust in her because I think she’s gone or that she is going to hurt me. Something has to change before I go completely mad and the little ones destroy me. It sounds dramatic but that is how it feels.
Because I felt ok in the moment, in session, I found it hard to connect with how bad I had felt during the week when I was actually with her in person. I was almost too removed from all that horrible, painful, aching attachment stuff to be able to talk about it…or at least that’s what I thought at the time.
It’s hard to talk about how much you miss someone when they are sitting in the same room with you because you don’t miss them then, do you? It’s also hard to talk about the child’s emotions when you are sitting in adult. I mean, really, I still cringe even writing this. Why does she matter to me so much? How can a relationship that takes up 50 minutes of my week have such a massive impact outside that time?
I feel like such an idiot for getting attached to someone who really couldn’t care less about me. It’s ironic that I have spent my whole life being on guard in order to avoid getting hurt and pouring salt in already gaping wounds, and yet somehow find myself in a situation that mirrors the relationship I have with my mum. The therapeutic relationship stirs up all that pain and anxiety all over again. I know it’s transference. Great. But what do I do with that? The feelings are real and the pain is palpable.
I hate the distance between us because I read it as lack of care, and actually worse, that there is something fundamentally wrong with me that makes my therapist keep her distance. I hate never knowing where I am. I hate feeling insecure. I hate feeling like I am not good enough and that I have no power in the relationship.
Ultimately it doesn’t matter if I fall apart in the week because outside of that 50 minutes she doesn’t want to know, and that’s fine because she is just my therapist. I know that! But in so many ways what is happening feels so damaging, so re-traumatising. I don’t feel like I am repairing I just feel like I am reliving, or re-enacting the pain of the past in the here and now. I’m stuck in it and it’s awful.
Really all I want is to feel safe and secure in the relationship between sessions and have some sense that I am not too much, but that’s not how I feel. When it’s all going off in my head I can’t find a way out of it and it just spirals into something utterly horrendous. All the fear of abandonment stuff and attachment stuff has so much power once it’s in full flow. Sometimes I can feel myself starting to wobble and all I want to do is check in, ‘are we still ok?’ or ‘I feel like you’ve gone, are you still there?’ , get some reassurance before it all gets too bad, and yet I can’t do it. Well, I could but there’s no point because she won’t reply.
I hate being this vulnerable and having that need for reassurance leaves me hating myself and feeling stupid. It’s bad enough to have that need in the first place but not having it acknowledged makes it ten times worse because it tells me that, as I have always suspected, I am too much. It feels so rejecting.
So, perhaps the real issue about not being able to talk about this is not so much about feeling safe or not, or agitated or not, perhaps I just can’t talk discuss these feelings because it’s just too excruciating. I can write about them, hint at them, but I can’t engage in a proper conversation about them because I feel so exposed. I mean it really isn’t easy to lay this stuff out and trust that the other person isn’t going to run away. It feels too much. It’s too intense.
I get that therapists are faced with this kind of thing all the time. You only have to look at the blogging community to see how widespread these issues are! Knowing this doesn’t make my therapy any easier, though! I know I have to find a way of getting this stuff out properly because maybe then it will have less power. Maybe I will feel less pathetic. Maybe things will improve.
I so desperately want to find a way of feeling secure in the therapeutic relationship because I think if I did then maybe the time between sessions wouldn’t be so emotionally fraught. The problem is that I don’t seem to have the password to access ‘secure attachment and emotional intimacy’. I don’t know who has it or how to get hold of it. It’s so frustrating. I don’t know how to make this feel better.
I understand why I feel like I do. I totally get it. I get that developmental trauma and attachment issues often come out like this in therapy. Knowing why I feel like this doesn’t ease the anxiety and hurt I feel, though.
I try so hard to cling onto that bit of me that isn’t a complete emotional wreck, who isn’t caught up in a whirlwind of emotions about someone who, in reality, I know absolutely nothing about, but it’s not always possible because that part is rarely dominant at the moment.
I know I need to help the ones that are in a blind panic and I can’t keep running away for forever but sometimes I just want to be halfway normal in session, just to prove that I am not a complete fucking loser who can’t converse. I don’t want to be needy ALL THE TIME…it’s so grating.
The child parts were absent for most of the session – probably hanging out wherever they had been in the previous week or having a nap. I seriously need to give them a memo about where they need to be on a Monday morning, though. I need to find a way to get those vulnerable parts of me to attend therapy, because essentially they’re who I am there for. I also need to have a word with the censoring Gatekeeper part and tell them to allow the little ones chance to speak when they do actually turn up rather than shutting them down and banishing them to the corner. It’s all so difficult. It all sounds so mental.
My therapist asked who was there in session yesterday. I couldn’t identify it. I still don’t know. All I know is that I was finding it really hard to connect with any of those hard feelings and was really frustrated by it. Who is that?
The child parts eventually made an appearance about 10 minutes from the end of the session (usual pattern- sigh). It was like I had been hit by a truck which is something we had been talking about in the session. I’d said how all of a sudden those overwhelming feelings come crashing in and knock me over. There is no steady slip into overwhelm – it’s WHAM, and then I am overcome and pretty much unable to speak. I get so caught up in the feelings and the images that present themselves to me that I lose sense of time and how long I have been silent for.
My therapist had asked me a question about whether I recognised when this ‘hit by a truck feeling’ happens, i.e is there a common thread that activates the emotion….all of a sudden I felt myself go. I felt completely exposed and little and as though the ground had opened up beneath me and I was in freefall. I sat there in silence…same old same old. I knew I didn’t have time to explain what had just happened.
I eventually returned to myself. I asked what the time was and if I could play a song that we’d spoken about in the previous session before I left.
Listening to the song really helped settle me and calm me down. At the end my therapist asked me what the impact of the song had had on me, i.e was it soothing? I couldn’t really articulate it at the time, but I realise now that sitting with music made me feel like me- whole in some weird way.
It was as though in that moment all the parts of myself came together and were able to just sit in the moment and that was fine. I guess I felt present. There was no need to be anything other than myself, how it was, no front – just me. That’s what music does for me, I think.
So that was yesterday. I took myself off to bed last night and couldn’t sleep. I ended up on the sofa at 1am and lay awake until 4:30am. I could feel that the little ones had moved in fully again and actually they just wanted a cuddle. Then I had this dream:
I arrived at therapy (i.e this coming Monday’s session). I sat down on the sofa and sighed a long, deep sigh and wrapped my arms tightly around myself. ‘Are you ok?’ I looked up briefly to meet my therapist’s gaze and said, ‘No, not really’ I was silent for a while and then asked, ‘Can you sit with me today?’ and then averted my eyes as a wave of nausea and embarrassment flooded my system.
To my surprise she got up out of her chair and came and sat beside me and took my hand. ‘This is really hard for you, isn’t it?’ she said. I nodded and just started sobbing. I told her about how awful the week had been and how close I had come to self-harming. She rolled up my sleeves and traced the lines of my tattoos with her finger. ‘Your protectors have worked, though’ and smiled.
I asked if I could hug her and she agreed. I held on tight and didn’t want to let go. I was still crying but I felt calmer and more contained. I sat talking about what had happened during the week and how I felt. There was a feeling of connection and safety with her and I felt my system settle down. I felt like I was going to drift off to sleep. I was so relaxed.
Suddenly, there was a commotion in the hallway and then it moved outside the house. I got up and turned around to look out the window to see what was going on. There was a private ambulance, it was black, backed onto the driveway and its doors were open.
A paramedic (dressed all in black and wearing a balaclava) was carrying a screaming child out of the house using a fireman’s lift. The child was struggling and fighting against it. The paramedic violently threw the child into the back of the ambulance and went to the front cab leaving the back doors open.
The child was all alone in the dark (it was early evening) , it was terrified and crying. I couldn’t work out what was going on and stood frozen trying to make sense of it. I didn’t know what to do.
As I looked closely at the tiny figure I realised that this child was my three year old son. That’s when I lost it! I was totally filled with rage. At that moment, the ambulance started moving away and my son fell out of the back smashing his tiny body on the metal steps of the ambulance on the way down, and then cracked his head on the drive. Everything was in slow motion.
I ran out the house as quickly as I could to get to my son. I scooped him up in my arms. His head was bleeding and he was unconscious. My therapist and her husband were standing at the front door and stared at me but said nothing. ‘What have you done to him?’ I screamed. ‘Why is he even here with you?’
My child parts are really active and feel scared and lost. Part of me desperately wants to reach out to my therapist and check in but part of me feels like I can’t trust her after that dream. It’s the usual emotional push/pull. Hmmm disorganised attachment you say?!
Is it really as simple as that? Is this really where all this deep-rooted depression stems from- just a basic lack of containment and holding throughout my life? Can it be that not having a reliable caregiver has left me unable to trust in relationships or behave in a normal way? It seems so small and insignificant when written in words but it is massive, isn’t it?
I’m not sure if any of that makes any sense at all.
Look, I apologise in advance for this. It’s basically an, ‘I’m really poorly, am feeling sorry for myself, and I really miss my therapist’ ramble written from under the duvet, on a Friday night, whilst my wife is out at a gig that I am too ill to go to.
My immune system is beyond crap. My blood levels have never fully recovered despite it being nearly two years since I completed my last round of chemo. As a result of depleted lymphocytes, my infection fighting capacity is pretty non-existent. The doctors had hoped that things would’ve improved by now, but unfortunately my body is stubborn and has decided it would rather pick up and fight every bug that is going! I’ve been ill for almost two weeks now with the exhausting cold, cough, chest infection, no voice thing that’s doing the rounds. I’m so so bored of it. I just don’t have capacity in my life to be ill and still.
I thought I was getting better at the start of the week, hence the fact that I managed to drag myself to therapy on Monday albeit sounding pretty husky. By Tuesday, though, the dry, croupy sounding cough headed south and turned one of my lungs into some kind of gurgling swamp and I suddenly felt like I’d had all my energy burgled from my body during the night.
I finally made it to the doctors on Wednesday. By which time both my lungs sounded like crackling Autumn leaves being trodden on every time I tried to breathe. I’d spent the whole night trying to sleep propped on the sofa in between coughing fits but it was all a disaster. I know that I need to get better at seeking help before I am completely on my knees but I always worry about people thinking I’m some kind of malingerer or hypochondriac….which is I guess a hangover from all the doctor visits when I was misdiagnosed with my cancer where I was repeatedly sent away (fobbed off!).
I didn’t see my GP (apparently she’s retired) instead I saw a stony-faced misery guts with GP qualifications. I was really only there about the chest infection so it didn’t really matter that she had the bedside manner of a cadaver. The annoying thing is, though, that I could’ve been there about anything: my mental health, or illness, depending on which way you look at it has been pretty bad for the last six months or so.
Realistically after the huge anxiety attack I had a few weeks ago, coupled with the negative feelings I’ve been having about my body and the urge to self-harm it would have been good to air some of those concerns and discuss the possibility of medication for the times when things get out of control. Of course I didn’t say anything, I just took my prescription for antibiotics and went home. I didn’t feel comfortable telling her anything about my emotional state. I wonder how many people feel like this about their doctors?
By the time it got to yesterday I couldn’t even get out of bed. I was absolutely knackered and felt like my body was made of lead. My wife had to take the day off work to look after our son as I just couldn’t move or function in any meaningful way.
I’m not really here to moan about how ill I feel, what I wanted to talk about is how I’ve noticed that when I am poorly my ability to function effectively in a mental/emotional sense is seriously compromised. I wondered if any else has noticed this in themselves?
I’ve said before that I struggle to maintain the connection with my therapist between sessions and that I hate midweek especially. It’s so tough. It’s essentially when the little parts of me are most active and start to overwhelm me. It’s the time when I most feel like I need to check in with Em, to ask whether she’s still there, that things are still ok, and that something hasn’t happened that has changed the relationship.
It’s a really tricky position to be in because that tiny, screaming, terrified bit of me that is totally uncontained is desperate to reach out to her and seek reassurance but the thing is, when I do that, she doesn’t respond and so that desperate little girl feels completely abandoned and then can’t trust her when we go to therapy.
So this week has been hideous. Because I have been so poorly it’s felt as though my adult has jumped ship or died. I haven’t had the physical or emotional strength to hold it all together and my little ones have had free run of my mind. I’ve felt like I am completely emotionally unanchored. I feel like I need grounding and holding tightly. I have been so ill that I’ve stayed in bed and hugged pillows to try and settle and soothe those little parts, but it hasn’t helped and I just feel lost. This small inner child is desperate to be held close and I don’t know how to do that for myself so it’s become overwhelming. I really could use a transitional object – not that I’ve said this before!
I always miss my therapist between sessions but this week it all feels unmanageable, like a life and death situation. I feel like my filter is down and I desperately want to tell her how I feel and how much I miss her. I want to tell her how scared and vulnerable I feel. I basically want some kind of reassurance from her that things are safe still. Rationally I know that everything is fine and that we can work through some of this stuff on Monday but the child parts don’t get any of it. They just want to be cuddled…by her…NOW!
It’s tragic really and I know it’s basically my wonderful friend ‘maternal transference’ doing the rounds. I know that this desire to be taken care of and nurtured back to health comes from my childhood where I was never cared for or fussed over when I was sick. More often than not I was packed off to school because my parents were busy, or sent down to a relative because, ha, my parents were busy. Always too busy.
When I was a bit older and my parents had split up I was left at home in bed when I felt unwell. My day would be spent drinking Lucozade, making toast, and watching Supermarket Sweep and the lunchtime episode of Neighbours….and then watching the repeat again at 5:40pm. There was no one there to take my temperature, hold me close, bring me treats etc. There was never anyone there.
I think so much of how I feel when I am ill (or well for that matter) stems from this feeling of my not being important or worthy of care and affection. I always felt like an inconvenience, something to be managed (when ill) and so now, it’s little wonder that when I feel like there is someone who maybe does demonstrate some care and compassion (Em) I want to latch onto it and hold it greedily against my chest, or place it inside myself. I want that person to be there when I am sick.
I feel like a whiny kid writing this, but actually that’s exactly what it is, I currently have a bunch of whiny kids loose inside that want to be held and contained and my adult who is really just a crap babysitter isn’t even available to try and do the job.
I hope I am well enough to go to session next on Monday – pray to the antiobiotic gods! – as I don’t think I can cope with a missed session right now. As the title of my blog suggests, I’m ‘holding it together with rubber bands and chewing gum’ – it’s fairly precarious.
The one positive from being this poorly is that I haven’t got the energy to think about physical self-harm and I am not eating much because I feel rough and so that in itself is enough to take care of the anorexic voice for now. It’s a sad day when you feel lucky that you’re only dealing with illness and attachment issues!
I literally just want to be held. I know it can’t happen. I want to cry.
I wrote this poem over the Easter break and gave it to my therapist (must’ve been having a brave day!). It still feels really relevant today:
I am not in your presence
how painfully aware of your absence I have become.
Time and distance
You are so far away.
The holding place in my mind
struggles hard to keep you whole
Are you merely a figment of my imagination?
A hologram, perhaps?
Even when within my reach
you always feel so very far away
I can see you,
feel you, but
I cannot touch you.
That small space
opens up like a vast ocean
I stand on one shore
you on the other
You beckon for me to join you
promise to be my guide
and to witness the lessons of the Self
that only I can teach
For the longest time I have waited
assessing the dangers that might lurk hidden
in the deep.
I believe I will reach you –
(is it misplaced confidence or simply wishful thinking?)
and so I begin the swim.
My muscles relax into a familiar rhythm.
The hardest, aching parts of me begin to soften
as the distance between us lessens.
It’s farther than I thought, though, and
sometimes strange –
The horizon keeps shifting.
I tread water a while
rest and catch my breath.
I look up and discover that
I can no longer see you.
a sudden shiver
a lightning bolt
Both sea and sky shift rapidly
calm blues now rage-filled greys
Angry, turbulent clouds roll heavily in
raining hot tears down like shiny silvery bullets.
Musing on counselling-related issues in the UK. I am a counsellor/psychotherapist and a client too. As the blog title suggests, my counselling journey began in the client's seat. For information about my counselling and psychotherapy practice see my website: www.erinstevens.co.uk
holding it together as I journey through therapy - a personal account of what it's like to be in long-term psychotherapy navigating the healing of C-PTSD, childhood trauma and neglect, an eating disorder, self-harming behaviours, as well as giving grief and cancer an occasional nod.
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