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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Letter to my seventeen year old self.

Dear Seventeen,

I’ve just read your diary. Please don’t be mad. Wait and hear me out a minute. I know how angry you were when you woke up to find dad reading your diary on holiday in Mexico and how violated you felt back then; but please know that I am not deliberately prying into your private life or being nosy. I’m just trying to understand you better. And honestly, I am good at keeping secrets, in fact I’ve been holding onto yours for the last seventeen years of my life. I’m not here to judge you and I promise that you can trust me.

We haven’t met before. Well, I know all about you (more than you realise) but I don’t think you are aware that I even exist. I’ve been watching you stuck in your own private hell for a long, long time now. It’s like Groundhog Day for you in the year 2000 isn’t it?

Too often I have turned away from you when I should have reached out to you. I have ignored your pain and your suffering because I haven’t known how to help you. Sometimes I have wondered if you even want to be helped.

I don’t know if you know it, but sometimes you take over my body in the present (which, by the way, is 2018 and means you’re often roaming around a stretch-marked 34 year old bod’ – yeah I know, it’s not great – and to think you hate your body now is incredible!) and react to my current day issues as though you are being hurt again in the way that Mum and H hurt you. It’s like my life triggers flashbacks from your life and you (and I) are reliving the pain over and over again.

I can feel your anxiety and fear coursing through my veins. I can’t speak and I go numb. I shake. I feel your frustration. I haven’t know what to do and neither have you. I’ll admit that I have felt overwhelmed by your feelings. I know you have things to say but I also know that you are very very frightened. I understand how desperately alone you feel. It broke my heart reading your account of the pain you feel inside. I know how hard it is. I remember it well.

You feel like you have no one to listen to you and that no one cares. It feels so difficult to trust anyone. You fear getting close to people and letting them in because you think you’re going to be rejected or abandoned or ridiculed – and you don’t think you can survive it again. This year has been the hardest one yet, for you, and I am not at all surprised that you just want to run away from everything and anyone that might hurt you.

So you isolate yourself in order to avoid being hurt but you can’t be alone forever. In your heart, deep in your soul you know you need love and connection. We all do. I know it feels risky seeking that out. I know you fear annihilation. I get how scary it feels to consider opening up again after what’s happened. You are still heartbroken but the only way your heart is going to mend is through letting someone heal it with you; currently you have a handful of shattered pieces and no glue.

There is no shame in wanting to be loved. You needn’t be embarrassed for feeling love either.

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You probably won’t believe me (who can blame you after all you’ve been through); but if you can find a way to trust me, I think that I am the person that you have been waiting for. I can help you, listen to you, and love you…if you’ll let me. I really want to make things better for you – for both of us- because right now your pain is my pain and it’s crippling the pair of us.

I’m so sorry, so very sorry that circumstances have made you feel like you are not worthy of love and care. How things have been with mum are not a reflection on you. None of how she has been with you is your fault. You are not unlovable or untouchable even if that’s how you’ve been made to feel over the years.

How things have been for you growing up isn’t normal. I think you know that but really acknowledging that is devastating. You have suffered emotional abuse and neglect at the hands of the person that should have loved you and protected you the most. I assure you that there is absolutely nothing you could have done that would have changed how things have been for you.

I know that’s hard to hear, but I think you need to hear it and try and take this in. You carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. You feel responsible for everything. And darling, some things are simply beyond your control. No matter how good you are or how much you achieve, there are some things you cannot change or control. You can only be responsible for you and not for the actions of anyone else.

What I will say, though, is this: it won’t be long until you are able to start getting away from some of the horrid stuff. Next year you will leave home and go to university, you’ll fall in love (really!), and things will start to get better. I promise you it won’t always feel this bleak. Until then, though, I’m afraid you’re just going to have to hold on tight and keep putting one foot in front of the other like you always have. I know it feels impossible sometimes.

Despite everything that has happened you are still here. You are a fighter. I know there have times when you have been very close to the edge. I know there are days you have thought about driving your car into a wall or overdosing or paddling your surfboard out to sea and never coming back. I felt the pain of each cut you made, and every burn on your skin. I know how you starve yourself. I see how regularly you purge everything from your system. You are punishing yourself over and over again for something that is simply not your fault. I don’t hate you. Why do you hate yourself?

You’ve lost sense of your value – or maybe, more accurately, you have never felt valued or loved. You feel worthless. Don’t get me wrong, I know why you feel this way. Steady and systematic emotional abuse does this to people. Now you feel like you are acting your way through life. You have little idea of who you are because you’ve spent so long trying to be what everyone else wants you to be that you really don’t know how to be yourself. You’ve struggled so hard against yourself for the last couple of years not wanting to disappoint anyone but inside you were dying.

I am so unbelievably proud of you. Coming out was massive. I know right now it feels like the worst thing you’ve ever done and you feel more lonely than ever; but those people that walked away from you, called you names, and bullied you were not your friends. I am telling you that even though it was scary and is still having a huge impact on your day-to-day you have made a huge leap forward into living authentically as who you really are. I know it takes a huge amount of courage to stand up and speak your truth but six months from now, you’ll be surrounded by people who love and accept you for exactly who you are and those people will become lifelong friends – chosen family.

I also want to say thank you. What for? For looking after the little ones. You are a force to be reckoned with, for sure! They are very lucky to have you as a protector. I know it’s difficult living your life when you continually have distraught children demanding your attention. It is not your job to hold them. It was never your job to look after them, but in the absence of an adult to care for them, you’ve done a brilliant job.

I have children (a boy and a girl). I see a lot of you in them because I remember you as a child, too. You were innocent and vibrant and full of life. You had so much love to give and then something happened and you started holding everything inside and that light you exuded steadily faded until it is now barely a flickering flame inside you. I know right now you feel bereft because, to you, coming out equates to you never having children and you so desperately want to be a mum. I’m not a time traveller but I am telling you this – children are going to be part of your future and that flame will burn brightly again in the love you have for your babies.

You are incredibly strong and I recognise just how much effort you put in to surviving. Sometimes the best you can hope for is just to keep on keeping on. You’ve done amazingly. Don’t roll your eyes! I mean it. The fact that in the face of so much pain you have still somehow held it together, passed your exams, can drive, and are alive is testament to your spirit. You are so driven and this is a good thing. It’ll take you a long way in life. But do you know what? You need to learn to relax too.

You need to let your hair down every now and again and have fun. You are so serious – so grown up- because you’ve had to be. As I said earlier, I am here now, for you and for the little ones – if you want me to be. So I am giving you permission – please relax and start to heal. The adult you all need/ed is here now. I’m not super woman but I promise you that if I can be there for you when it starts to feel scary then I am going to be there – and I am not going anywhere.

Things aren’t going to feel better overnight, I think we both know that. If things are to improve then we are going to need to work together on this. And so there’s something I need to ask you to do for me. I know you know about the therapist that I see each week because sometimes you hijack my session and stamp your feet a bit; or sometimes sit there silently raging and planning how you’re going to hurt yourself when you get the chance. Between you and the little ones there’s not a great deal of space for me in the sessions. I am, in no way, complaining about this, but I was wondering something.

I know you really like therapist but it feels risky to have feelings for her. You are attached to her just like the young ones are, ok perhaps in a slightly different way, but you do love her. And that’s ok. You want to be known by her. The idea of her really seeing you is both appealing and terrifying. Sometimes you let her see you, the real you, and other times you shut her out. When you feel close to her the alarm bells ring and you instantly back away.

Look, I’ve known this woman for six years now and I’ve been in therapy with her for three. I trust her but it’s not me that needs to talk. I’m ok. Do you think that maybe you might tell her how things are for you? Or if you can’t, do you think maybe I could tell her for you?

You’ve been holding onto this pain for such a long time, and I have been sitting on your secrets for as long as you’ve been alive and I think it’s time for us to move on.

What do you think?

Sending you so much love,

X

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I don’t know what to do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hate indecision!

 

 

Don’t worry about it until it happens…

Don’t worry about it until it happens.

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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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I haven’t listened to Travis since I was about 17…and yet today this song came into my head. Says it all!

 

 

 

A Long December…

‘A long December and there’s reason to believe, maybe this year will be better than the last’ …these lyrics still resonate as strongly now with me as they did twenty years ago. At first glance these words seem reasonably uplifting and a positive projection for the year ahead, but if you’re looking for a dose of optimism as you head into 2018 this is probably not the post for you!

The fact that later in the song these words are chased by the ‘the smell of hospitals in winter and the feeling that it’s all a lot of oysters and no pearls’ might give those unfamiliar with the song more of a flavour of what’s to come…

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It’s no surprise to me that right now a big chunk of my internal soundtrack (and what I downloaded to my phone yesterday) is essentially the same as that of my mid teens: Counting Crows’ albums, ‘Recovering The Satellites’  and  ‘August and Everything After’ (it’s no accident how I titled my archive list); R.E.M’s ‘Automatic For The People’; Coldplay’s, ‘Parachutes’; and Dido’s, ‘No Angel’.

The emotions I am experiencing at the moment first became known to me back in the late nineties. As an adolescent the feeling/s hit in an overwhelming and hugely destructive way. In the last day or so I think I’ve fallen into operating from the Teen state so far as my emotions go and so that’s why my headphones are locked in my ears today as my wife has taken the kids out to give me some space and a bit of a break.

What’s up with me?

I am feeling depressed.

It’s not good.

It’s really not good.

I hate it (but then who enjoys feeling shit?).

Oh. And. I am feeling angry (which is new to me, or at least being in touch with my anger is!)

It’s funny, really, because the words ‘depression’ and ‘anger’ seem to have become so innocuous. We throw them around so freely in society that I sometimes feel like they have lost their meaning:

‘What’s wrong with x – I haven’t heard from her for a while?’

‘She’s depressed’

Oh, right, she gets like that sometimes doesn’t she? I’m sure she’ll be ok.’

And that’s kind of how it feels (to me at least). There are so many campaigns out there about mental health awareness but when it comes down to it, lots of people don’t really get what it feels like to be depressed, or anxious, or suicidal, or struggling and so it gets brushed under the carpet like it’s no big deal…when actually when you’re caught up in it it is huge. It is a BIG BIG deal.

We’re sort of programmed to know how to deal with physical illness:

‘Oh I feel rubbish, I’ve got a stinking cold and a fever and can’t get out of bed’

Oh that sounds rotten, I’ll stay away, then! Feel better soon!’ 

And somehow, it seems like we respond to people in the same way when they express feeling mentally unwell like if you come close by you’ll catch it:

Oh I feel rubbish, I feel so sad and lost and I can’t get out of bed’

Oh that sounds, rotten, I’ll stay away, then. Feel better soon!’

A lot of people don’t know what to do or say when you mention that things are a bit (a lot) shit, and so often just back away, and give you space until you are ready to venture back out into the world in the form that they recognise and can relate to.

Sometimes this is fine and sometimes you need someone to come and sit with you when you are in your PJs wanting to slice your arms open to just talk. I have found this has become even more of an issue when I express any negative feelings about having had cancer and all the treatment a couple of years ago. It’s like it’s a completely out of bounds topic. No one knows what to say.

I have noticed that when I feel depressed I don’t talk, though. I don’t reach out. I don’t share. I shut down. I become secretive and closed off and live in my own self-destructive world. I think part of it is about not wanting to burden people with my difficult feelings and thoughts, and part of it is that I just can’t communicate something that feels utterly overwhelming.

Once I hit a place where I am not eating or self-harming in order to cope with my feelings then the window where I might want/be able to talk has passed. I have disappeared…not that anyone would notice. I am very good at hiding what’s going on inside.

I struggle even to tell my therapist when I am battling with my eating disorder or self-harm. I remember clearly the first session back after Christmas last year sitting almost mute desperately trying to find the words to tell her that I had been self-harming…and it took about 45 minutes to get there…which is not ideal in a 50 minute session! So if I can’t tell someone I trust implicitly and who doesn’t judge me then I have no hope with people in my day-to-day life.

If I do try and change my behaviour, and manage to share even a hint of how I am feeling before I have moved into the realms of self-destruction I often find that people don’t always know what to say anyway, ignore it, or say the wrong things:

You were ok yesterday!’ – (I might have appeared that way, but that was because my filter was intact and I could hide what was inside. Today I have no energy to put on the front)

What’ve you got to be depressed about?’  –(You have no idea, do you?)

‘Try and think positive thoughts’  – (Fuck off! Do you really think I am deliberately feeling this way and a bit of positive thinking will shut this off?)

Your treatment was a success. You should be happy.’ (thank god I don’t have a knife to hand).

And it basically doesn’t help at all and so I end up taking it out on myself which actually just makes it worse. Far better to suffer alone then reach out and be shamed for it.

I saw this on Pinterest a while back and thought it was great:

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Anyway, I don’t need to explain depression here do I?!

Don’t get me wrong, I am all about doing things to try and help myself (#selfcare) but sometimes when things feel really bad like they did when I woke up this morning it takes a herculean amount of effort to even get my teeth brushed, let alone feed myself, take a shower, or practise a bit of mindfulness.

I’m not kidding when I say that it has taken me five hours just to get to this point writing this post. I keep wandering off in my head and sleeping.

About an hour ago I kicked myself up the arse and went and made a coffee, ate a croissant, and had a shower….but that’s where the momentum ground to a halt. It’s 1:30 in the afternoon and I am now back under the duvet with curtains (still) drawn and the lights out. I just can’t do it today. I feel so tired and ugh that I just don’t want to be awake.

I keep lamenting the fact that I have a horrible headache… but have not managed to go and get any painkillers, and since I forgot to get any when I was actually downstairs, I’ll probably just lie here groaning to myself for the rest of the afternoon now. I need to go to the loo but I can’t face getting out of the warmth of the bed.

Honestly it is just piss poor here today!

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There are loads of things I need to do but I feel incapable of doing any of it. I am trying not to beat myself up for being unproductive but of course when I feel crap, I attack myself about it.

I know that my mood today is not helped by the fact that I am still really ill with a virus that seems to keep mutating and hitting me over and over and over again. I have been ill since the beginning of September and it is really getting me down now. I wrote a while back about how illness always goes hand in hand with a mental health crash and I think this is especially relevant right now.

I just want to feel physically well and it isn’t happening. I know this is as a result of the fact that my blood levels haven’t recovered since having chemo and so I am more susceptible to picking up bugs and that in itself makes me feel rubbish. I feel like I am emotionally and physically running on empty.

I am usually a busy person. I keep myself busy because, I guess, in part, I am always on the run from these feelings. I totally understand that I probably end up here, face down in the mud, barely functioning, because I overdo it, don’t take time out for myself, don’t attend to my needs, yadda yadda and so end up burning out every now and then. I get it. I don’t need it explaining to me…but what’s the alternative? Sit with these difficult feelings and let them wash over me? I keep trying that in various ways but eventually the feeling of overwhelm overwhelms me!

Music has always functioned as an escape for me and that’s where I am seeking solace right now. I spent a huge chunk of my late teens driving around in my car, listening to my stereo, and trying to escape from whatever was going on at home and simultaneously trying to run away from what was going on in my head/heart. It was all a massive nightmare really: perpetually feeling unloved and like I wasn’t good enough.

And here I am, again, running away from those feelings and retreating into my inner world and music.

There is a part of me that feels that it is absolutely tragic that I am heading towards 35 years old and yet I still struggle massively with feeling unloved and like I am not good enough – ugh! It seems almost nonsensical that these feelings are still able to floor me after all these years.

I have been with my wife for twelve years and have two lovely kids and yet, even despite knowing that they love me and cherish me, something deep in my core can’t really absorb it. The bucket I try and store love in has a great big hole in the bottom and until I fix it the good stuff will keep spilling out and onto the floor.

I wonder what has happened to make all this flare up so significantly again?

Any guesses?

The therapy break you say? Ah, maybe you could be right! It’s getting a bit boring my going on about therapy breaks and my inability to cope with them isn’t it?!

Where am I at with it all? 9 days down, 9 to go…I think. Halfway point. (How how how can I only be halfway through?!)

I spent the first bit of the therapy break alternating between my adult and child states. I had Christmas to contend with which meant the adult needed to be online a lot of the time but I was also really aware of the little ones really missing my therapist when it got to the evening and I had bit of quiet reflective time.

I have spent several hours each night lying in bed not crying but really wanting to. I don’t know how I would explain it to my wife, though, and so I just lie there in the dark feeling like an abandoned child until I fall asleep and dream about her and all the anxieties I am feeling about the therapeutic relationship.

Those little parts of me were fully awakened after having such a connecting last session heading into the break last week. This connected feeling should be a good thing, after all, it’s what I seek every therapy session isn’t it? And yes, that feeling is amazing but it is also incredibly addictive. Initially I felt soothed, held and contained by what had happened in therapy but as is all too often the case, the positive feelings didn’t last and the sense of being on my own, abandoned, and like my therapist had disappeared off the face of the earth took root.

I know that these feelings mirror what happened with my mum when I was small (only without the positive connecting part!) and so it just feels like I am replaying that pain of abandonment over and over again every time I am away from the new attachment figure (therapist).

The knowledge about where these feelings come from doesn’t make them any less painful or any less real in the here and now. It’s agonising. I so desperately wanted to reach out to my therapist and somehow try and get the horrible sense of feeling unworthy and being unlovable to go away.

I stayed with those feelings for a while, you know, the feeling like you’ve been kicked in the gut and are simultaneously feeling scared of everything… but I know from experience that I can’t stay with this pain indefinitely – it hurts too much. And I can’t reach out for my therapist either -she deserves a break and won’t reply to me even if I do contact her which only fuels the awful sense of being left. So at the moment the way I cope with it, I’ve noticed, is by going through this emotional cycle:

The therapy break starts and within a day or two the young child parts come online and sit alongside the adult; three days into the break the child parts are inconsolable and screaming in attachment pain hell. The adult tries to listen and honour these feelings for what they are but there is no soothing to be done, the child parts don’t want me, and the noise inside escalates.

Before long the feelings of loss and abandonment become so overwhelming that the Teen part steps up to try protect the little ones seeing as no one else seems capable of it and shut it all down for them. She is angry and hurt and despondent. She really doesn’t want to go to therapy again, ‘fuck this shit – I don’t care anymore’. She doesn’t see the point in it (although part of her secretly really likes therapist). All it does is hurt all the most vulnerable parts and she can’t understand why I (adult) would spend time and money doing something which feels a lot like self-harm (and she is very good at self-harm).

I can go round in this loop for a few days: adult, child part, teen and then before long the big bastard comes online. I can see it now and it is set to smother me. It is the Inner Critic. That voice is not embodied in a traditional sense. I have mentioned before that it feels a lot like one of the Dementors in ‘Harry Potter’ and I guess this is, in part, the depressive state as well as all the internalised anger that I have repressed over the years. It is the embodiment of all the rage that I had no way of expressing at the time and instead learned to turn in on myself. It is ENORMOUS.

Right now it is leaning in and telling me that my therapist doesn’t care just like my mother didn’t, that I am worthless and unlovable, and a complete loser for having the feelings I do about someone who can never reciprocate them. It tells me that cutting myself, or burning myself will make the feelings go. It tells me that my body is disgusting and that I should stop eating.

Part of me is terrified and feels like the only option is to give in to that voice and there’s another part of me that is hanging on for dear life and shaking a great big stick at it and telling it to leave me alone. I don’t know how resilient that part of me is but I am digging in deep today.

I know that I need to find a way to make that Dementor shape shift. I need to find a way of making friends with it and acknowledging it as a part of myself. I know that it has served as a protector of sorts (even if it is hard to see that anorexia and self-harm have been survival /protective mechanisms) and therefore in some ways I should be grateful that it got me through some emotionally horrendous periods.

I have been thinking today. What I am going to do is try and re-imagine this entity as an angry black dog that has been mistreated and caged for a really long time. I know that the black dog is a well-used metaphor for depression but in my actual real life I have four lovely black dogs whom I love, they are super bonkers beasties. What I hope is that over time and with a bit of training I might get the critic under control just like my delinquent hounds.

I am hoping that if I can change the image in my head from all-encompassing terror-inducer to an angry dog that needs taking for a walk sometimes, then perhaps that’ll settle it down a bit and I will be less frightened by it.

Maybe I need to work out what the needs of the Inner Critic are rather than being so terrified of it that all I do is run from it.

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Anyway, that’s where I am today, there’s more I could say but I know I am making no sense so instead, here is the song that sums up how it feels! I’ll be glad to see the back of this year for sure!

 

The Mother Wound

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I like to be in control and therapy doesn’t feel like that right now because adult me isn’t there all the time. There are young ones in the mix now and they are not quite so adept at filtering the feelings that come up. They act out. They are clingy and needy at times and at others completely shut down and avoidant. I really struggle with disorganised attachment.

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

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

‘Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch’

(Romeo and Juliet Act 3:1)

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

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

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

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

ROMEO: Courage man, the hurt cannot be much,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can you care for that smallest part of you when it isn’t your care that the child wants? The child wants the love and care of the person who has helped uncover the hidden it. It is that caregiver to whom the child is now attached. They want the person who has taken the time to draw that wounded small child out to rescue them. Session after session of steady work, of calm, understanding, validating conversations lead to this moment. The child loves the therapist how could it not?

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

Oh, if only it were that simple!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘What have you got to be depressed about?’

‘You need to learn to let this go.’

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

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

‘Why am I not enough for you?

‘Why don’t you let me in?’

‘Your depression isn’t getting any better.’

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

How much therapy does one person need?’

‘Your relationship with your therapist is unhealthy.’

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

‘You need to try harder to be happy.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so, I guess, this is the bit where my therapist would say that I somehow need to summon up my adult, the one that is a mummy to two beautiful small people, and get her to pick up that little girl and hold onto her tightly, tell her she is loved, and that she is safe. I so want to be able to do that for her. I absolutely want to soothe that part of me but right now all I seem to be able to do is watch her suffer.

The mother wound is gaping today.

 

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Not waving but drowning

Things aren’t easy right now. I mean, they’ve never really been ‘easy’, but lately it’s really felt like a huge struggle to keep going. I am increasingly turning inwards and shutting the world out. Life feels more about survival than living right now, and if I am completely honest, there are days where I am not all that bothered about the survival side of things.

If it wasn’t for my kids I am not sure I would be here…and that is sad because surely, by now, I did ought to feel like I have some self-worth and value. I should be able to look around me and see the love that surrounds me, the family I have created and the support network of friends who truly value me and think, ‘do you know what? I am still here. I survived some horrible things. But the past hasn’t broken me and cancer hasn’t beaten me. I need to live for now and appreciate what is here right in front of me. I am a good person. I am loved’.

But, and there’s always a ‘but’ isn’t there? When I am stuck in this dark place I really struggle to see what I have. When the little ones and the teen are present (which is pretty much all the time right now) they can’t see what’s right in front of them because they are not of the here and now. They can’t understand or trust the safety that I have built for all of us because they live in a constant state of fear and hypervigilance that is playing out on a loop from decades ago. They don’t need a wife and children they still need a mum. They feel unloved and unimportant. It is that wound that is festering and overriding my ability to feel like I matter. It is my job to fix that but I’m finding it really hard.

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So when it is crappy, like now, if someone says anything like, ‘you need to live for now. You’re not a child anymore. You have control. You don’t have to be hurt and upset about what happened when you were little. You are the adult and you are not a victim. You are healthy, you beat cancer….it’s time to move on, Let it go’. I literally want to smash them in the face and tell them to f*ck right off because they have no idea. I think maybe that’s the teen and her anger coming up? Or perhaps it is my adult who is just sick to death of being told how and what to feel.

Whilst I know it is true I just do not need these messages from other people. I have had my feelings invalidated my whole life by my family, and often by myself (I hate that Inner Critic) and sometimes I just want a bit of empathy. Sometimes I need to hear that it’s ok to feel sad, let down, abandoned and that it’s not possible to be strong and together all the time. Sometimes it’s ok to need someone else to help make things better. Sometimes it’s ok to not be self-sufficient. Having needs is normal.

I don’t really know where I am going with this. My head is a mess. I’ve been steadily losing faith in the idea that things can and will improve and that I am not destined just to be battered by every storm and wave that comes in. It gets to point sometimes where I am just so damn tired of battling with myself that I just think, ‘if this is how it is going to be then I am done with it’. I just don’t have the energy to keep putting on a brave face.

I have always struggled with my mental health and when I feel like I do right now it’s sometimes hard to recollect the good times. The times when there was fun… and LAUGHTER. Oh my god! I need to laugh again soon. I am naturally quite a serious person (or maybe I became serious because I had to be a grown up from a young age?) but I am also funny…when the mood takes me. But it’s been such a long time since I laughed, I honestly feel like I barely smile these days. Is that just depression? Or not having a decent social life? Or have I simply forgotten how to have fun?

When I was at university my best friends and I were fans of  Finding Nemo, or more specifically, the character of Dory. (Nothing like a bit of Disney and cold pizza to work out a killer hangover)I mean, her life story was pretty tragic, she’d lost her family and was all alone, but she had this blind optimism and a mantra to rival any motivational guru: ‘just keep swimming, swimming, swimming’ and not only that, she could speak whale! What’s not to love, right?

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I sometimes wonder if I should be trying to be more like Dory? Just keep going/swimming, try and make the best of a bad situation, and wait for something positive to happen. Maybe I am just not trying hard enough to be happy? That’s how I feel sometimes and it’s how people close to me sometimes make me feel too.

The thing is, Dory has one thing I don’t, and that’s memory loss. This is a big problem for me. My memory is crystal clear (ok, it’s all a bit of a blank before I was five years old… but then there’s a shit load of repressed memories in that blank space that are only now coming to the surface!).

I wish I could forget some of the things that have happened to me over the years. I wish I wasn’t haunted by my childhood and dysfunctional relationship with my mother. I wish I could simply block out some of the later trauma in the way that I blocked out the horrible stuff as a small child…but my brain doesn’t work like that. I have an almost photographic memory for events and conversations and so I can bring them to the front of my mind in an instant.

I might forget when I have a doctor’s appointment that I booked a few days ago, or what I’d agreed contribute to the PTA school Christmas party (yes, really, you’d be suicidal too!) but ask me about the time my mum woke me up and then instantly flew into a rage when she noticed I had put some laundry on the radiator in my bedroom to dry, and literally threw me out of the house wearing nothing but a nightdress/large t-shirt without underwear or shoes or when I was sixteen, then I can tell you word for word how that went down. I can tell you what it felt like walking half a mile to a friend’s house pulling my t-shirt down as low as I could, praying that I wouldn’t be seen, and that she’d be in.

That’s not a big thing event by any means, it’s just one of many odd things that happened, but has just come to mind as I am writing this in bed wearing similar. I can tell you how the regular, ‘I wish you’d never been born’ statements hit me deep and yet how over time I learned to stand there and take my mother’s onslaughts, unaffected, stony still. It used to drive her wild being unable to evoke a response in me. I guess that’s why I struggle so hard now to tap into my emotions, I learnt how not to show and not to feel emotion.

I remember so clearly the first time I deliberately threw up after eating and the satisfaction of how easy it was. The relief of an escape to the bathroom a few times each day to purge away some of the hurt and pain I was feeling. It doesn’t feel like 18 years ago that I was in the bath, razor blade in hand carving intricate criss-cross patterns down my forearm and watching the blood drip into the water and disperse. All these episodes are there in the archive just like it was yesterday.

What I am trying to say is that unlike Dory,  I remember how shit went down…every…tiny…detail of it. My brain has a video vault that plays periodically (sometimes when I sit in therapy) of episodes where I am terrified, neglected, uncared for as a younger child or flat out abused and victimised as a teen. I try not to think about it but sometimes it just comes up. It’s hard to escape it.

Sometimes when I am silent and blocked in session in one of my younger states my therapist asks me what I might need or needed back then – some form of holding usually…and asks me if there are any memories I can draw on to remember that feeling. I think she thinks I am being difficult when I say ‘no’ but it’s the truth. As I child I cannot recall even one occasion where my mother held me either when I was in pain or just through the sheer desire of wanting to hold me because I was her child and she loved me.

There has always been an invisible barrier between us. I’ve said before that my mum doesn’t touch me, even now. It’s not a new thing. And that’s partly why I am finding the ‘no touch’ boundary in therapy so hard. It really is just highlighting how sad I feel about not being held by mum. It really reinforces that sense I have of being untouchable and unlovable.

I keep hoping that things will change with my mum. I keep giving her opportunities to step in and step up but she doesn’t. When I text her the other day to tell her that my friend had died and how upset I was, she didn’t call me, she managed a text reply, ‘Sorry to hear about your friend. Work is really busy at the moment and I’m tired. Mum’ That was it. I was instantly hurt by the message. Why couldn’t she for once take herself out of the equation and just be there for me? Why is it always about her? I couldn’t care less if she’s tired right now….it’s not a competition, rather tired than dead eh mum?

My wife says I need to stop reaching out because I am always disappointed. I know I have talked about waiting for hope to die. But when I am sad, and my god I am devastated about my friend dying, the emotional part of me is so present and that part is young. That part hasn’t grown up yet. That part still wants mum, even if she is not the mum I want or need. It’s tough.

I know I am a grown up. I have survived. The wrinkles, grey hairs, and radiotherapy tattoos show me that I am not a child anymore. But my adult is struggling to keep afloat as I try to carry the weight of several younger parts, that can’t swim, on my back. I really want therapy to go well today. I want to be able to relax and just be how it is but I fear I’ll do one of two things: shut down and freeze through sheer overwhelm or pretend like everything is ok and put a front on. And that’s the danger, for so long I have done such a good job at waving that no one sees that I am actually, now, drowning.

 

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