Ultimatum

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So I realise that my blog has fallen by the wayside a bit these last few weeks (but I’m back now with a humdinger of a post!). I usually try and write something here at least once a week in order for me to keep some kind of regular record of what’s going on for me. I used to write a journal on my computer following each therapy session I had; the blog became a bit of a replacement for that – a sort of diary that the public can read (although I have been having some thoughts about that, lately, too – weird paranoia maybe? Or just a need to draw close and be private…I don’t know).

I’ve been so busy running around like a headless chicken or maybe, more accurately, with my head wedged up my vaguely anorexic arse, sorting my kids out, and tutoring most days that now there is very little time to actually sit down and reflect on what is going on in my internal world on the page (currently writing this from the edge of a swimming pool while my daughter has her lesson!). I haven’t not been writing because I’m short of things to say- far from it- my mind is all over the place and overflowing with the usual angsty crap: attachment pain, therapy worries, bad dreams, health, the eating (or not) stuff… and now, in addition to all that, I’m in a spin over my therapist’s ‘ultimatum’…

I have really missed my writing time. I so need it! Hence stealing time where I can now before I explode! A couple of hours each week to ponder and process, I am discovering, is more important to me/necessary than I thought. I need to try and find time for this but like so many of ‘my’ things, it doesn’t take precedence when there are so many other pressing things that actually have to be fit into the day. I do need to prioritise time for me, not just for writing, before I sink even further into quicksand I seem to find myself in.

Even if I write reams (maybe piles!) of emotional diarrhoea here (and having just proof-read this it does turn into a big splurge- sorry) and it makes no sense to anyone but me, I find the writing process really cathartic. It helps me get my head above water/out the sand a bit. It’s a good way of letting stuff out when all too often I feel overwhelmed or full of emotion.

I think some of why I find it so helpful might be that I actually sit down in one place for a block of time and have a hot (rather than luke warm/forgotten about) cup of coffee – it certainly can’t hurt! I was speaking to a friend the other day and I likened myself to a bee stuck in a jar. I am always buzzing around like a crazy thing. I don’t really stop.

Of course, I also have my therapy session on a Monday which is where I should get stuff off my chest, slow down, decompress, but more often than not the session stirs up more than it lays to rest and then I am left trying to make sense of it all on my own during the week. I find the first couple of days post-session extremely hard going and it’s no secret that I feel emotionally at sea and struggle for a good part of the time between my therapy sessions. I really haven’t got to grips with that emotional containment thing yet.

Actually, I’m having a hideously rough time this week and it’s crap right now, so I am looking forward to Friday and feeling like I am over the worst of the week. Having said that, usually I am pleased to get to Friday because it means it’s actually almost Monday…but this week I am not sure how I feel about my session on Monday. I am not sure if I am going to go yet. I don’t know if I can face it. Of course the little parts want to go and have some chance of reconnecting with my therapist but right now my teen part is off the chart raging, angry and let down. Underneath that, there’s also a real fear that I have broken my therapist and it’s all going to be downhill from here.

I’ll get to the point shall I?

Last week’s session (1st May) feels a really long time ago now. I can’t really remember what happened. I sometimes get this weird amnesia following a therapy session. Does anyone else? Like I have a vague idea of what happened or sense the general feeling of the session but it’s not clear exactly what happened. I usually have a very good memory for detail in my life and remember all sorts of useless information so I wonder if I am so frequently dissociated in session that I lose what’s gone on?

I do know that we talked about the eating disorder stuff – again. My therapist asked me how things were going and said that although I may not like her bringing the subject up, that it was too important for her to just let go – indeed she couldn’t/wouldn’t let it go. The session was fine. I told her how things were and filled her in on what was going on now (level of exercise, what I am eating, how I feel about my body, and the physical symptoms I was experiencing) and what it’s been like in the past. It was ‘the no-filtered version’ of life with an eating disorder.

I think she finally has an accurate picture of what it’s like  for me and she seemed to get it. I guess part of me was quite relieved for her to show she cared and build on the phone check in we had had on the Thursday night. I felt exposed but also like I wasn’t completely alone with this burden anymore. Yet again, I failed to bring up any of the issues about the attachment and the feeling disconnected from her but on the whole it was ok.

The week was a bit wobbly between that session and the one I just had on Monday (8th) – but when is it ever not wobbly?! I can’t suddenly let the cat out the bag about the anorexia and not be impacted by it can I? So, yeah, it was very bad in the early part of the week again. My tolerance levels were shot, my temper was short, and I was beating myself up in a big way. It wasn’t good. Some of it was undoubtedly hormonal but I know a larger part came not having really eaten properly in weeks: my blood sugar was low, fatigue was massive, and all the stuff that I just about have a handle on from week to week was suffocating me.

On Wednesday evening things felt so utterly overwhelming that I almost just got in my car and drove away….you know, just wanted to leave everything? I was done. It wasn’t good. I’d been having dreams about all the stuff surrounding my dad, friend, dog, all dying – upsetting as hell. I had also dreamt that my therapist had left me – nooooo. Oh and then I had a dream about my very good childhood best-friend, the one with metastatic breast cancer, and planning her funeral with her. It was a week where my sleep was filled with death and loss. The feelings crept into my waking life and I felt on the verge of tears every time I woke up, and every time I felt a bit tired.

Thank god for good friends with an ability to talk me down is all I can say. A twenty minute phone call was the difference between me falling off the edge altogether and regrouping and having another stab at moving forward. Things are on a knife edge.

By the end of the weekend I had reached a place where I wanted to really talk about ‘big stuff’ with my therapist and had steadily been eating a bit more each day which undoubtedly helped with my mood. Don’t get me wrong, there was still the voice telling me I was fat, and lazy, and can’t even succeed at an eating disorder… yeah, really!…and that is not easy to have doing the rounds in my head. But there was a part of me that was trying hard to hang on and not sink down into the place where I would, before long, have been passing out. Dizzy spells, cold hands and feet are enough. I was pushing myself too far. I know that how things have been since Easter is not sustainable. I was losing the battle with the eating and it wasn’t good. I wanted to unpick this properly.

I needed to explain why the attachment stuff feeds this kind of damaging behaviour and relationship with food and how things need to change – although I have no idea how to get round this myself but if my therapist at least has an accurate picture of just how bad it can feel we might be able to put a plan in place. The eating disordered behaviour simply masks other issues. Sure there is a large dose of body image stuff thrown in the mix but primarily not eating allows me to focus on something other than feeling the pain of neglect and abandonment. It temporarily shifts focus away from the Mother Wound.

Despite feeling embarrassed – mortified, even- that my young parts are so traumatised and get triggered every time I see my therapist, I think it’s time she heard the truth about how affected I am when I can’t see her…the real truth, not just the watered down insinuated version of things. I wanted to explain how I long to connect with her but part of me feels distant and like I can’t trust her. I want her to know that when I am not with her in session the young parts cannot cope at all and it is utterly overwhelming. I need her to know that breaks aren’t just ‘a bit difficult’ they are ‘a fucking disaster zone’. I wanted her to know that touch, or lack of it, has become such a huge issue for me that it’s massively impacting my ability to function in the relationship and is attacking my self-esteem.

I sit in session every week feeling like there is something wrong with me because we are so physically distant. I need more proximity if I can’t have touch because my mind tells me that my therapist doesn’t want to hug me because there is something disgusting and repulsive about me and she is only tolerating me because she has to. It must be the idea of touching me, even holding my hand, that is nauseating to her. It’s not the first time this physical rejection has happened to me and it’s hardly surprising it’s coming out in the therapeutic relationship now when so much of the work is about my mother. Yay for huge whacks of maternal transference with my therapist! Ugh!

For me, the ‘no touch’ boundary feels just the same as my mum refusing to touch me at fourteen saying ‘don’t hold my hand. People might think we are lesbians’. We’re twenty one years down the line and since then I’ve never had any holding from my mum (I mean there wasn’t much before that point either!) and the sense that ultimately ‘being a lesbian’ is a bad thing has stuck. Little did my mum know when she said her casually homophobic remark that I would turn out to be gay and those words branded into my brain.

I know it’s not my therapist’s job to physically hold me but I am not sure she realises how traumatising not being touched at all is for me. Every session with her reminds me that I am not worthy of her physical care – and might it be because I am gay? Is that the problem? I know it’s not rational. Adult knows this. But there are plenty of others inside that feel it to be absolutely true. The young parts of me want to be physically close to her and not being able to be feels utterly rejecting. How can a young three year old part make any sense of why an attachment figure won’t come close?

To my therapist, no physical contact is just a therapy boundary but to me it confirms everything I believe about myself as being unlovable, untouchable, and repellent to be true. That’s how it is. It’s hurting me. It properly makes my stomach ache and my chest feel tight and I want to cry when I think about it. It’s a big wound.

So yeah, with all that ready to air it was going to be a big session! I had reached that ‘now or never’ place. I was feeling brave. Go me!

So, I walked in, sat down, made some passing comment about the lovely weather and how I wanted to go to the beach – I’d actually been considering asking if maybe one day we could have our session on the beach seeing as it’s only about a five minute walk away. I looked at my therapist and immediately sensed something was up.

Fuck.

What was wrong?

My internal system went on high alert. My poker face went on. I steadied myself. I waited.

And then out it came…

We needed to talk about the eating disorder stuff and she said it couldn’t wait until the last few minutes of the session. She’d been thinking a lot since the last session about what I’ve told her since coming back from Easter break. She said that she was very very concerned about my well-being. She was worried about my low BMI. She was worried about the fact that my body is clearly struggling and shutting down. She was aware that the dynamic between us had shifted and that she’d fallen into being more like my mother and almost policing me by talking about what exactly I’m eating and suggesting strategies to eat more [sounds fair enough]

But then came…

She was not prepared to hold this level of risk and be so worried about my physical safety. It was not her job. She wanted me to go to the doctor, get bloods taken, have an ECG, and get weighed. She wanted the doctor to confirm I’d been seen and communicate with her. Or if I wouldn’t go of my own volition she wanted to write to my GP and ask for these things to be done. She wanted someone else to be responsible for my physical well-being. She needed a safety net.

She said I was either agree to all that or we’d have to work towards an ending.

After the words ‘work towards an ending’ I didn’t hear a great deal more. I shut down. Properly shut down. I was a mess inside, though. Like utter full-on flat-out panic. The young ones wanted to burst into tears right there and then. It felt like a hole had opened up beneath me and I was falling. Not seeing my therapist anymore would be akin to a bereavement. This. Cannot. Be. Happening.

The Teen part stepped up, though and waded in. Her thoughts?:

There we are then. Confirmation that when I let stuff out and trust someone with my shameful secret it backfires. I am too much for my therapist. I am too much for everyone. She isn’t prepared to work with me alone. She said she would be here for as long as I needed and now there are conditions attached. Why did I trust her with this? I’m an idiot. I fucking hate her.

Look. I (adult) absolutely get that what was said, and what came afterwards in the rest of the session, was coming from a place of care and it wasn’t only about my therapist covering her back. It is completely reasonable that she would need a safety net for if things get bad so she has somewhere to touch base and get me help if I needed it. It’s no different from when I saw her in the NHS and she had my details on record. But that wasn’t how it came across at the beginning of the session. To be given an ultimatum within three minutes of sitting down where the choice was ‘go on record about your eating disorder and enter into the NHS circus again or we’re done’ didn’t feel like much of a choice if I am honest.

I’m glad that she didn’t leave this stuff until the end of the session because we needed an entire session of talking about this stuff back and forth – as painful as it was. The moment she mentioned the possibility of ending I felt so sad and scared.

We like to convince ourselves that our therapists will be there no matter what. Well actually, I struggle to believe that is the case and am always feeling as though shit is going to blow up at any given moment so I best be vigilant. For me it’s been about trying to believe she is as good as her word. That she is reliable. That she won’t abandon me when the big stuff comes out. I was starting to believe that maybe she won’t leave and that as long as I need her she won’t let me go – hence finally telling her fully about the eating. It’s not true though. When it comes down to it, she can and will sever the tie. It is just a job to her. Sure she cares but she has to work within a framework and that means being hard line sometimes.

I get that she wasn’t actually saying ‘you’ve said x and now I am terminating you’ far from it, she said it isn’t her job to be neglectful and I’ve had too much of that from others in the past. She isn’t trying to let me down, in fact it is the very opposite… but the very mention of the ending sent me into orbit. I know it was probably a bit of tough love and she was maybe riding on the fact that my attachment to her is strong that I would help myself rather than lose her. I dunno.

Even though we’ve left things on ok terms I still feel massively unsettled now. I mean things were already a bit all over the place and now it’s like I am on very shaky ground. Unsurprisingly the eating is feeling really hard again now…because I feel out of control and like I am going to maybe lose the person that I need to help me.

The initial request/insistence that I must go and get checked out or work to ending has changed a bit/been negotiated over the course of the session we had. Somehow in amongst the teen shut down there were periods were I strongly advocated for myself. I have now given her my GP details and agreed that she can contact my GP if we discuss it beforehand. I’ve said that if she thinks things are bad she can act but I have to know about it first; I don’t want to suddenly get a call from my GP asking me to come in because my therapist has contacted them and me not be aware it was happening.

The reasons we got to this point are that I had been eating and had been looking after myself a little better this week. I was honest with her and said that things haven’t gone away but that I am not in immediate danger right now. I probably was the week before and so her reaction was entirely reasonable. She had cause to be genuinely worried about me last week. I was genuinely worried about me too. I told her I would tell her if I was slipping. I know that this is going to be a challenge because part of me is worried about ever bringing up this topic again.

I also reminded her that as part of my cancer follow up care I get full bloods taken every eight weeks and I get weighed (which I hate but I can’t really argue with). They monitor me very closely and so I said that if they are not overly concerned about my BMI (it has been mentioned but nothing done) or my blood chemistry then I think that’s good enough. She wasn’t aware I had such a thorough work up at the hospital so this went some way to settling her concerns.

I said that my eating disorder is definitely an issue, has been massively active, and it is absolutely something I need to work on but the idea of going back to weekly weigh-ins and GP appointments would actually make things worse for me. I don’t want to run away from this stuff anymore (hence letting her know about it) but equally I know what hasn’t worked for me in the past. If I get weighed all I want to do is chase the scales downwards – not maintain.

There were times in the session where I was really reactive and grumpy and shut down and dismissive and ‘I don’t care’ and ‘what’s the point?’ but she could see it was all a reaction to what she’d said. I’d sent her my post about the Mother Wound and asked her to read it because, actually, I know that this is where so many of my issues stem from. She didn’t have time to read it before the session and so I felt a bit irritated about that. Remember I was in pissed off Teen 😉 and when she offered to read it in the session I just couldn’t bear the idea of her sitting there reading the vulnerable stuff and then having no time left to discuss it.

I left the session. I didn’t want to go. I wanted to settle things properly and leave feeling better. Doesn’t work like that though does it?! Time’s up. We over ran by five minutes but I knew I had to leave. I drove home and had a good think about what had happened and then sent this text to her about one o’ clock:

Today felt really hard for me. Having had some time to reflect and untangle – actually the request for my GP details really is a non-issue and had you just asked for them and explained that it was because you feel like it’s important to have back up, I would’ve given them to you. I completely understand why it’s a good idea that you have them and it’s fine if we agree communication beforehand if it becomes necessary. The thing that shut me down/activated stuff was how what you said was delivered. It felt like you were giving me an ultimatum along the lines of – ‘see your doctor or we’ll have to work towards and ending’. All I heard was ‘we’ll have to work towards an ending’ and so every vulnerable part felt the rug come out from underneath me. This is the sort of thing I dread happening but am always sort of expecting, and why I am always reluctant to let stuff out. When it feels like things are so tenuous my instinct is to leave before I get left- hence how I was today. It’s been really hard opening up about all this stuff especially just after the Easter break when I feel like trust is an issue and still feel disconnected (I really missed you) – and to feel like that was essentially being me with ‘it’s too much’ (even if that’s not what was intended) is not easy. Unfortunately, there is a part that struggles to believe that this isn’t actually just about getting rid of me and there are other parts that feel completely bereft. Trying to be rational but it’s not always my strong suit. Anyway, that’s about it I think.

Of course there was no reply to that. And then I started second guessing myself. Texts haven’t gone well for us and after what happened at Christmas where she thought I was criticising her and nothing was good enough I wondered if what I had text might be read as another criticism of her rather than just saying how it felt for me. So at six pm I sent this (groan….when will I learn to just shut the fuck up and manage for myself?!):

And none of what I said in that message is meant as a criticism – in case it comes over that way –it’s definitely not my intention. It’s just what happened in my head when you said what you did. What I hear and what is meant can be quite a distance apart…which highlights to me just what a mess my head is. I wish this young attachment stuff would just go away but it gets triggered so easily. That part is always there listening, and then it doesn’t settle down and becomes another jumble of mess to manage. On the plus side, I’m delighted that you don’t feel I’m psychotic.

(We’d had a bit of a joke at the end and that was what the end bit of the text was about.)

Obviously, it’s been complete radio silence since those messages on Monday – which sucks. But it’s the boundary…another that I seem to have no say in. Ugh. It’s felt pretty rotten at times over the last few days and yet now I feel I can’t reach out to my therapist for help or support. I can’t text and ask for a check in or an additional session like I did a couple of weeks ago because I feel like I am already too much for her. It’s horrible. I need to work this stuff out with her more thoroughly and yet it feels impossible and so I am sitting on it all, brooding, and cycling through the whole range of emotions. I don’t like rollercoasters but I seem to stuck riding one right now.

This morning I woke up at 5am feeling sick after having another dream about my therapist leaving. I’m just about hanging together with rubber bands and chewing gum but it feels like I have done it now- I have broken the therapeutic relationship. I am frightened that I will go back in on Monday and she’ll terminate me. She’ll have had some more time to think and that’ll be that. It’s a complete head fuck. I’m trying not to get worked up about something that is unlikely to happen but unfortunately some of the parts have different ideas!

So that’s that. Nothing earth shattering or insightful – just how it is in the therapy and life of yours truly!

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Therapy Break – 2 Weeks In: Lost In The Ocean

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Therapy Break #1

I am not in your presence

but, oh

how painfully aware of your absence I have become.

 

Time and distance

stretch

out

endlessly

between us…

 

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

myself.

 

For the longest time I have waited

warily watching

assessing the dangers that might lurk hidden

in the deep.

 

I believe I will reach you –

eventually

(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 cold

sometimes silent

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.

 

Panic.

 

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.

My fear rises alongside the storm-whipped waves

 

I am exposed

I am scared

 

Is there still safety on your shore?

I can’t be sure.

But it’s swim or drown

and so I keep moving.

 

There’s no going back.

I must have faith in what I feel

And trust in what cannot be seen.

 

***

I’ve posted this poem at the bottom of a blog post before. I wrote it last year when on Easter therapy break. Right now it completely sums up where I am at (again/still!). I haven’t got much time to write at the moment. Time off with the kids is full on. I am putting on a good show on the surface – doing lots of activities and outings but inside/emotionally I feel stuck in that horrible place, stagnant and numb but underneath it’s only hanging together by a thread – not even my usual rubber bands and chewing gum. And so right now I don’t even know what to say in a blog post.

I will find my way out of this fog eventually, so long as a I keep swimming. At the moment I have lost sight of both shores and am tired, cold, and want to be rescued…. and there’s still two more weeks of this break to go. Ugh!

I hate therapy breaks 😉

Oh woe is me! lol!

 

 

 

 

 

Rainbow Bridge

I’m going to apologise in advance for the rambling nature of this. I’ve a lot to say and yet my mind is struggling to formulate my thoughts in a clear way. I guess that’s what grief does to me. So, you’ve been warned, if you choose to stick with me, here’s wishing you some good luck for bouncing along and coming out the other end of this with some kind of picture of what’s going on in my brain. I can’t make any promises though, you may reach the end and still be none the wiser.

What’s up?

I am heartbroken.

Devastated.

So very sad.

Why?

Yesterday I had to send my lovely golden retriever off to play in the fields on the other side of the rainbow bridge. On Thursday at a routine check for his steroids (he has a long term skin problem) we discovered that he had a large tumour on his stomach (when will cancer please just leave me, and those I care about, alone?). The vet allowed him home with us for the weekend, to spoil him and give him the best few days of his life, and he was booked in to be put to sleep this coming Monday at 9:30am.

There was nothing that could be done for him. He was an old dog, we knew we were on borrowed time with him before this, but it hasn’t made the feelings of loss any less severe. Just because you know you are going to lose someone it doesn’t it any less painful than when it’s an unexpected loss. I should know. I’ve experienced both now and I’m not just referring to the dog here.

Knowing we were to be saying goodbye on Monday we all went out for a special walk with just him (not all our other bonkers hounds) to his favourite spot and took photos of him with the kids. The amazing thing about this dog is that even when he isn’t well he never really lets on; he’s stoic. Had we not already known he was unwell we’d never have suspected anything inside him was wrong on the walk: he swam in the river; found and destroyed a tennis ball; was able to jump in and out of the car; his tail wagged throughout. He was happy.

We had expected to have the rest of the weekend with him, giving him lots of love and cuddles, and generally just being with our super soft old boy and slowly saying our goodbyes. It wasn’t to be, though. I woke up yesterday morning to find him lying on his bed with a reasonable amount of blood on the fur round his back end and he was looking very sorry for himself. I think the tumour had perhaps started to rupture his stomach as the vet had said could happen – I wasn’t going to take any chances if that was the case.

I called my wife down and she cleaned him up while I called the vets to take him in. It wouldn’t have been right or fair to keep him here until Monday. I would never have forgiven myself if he’d have started haemorrhaging or been in pain. I spent the next two hours waiting to go to the vets sitting on the floor with his head on my legs, stroking him as he drifted in and out of sleep. He was ready to go even if I wasn’t ready for him to leave.

The time at the vets was calm and peaceful. My dog likes the vets and was none the wiser as they catheterised him ready for his injection. I cried and cried knowing what I was about to do, even though I knew there was no choice. It’s part of the responsibility of owning animals, knowing when it is the right time to help them die and ensure they are not suffering or in pain. I told him that he was the best boy and that I loved him, stroking him as the vet administered the anaesthetic. And then he was gone. I can’t get over how one minute he was there, the next not.

I’ve never had to euthanise an animal before. This dog was my first dog, and even though we have four others now this boy was my favourite. He was special. He’s been through the mill with me. I’ve never had to experience the loss of losing a dog and I really wasn’t ready for the hit of grief. I thought with an animal it’d be ok. Turns out it’s no different to losing a human you love. Some people may think that sounds insane but grief is grief and love is love. And I bloody loved that dog and the grief is huge.

I was never allowed pets when I was growing up and had always longed for a dog. I remember that I used to leave notes round the house begging my parents for a dog when I was about ten years old! As I child I desperately wanted/needed something to love that would love me unconditionally and would always be there (looks like that need hasn’t gone even now).

I remember that I used to have a video of cartoons that I would watch over and over. One of the episodes was of a child being given a bouncy puppy by its parents – a yellow dog with a red collar. The child was really happy. And that was what I wanted. I wanted a dog and to be happy.

Being an only child with a mum that was away when I was small and a dad that was away when I was bigger, I craved that consistent presence of an animal that would be there through thick and thin. I didn’t want to be perpetually alone and I knew that at a really young age even if only subconsciously. That hole that I have inside, the mother wound, the deficit in love and care, developmental trauma, call it what you will has been there a long time and I think back then I though it could be filled by a dog.

Once, when I was almost eleven, and believe me this has stayed with me as a particular kind of trauma and grief, my mum agreed that we could get a dog. YAY!! HAPPY DANCE! EXCITEMENT! JOY! She took me to the local dog rescue centre and I found ‘the’ dog – it was a medium sized, short haired, cross-breed – to be fair any of them would have been fine! We took him out for a walk round the compound and I was delighted with him.

We went home and I waited until the day we could bring the dog home. You can see where this is going can’t you? The dog never came home. My mum had changed her mind and didn’t want a dog.

Ouch.

Grief.

I was going to be alone still.

It’s no surprise to me that one of my child parts is an eleven year old girl who has basically given up hope.

Anyway, flash forward 13 years and I finally owned my own house. The moment (ok the day after) I got the keys I started filling it with furry creatures – as you do. I got two kittens and then started searching for a litter of yellow pups. I found my boy’s litter down in Cornwall just a mile from my dad’s house on the beach. Seemed like fate.

I remember the day, five weeks after I met him, when it was time to pick up the little golden bundle (red collar at the ready) and how instantly I fell in love with him. We stopped in at my dad’s before going home in order to introduce him to the pup. The doglet peed on the rug but dad didn’t care! He was as taken with the boy as we were.

He’d always wanted a dog but his work and travel commitments hadn’t allowed for it. He was delighted, however, to now be a ‘grandad’ and would be able to have the dog for us when we were away. The last photo I have of my dad is of him holding my seven week old pup – I have it framed in my house and it is all the more special to me after yesterday.

My dad died on holiday abroad less than three months after I got my puppy and that unexpected loss sent my world into freefall. I have CPTSD and that month after my dad died did nothing to help that. I still feel sick when I think about it and have horrible nightmares even almost ten years later. I didn’t know in May 2008 when I collected my furry beastie that this puppy would be the dog that essentially saved my life.

Three months after my dad’s death I had a massive, and I mean MASSIVE mental breakdown. I don’t know how I had managed teaching the term between September and December – all I can say is that I think I was in complete denial about what had happened. I was surviving pretty much on thin air and looking back now I can see how poorly I had become.

My fuse had been getting shorter and shorter and my tolerance for the kids’ usual behaviour was lessened as the term went on. I had started to dread going to work. I didn’t have the resources to hold everything together. I made it to Christmas, somehow, but life outside work was crumbling because I was having to throw everything I had into surviving the day at work.

Between Christmas and New Year I had been steadily working on marking GCSE mock exams. I had gone down to my dad’s (now my) house to do my work because my wife was working long days in the hospital and I thought being at the beach with my dog would be soothing. The beach was great and the dog, my constant companion, was all the company I needed. I am a bit of a loner but I never felt alone with him.

I had just completed the marking and planning and was all up-to-date and ready for the next school term with a couple of days until term started and then reality hit. When I actually stopped and looked around me I realised what had happened and it felt instantly as though I couldn’t function any more. I crashed.

I can remember my wife came down after she had finished her block of shifts; we’d planned that I’d get my work done so we could have a relaxing couple of days walking along the coast and snuggling up by the fire before heading back home to work. The moment she arrived I burst into tears in the kitchen and started shaking. I couldn’t stop.

It was then that she told me I wasn’t fit for work and that we’d be going to the GP when we got home to get me signed off. So January 2009 was when I entered into the world of NHS mental health services. I was so desperately anorexic, suicidal, and terrified that it all became a bit of a circus in the end (I’ve written about it before). From that point I started living on a cycle of appointments which actually just massively increased my stress and anxiety levels.

The interventions with my GP, crisis team, psychiatrists, oh and bloody ‘wellbeing at work’ really did very little to help me heal. Part of the problem was worrying every other week that my GP was going to ‘make me’ go back to work as she only ever signed me off for two weeks at a time. I used to feel sick leading into the appointment because I categorically knew that I was not safe to go back into the classroom but was terrified that she would only see the high functioning articulate person in front of her and not hear the words I was saying.

I have never been the ‘stereotypical depressed person’ (which, by the way, is a complete pile of shit anyway). I don’t stay in bed all day, cry in front of people, or fail to shower and neglect myself (as if that’s all that is valid) and I think in part that’s why I’ve never really got the help I have needed. I have been ‘too ok’ when actually it’s just a front I put on for that ten minute window and it takes an enormous amount of effort. I wish I had the insight I have now back then about being seen or not being seen, about trauma, and about my coping strategies!

I didn’t feel able to advocate for myself back then and got swallowed up by the system and was beholden to it. It’s weird how these things work but I think when you don’t know what to expect that you just imagine that the system can do things to you and that you have no choice in it. I was young and all I knew of these services was that they locked you up… my auntie was in and out of psychiatric units her whole adult life and I just assumed that I had to comply with whatever was being thrown at me.

I think, too, that I was so desperate for things to get better that if I kept attending appointments then somehow things would just somehow get better, that they could ‘do something to me’ and it would take away the pain and I would be able to go back to normal.

I wanted my life back.

I wanted my dad back.

I saw my GP every week but wasn’t until about four months into being signed off on a two week rolling basis that I was able to tell her that it was really stressing me out (I’m crap at expressing my needs…nothing has changed!). I had lost about another stone in weight and I could see that she was wondering what the hell was happening with me.

I still remember when she said, ‘people as young as you don’t usually need so much time off work’… but agreed then to sign me off for an eight week spell and referred me for an eating disorder assessment as the graph on the computer showed that things were not going well. I can’t tell you how much the anxiety lifted at that point (not having to go to work) but landed on me at the same time (ED assessment).

Anyway the mental health stuff is neither here nor there really it’s just part of a narrative about my current feelings of loss.

I was off work for a total of 17 months and I can categorically say that had it not been for my dog I would not be here now. It was the routine of walking him every day along the canal that kept me here when all I wanted was to disappear. It was sitting on the sofa or lying in bed and him being beside me that helped me feel safe and understood and loved when humans weren’t capable of making me feel that way. It was my dog that sat with my tears when everyone else got silence or ‘I’m fine’.

I shut everyone out at that time but I feel that dog knew my soul and accepted all the broken parts of me. I loved him unconditionally and I know he loved me too – in the only way a dog can. I realise that to a non-animal person this all sounds really saccharine and over the top. I guess before I had him I would’ve thought something along the lines of ‘yeah it’s sad but it’s just a dog’ but I know differently now.

I know that my grief is magnified, too, because this loss is not just about my dog. Losing my dog has activated all the unprocessed grief from nearly a decade ago when I lost my dad. The grief from back then that has been fairly settled but not fully processed. All of a sudden my dog, my protector, isn’t here and all the emotional pain is flooding in. I knew this would happen and have been dreading this time coming for the last couple of years.

I have therapy tomorrow and even that has been an emotional rollercoaster! Initially I had thought that I’d be taking my dog to the vet on Monday and so I text my therapist late in the evening on Thursday to tell her what had happened and that I wouldn’t be able to get to my session. I didn’t ask to reschedule or Skype even though I wanted to see her. Why do I do that to myself?!

She responded almost immediately with a very understanding message (far better than anything she’s sent previously) and said she’d see me on the 26th. The message was containing enough but I went into a meltdown about having to wait until the 26th to see her!

I knew I couldn’t see my therapist in person but the idea of not being able to talk with her for another week with Easter around the corner was just hideous (I found out I have a four week/three session therapy break this Easter in the last session), particularly as I left the session on Monday telling her that I was annoyed with her about the pebbles/transitional object and felt like she was avoiding talking about our relationship!

Ah, this is a bit of an aside but now I am talking about it I may as well bring things up to speed…

The session had been ok and then she’d brought up talking about the pebbles and she said something along the lines of: I find it difficult to tell her what I need and perhaps if we tried a different angle talking about nurturing, protective, and wise figures rather than about us then we might get some useful material. I shutdown immediately (not that she’d have known) but I could feel the rage rising in me when she said that.

I was annoyed for a couple of reasons: 1) that she was asking me to engage with the pebbles when actually nothing I say really matters. It has no impact whatever I say because if she doesn’t feel it to be genuine on her side then she won’t say it or write it. I said as much and she picked up on the fact that I had lost trust in the process after the texts at Christmas; 2) I feel like I spend such a lot of time avoiding talking about the therapeutic relationship that I didn’t want to do it again, ie talk about ‘figures’ rather than ‘us’ because when we do talk about us it might be hard but it is way more connecting.

I guess it’s the thing I was talking about last post again about what I hear and what is said. She was trying to find a way for us to connect with this stuff in order to move forward with the break coming and all I heard is that we weren’t going to be talking about us and that she was fucking off for a month. Ugh. RAGE!

Anyway, I sat there silent and stony and listened to what she said. Basically she wanted me to tell her what qualities I associate with different kinds of figures. We began by talking about nurturing figures. I came up with two points and then sort of gave up and sat there.

She asked what was up and told her I was annoyed because we are avoiding the issues in the relationship. She tried to explain why she thought what we doing was good idea and that it wasn’t ‘instead’ of talking about the relationship and asked what I thought was going on between us. I said I had no idea. The session was up and I left feeling disgruntled and pissed off. As I left she said, ‘it’s ok to be annoyed, and it’s ok to be annoyed with me’. I didn’t respond and walked out the door. Petulant teen? Or disappointed child? Frustrated adult? ALL OF THE ABOVE!

I drove home feeling grrrrr and arrrgghhhh and then went through the usual shit about feeling like she doesn’t care and that I am wasting my time and ….

… and then I came out of that (!) and thought it might be worth engaging with what she had asked me (don’t roll your eyes, I’ve already done it for you!). So I came up with this and then sent it to her:

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I don’t know exactly know what will come of it but I would like to think the text exchanges we’ve had the last few days haven’t come about by chance. They feel warmer and more responsive…but it could just me being more willing to see care where there is some. I don’t know!

Anyway back to the communications via text -I waited until Friday morning to text her (usual rambling style!):

I’ve gone into total meltdown overnight (bad dreams etc) about not being able to see you until the 26th alongside the reality that dog is actually going to die. I really want to talk to you on Monday (I’m not annoyed now) but as Wife is home all day on dog leave I don’t think it’d feel very easy doing Skype with her in the house – although I would be home from the vets by our session time so maybe it’d be ok. Wife says I should just go to our session and let her deal with dog but I think I’d feel awful if I’m not there at the end with him. I don’t know what to do. I don’t really know what I am asking but if we can find a way of talking on Monday I would like to. I feel so sad right now but also completely pathetic that I am not ok with not seeing you…which makes me feel anxious about Easter too. Ugh. The shame! X

She responded quickly again and said she understood my dilemma and maybe we should just try skype anyway and see how it feels. That she’d be there and to let her know what I would like to do.

I downloaded the Skype app to my phone and thought worst case scenario I could Skype in my car. When I told my wife I was going to do my session by Skype she said she’d go out and meet me in town afterwards. It’s weird. It was no bother for her to do it and yet I felt like if I had asked her to go out I would have been asking too much or in some way making the therapy seem a secret. I don’t know. I mean ultimately what goes on in my sessions is secret but I don’t know….

I text my therapist and told her I’d like to Skype and she replied again. Good. That makes things feel easier. It doesn’t take a lot for me to feel settled and contained when she is responsive.

As it turns out none of this is an issue now because I now don’t have to go to the vet tomorrow. I am looking forward to seeing my therapist in person. I just hope that the session is as connecting and nurturing as I need it to be. I hope I can show her how sad I am and not shut her out like I did when my friend died last year.

I know part of the issue is that I want to be held by her and to let my emotions out but am scared of doing so knowing that she’ll just leave me sitting there crying. I’d rather hold everything in than feel like I’ve been left alone with it when it’s all coming out.

I know that if I could ask her to sit closer to me then that would help, but unless I am able to tell her that I know it won’t happen because the last time she moved closer to me I dissociated and started crying….and although I was crying because I wanted her to be close, closer than she was, I know she thinks that she has intruded into my space and upset me. Ugh.

So that’s about where things are at right now.

My darling boy is gone and I am bereft.

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Artwork above from: RedandHowling

Rupture in the therapeutic relationship: where do I go from here?

It’s been a week since my last post where I talked (cried, moaned, wailed!) about the rupture between myself and my therapist that came about after the exchange of a couple of text messages last Wednesday (I do see how very dramatic that seems!).

For those of you not familiar with the context, I had been really struggling with the therapy break (that old chestnut) and had worked myself up to a point of high anxiety where I was barely able to function….that is how it was and so I won’t downplay it. After three days of intense emotional struggle, not eating, and almost self harming, I decided to reach out to my therapist to ask her reassure me that she was still there and that the relationship was still ‘ok’ via text message…

And then it all went to shit! Like huge amounts of gushing diarrhoea shit! Ugh! I still can’t believe that I didn’t see it coming.

I know that it sounds bonkers that a 34 year old woman can’t maintain a sense of connection to a therapist that she’s seen for three years, but then I struggle with object constancy and it’s all part and parcel of disorganised attachment. The feeling of anxiety and all-consuming panic that floods my system, and worrying that I have been left is enormous. It’s excruciating, actually.

These feelings don’t come from nowhere. They feel enormous now but they were also enormous when I was 10 months old and my mum left my dad (and the country) without telling him or anyone else (you know, as you do!). I have a very clear image of myself at two years old standing on the back porch, looking at the snow, wearing a red snowsuit saying ‘where’s my daddy?’ – I don’t know if it’s a genuine memory but it came to me in therapy one session when I had been particularly dissociated.

So where was daddy? Not there then, and certainly not here now. He left me unexpectedly when abroad on holiday. He didn’t mean to. He had a sudden heart attack three days into a diving holiday. So daddy is gone gone. Little girl doesn’t understand and adult me never saw a body or had a funeral so can’t really understand that daddy is dead now. Part of me thinks he’s still on holiday.

We returned home to the UK when I was 3.5 years old. My mum got back together with my dad. Happy times right? No. Next thing to happen was for my mum to disappear on me 5 days a week from the age of four to go away to study. That makes sense to my adult but the little girl part of me still feels that intense confusion and fear that mummy has gone. I was always left wondering when she might return because one day, two days, three or even four doesn’t mean anything to kids – their concept of time isn’t like ours. Mum wasn’t there so maybe she was never coming back.

What I am clumsily trying to say is that the anxiety I feel on therapy breaks or in between therapy sessions does not belong to my adult. Sure the grown up part of me would like to see more of my therapist, but the dread and fear I feel it is that of a little girl that has had no emotional stability or consistently safe caregiver for her whole life. It makes sense to my adult that being away from the new attachment figure would stir up all kinds of chaos for the young ones.

Anyway, back to the text debacle. In fairness to my therapist, she did respond to me, she didn’t leave me hanging- unfortunately, though, the messages she sent did little to reassure the little girl who was absolutely beside herself and the messages felt cold and misattuned to those needs. Little girl had a meltdown!

Lots of readers commented on the post and could see why I would feel devastated by the perceived tone of the messages I received. It felt comforting, on Thursday, that at least some people could see how upset I might feel and that I wasn’t completely unjustified in feeling utterly bereft.

By Thursday evening I felt quite overwhelmed by the comments on my post because they seemed to be confirming what I was feeling was understandable and justified. I didn’t want to be right, though. Because if my feeling were justifiable….then that meant my therapist had cocked up and missed the point…and I didn’t want that to be the case. It’s much easier to take things on myself than see fault in others. I can change me but I can’t change somebody else. I didn’t want for it to be the case that maybe she didn’t care. That felt too devastating.

I’d felt completely abandoned and rejected by my therapist on Wednesday and I can see now that a lot of my reaction to her messages was about my coming from a very triggered place. Perhaps my reading of her words was not quite as they were meant – she said as much on Monday. Unfortunately, though, my therapist’s messages felt rejecting regardless of her intention and that is what I need to work through.

I had shared what had happened with a friend on Wednesday. I was utterly distraught. She could see how I felt and also felt that the messages felt cold. She recommended a therapist in my area and suggested that perhaps it might be good to get another perspective on things. I agreed this would be a good idea, not just because of this rupture but for some of the other things that have been niggling away at me in the therapeutic relationship.

I emailed the therapist to see if she could offer me any sessions to help me work through the rupture with my therapist. Essentially, I wanted her to help me see if I could find a way of working through the issues I have in my current therapy or whether it might be time to look for a new kind of therapy.

The therapist responded quickly and the reply I got was really warm and empathic even though all I had said was that I had had a rupture with my therapist – I hadn’t given any detail. It was a world away from anything my therapist has ever sent which was both refreshing and painful. How can someone who doesn’t even know me be so open and warm and yet someone who knows me intimately be so business-like? I know. I know. Two different people with two differing approaches…but ouch.

The therapist had spoken with her supervisor following my email and agreed that we could do up to four sessions to work on this stuff and that she had some availability for the next two Tuesdays. I jumped at the chance to get additional input and support because the situation felt/feels utterly horrendous.

Part of seeking out additional therapeutic support was that I wanted to know if my responses to some of the things that have happened are over the top or actually justified (I know she wouldn’t use those words, and actually my feelings are my feelings – rational or not they are real to me), and also to better understand things from a therapist’s perspective.

I know the new therapist is not ‘my therapist’ but she would objectively be able to look at the situation and maybe signpost things for me on how to get through this or at least help me clarify what it is that I need to say to move forward. So that was positive. I felt too, that having this space on Tuesday would mean I would have a sounding board for whatever happened on Monday…and that in itself allowed me to consider going in to face things.

By Friday morning I had begun to settle down a bit, or detach, or perhaps I was a bit desperate… I am not sure what was going on, really. It’s weird. Different parts were doing and feeling different things. Looking back I can see that even though there was a huge part of me that was hurting and angry there was another part that couldn’t bear the thought of not seeing my therapist. The attached child part longed to see my therapist and to try and make the situation feel better and wanted to believe that she cared.

The last message I had sent to my therapist on Wednesday was that it was unlikely I’d be coming to session but that I’d let her know on Friday because she needs 48 hours notice of cancellation. On Friday morning I text her asking her to read the blog post I had written because I needed her to understand how I felt in the moment, even if it was reactive, and even though I might feel a bit less wounded now:

‘I’m still at a loss about Wednesday but I think where I have got to is that you don’t ever deliberately do things to hurt me and I have to trust that you know what you are doing – and so I guess we need to talk on Monday even though part of me just can’t face it. I’d really appreciate it if you can find time to read the linked post before session because I really think you need to know this stuff but equally we’ll need all the session to talk. If you let me know on Monday how long it took to read then I’ll just add the extra to the payment. Have a good weekend.’

 She replied almost immediately:

Ok, I’ll read it. See you on Monday’.

This message was short and to the point but it didn’t feel rejecting…which made me wonder a bit about how I reacted to the first message on Wednesday which was clearly longer and addressed more of the content of my request. Why was my reaction so different then?

I guess what I would say is that the point at which I was reaching out for reassurance my adult was not online AT ALL. I was fully caught up in a trauma response to feeling abandoned in the break and so the part that needed reassurance needed a very simple, caring message. I needed the kind of thing that you might say to a very distressed child: ‘it’s ok, I am here, I know you feel scared, but I will be there on Monday and we can talk about this’…or something along those lines. 

I think this is one of the pitfalls of working with clients who have fragmented parts. It’s not always easy for the therapist to see which part is communicating a need (especially through a text or email) and so it’s hard to know what to say or how to adequately respond- which is why my therapist will not usually reply to texts. She says that when she can’t see me she can’t get a true sense of what I am feeling and she may hone in on completely the wrong thing and leave me feeling unseen and unheard because she misses something that is massive to me….doesn’t stop me wanting to reach out though!

Having said all that, on the occasions where my therapist has responded to me or sent a prearranged message at a particular time she seems hell bent on keeping the adult front and centre in her communications. So often it feels like our exchanges seem to miss the mark because she only talks to the adult part. She doesn’t acknowledge the child parts outside session. It’s different in session, thank god.

Through her messages I think she wants to bring the adult part back online (and that makes sense) but actually all that happens is that my young child parts feel rejected, unseen, and abandoned, when she sends messages aimed at the adult. It takes a lot for me to show any level of vulnerability and need and so to have it almost ignored feels absolutely crushing to the little parts. And that’s exactly how it felt last week. I felt like I had been annihilated and struggled to get my adult self back online.

I don’t know what the right thing to do in this situation is. I know that how what she does makes me feel awful but perhaps there is some kind of therapeutic rationale behind the way she communicates that I just don’t understand. For me, I feel that if she at least acknowledged the child parts, then it’d settle them a bit and allow adult to come back online. Ignoring the young ones just agitates them even more. The attach parts are set to scream until they get a response from the attachment figure, after all so ignoring them doesn’t shut them up.

Anyway, Friday went by steadily. The feelings of pain, rejection, and abandonment from Wednesday were still swirling around and distressing the child parts; the inner critic was doing a smashing job of attacking my body – I only ate twice between Tuesday and Friday. The teen part was feeling very much ‘fuck her and fuck this’. I could feel an additional cloud move in as Friday progressed. I sunk into a really very bad place. I’m not just talking depressed and lethargic. I was bordering on suicidal and I don’t mean that in a flippant way. I literally wanted to die. I haven’t felt like that since my breakdown in 2009. I really felt desperately unwell in my mind.

I text a friend and tried to dig my way out of my hole before having early night. I had bad dreams about therapy and then woke up feeling anxious but not like I wanted to die. Thank goodness. It was crap still, but not end of the world crap. When it gets bad I have to try and remind myself how quickly these feelings can move in and out.

I think what I am beginning to understand now, is that perhaps I am not a massively changeable, volatile, and, unstable person, but actually instead there are many parts of me and they have lots of different feelings. I need to become more aware of who’s running the show at any given moment.

Who is the ‘holding it together’ one and who is it that wants to die? Who wants to attach and who feels left and wants to run away? And so on. Because whilst I know they are all part of me, they are exactly that, fragmented parts. That’s why it is so unnerving to feel so conflicted so much of the time, there are so many voices from so many different times competing for attention. Sometimes some are silent and sometimes they are screaming. It really just depends on the moment and what triggers there are.

For example, this week I have really been aware of Eleven (my eleven year old self) being close to the surface. I don’t see a lot of her but this week I have felt her pain and that pain runs deep. I feel how sad she is about having tried to tell an adult how bad things have felt for her and what it is like to be shutdown for it and to not have her feelings acknowledged. She longs for someone to listen to how scary things are for her and validate those feelings but no one ever does. And because she copes so well (on the surface at least) no one ever looks beyond what they see.

By the time it got to Monday I was in a really bad way physically. I think not eating properly (bearing in mind I am always teetering on the edge of normal eating anyway) had really started to mess with my body. I mean you just can’t live on 400 calories a day when you already have a BMI of 16. There are no reserves to draw on. I was shaky and lightheaded but that numb feeling gave at least some part of me a relief.

I didn’t think it was all that noticeable to anyone else but I have just been to get blood taken for next week’s haematology/cancer follow up and the lovely nurse took one look at me and said, ‘you’re looking really pale, are you ok?’ and then as I got up to leave, ‘you’re looking very slim, are you eating ok?’ I said I was fine and that I’ve just been fighting a virus which meant I’d lost some weight…we get good at making eye contact and lying like it’s the truth don’t we?

So to Monday…As I drove to my session I was physically shaking- from nerves more than low blood sugar I think. My mind had shut off, I felt numb, but my body was clearly sending up distress signals.

The first thing I said when I sat down on the couch was ‘I’ve been shaking in the car’. I had no idea how the session was going to go but I didn’t feel especially hopeful. Something felt off. My therapist’s tone and body language felt all wrong. I know I am sensitive to these things because I have always had to be. I’ve always been in a necessary state of hypervigilance because I never knew when the next attack was coming. I needed to be alert to the warning signs.

I might have been projecting negative feelings onto my therapist and maybe she didn’t feel cross or annoyed with me, but something was telling me that things weren’t ok.

The session was stilted and difficult. I found it really hard to talk and I felt like my therapist didn’t really try and draw me out. Sometimes I listen back to sessions and I can hear how hard she is working with me, trying hard to connect with me, trying to make me feel safe. There was none of that on Monday. There was no warm voice or understanding non-verbal gestures. It felt like she didn’t want to be there. It felt like she thought I was criticising her.

I felt as though she didn’t really understand that although I now saw that the response to her messages was quite extreme, that the feelings of abandonment we real to me in the moment. She didn’t acknowledge how feeling ignored and uncared for felt. She said that she had responded to me and that that showed that she was there. I get what she was saying but it felt like we were at crossed-purposes. She wanted me to see that because she had text me that she had proven she was there; and I wanted her to see that she felt impersonal and distant.

On paper there was nothing wrong with what was said in session. Technically everything was correct in terms of theory….but that’s the problem. There’s more going on here than applying theory to a struggling human being. Knowing your stuff can still lead to empathic failure.

Being told that the time for my ‘young infantile needs to be met has passed’ is all well and good (hell don’t I know this, I’ve written about it enough!) but I needed some empathy too. i.e ‘you know the time for your young needs for holding to be met has passed. I know the little girl part of you wants me to hold her and make her feel safe, and I understand how painful it must be for me not to do that for her. I know that she feels rejected, but I am not rejecting her.’ – you know? Something that expresses the theory but also shows how it feels to me with her in our relationship despite the theory. She did acknowledge it was painful – I guess I’m splitting hairs.

I left the session feeling a bit hopeless. I had hoped to go in and repair the rupture and to find some common ground and reconnect but instead I left feeling like I was alone with all these feelings. I mean, the huge issue has long been feeling disconnected between sessions and then struggling, yet this time I felt disconnected in session…and so it’s not great now. Usually my leaky bucket takes a couple of days to dispense with the warm connected feelings. This time I left session with an empty bucket.

Fortunately the session I had with the other therapist on Tuesday was positive. It was a completely different experience to what I am used to and quickly allowed me to tap into emotions. I was staggered that I felt the urge to cry – usually those feelings are on lock down. I felt heard and understood. Bonus!

I have come away feeling positive about moving forward either with my therapist or, if not, someone else. My feelings were validated and I feel as though there are potentially other ways of working that may help me better if I can’t resolve things with my therapist or find a way to meet in the middle. Ultimately my goal is to try and sort things out with my therapist. I love her and really value her. I just need to find a way of expressing my needs and hopefully getting a few more of them met so that I don’t repeatedly find myself drowning in disaster therapy breaks.

Right, this is enormous and so I am going to go…don’t really feel like I have said much!

p.s Thanks to everyone that commented last week and supported me.

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Rupture. The cold, hard truth: my therapist doesn’t care.

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I really didn’t expect to be blogging about a rupture in therapy here today. I thought I’d be saying something about almost surviving the therapy break and being nervous about my session on Monday, but also being amazingly glad I’d be seeing my therapist in person soon. That was the plan, anyway. But that isn’t going to happen because, as things stand right now, I will not be going to therapy on Monday, or possibly to my current therapist ever again.

I know. Spare the drama, right? I’m sure some people read that and think ‘put your toys back in the pram and get over it’ but I also know that there a few of you, especially those that have issues with attachment and feelings about abandonment and rejection, who will read this post and wince.

This isn’t going to be a neat, well-constructed post because right now my brain is scrambled and the various younger parts of me are in meltdown…actually, the adult part is devastated too.  I literally feel like I have been annihilated and that’s not an exaggeration. God I wish it was!

In fairness now is probably not a good time to write, I haven’t had chance to process what’s happened yet, I feel raw and activated, but actually right now my options are: sit here and type or do something horrible to myself – and so this surely has to be the better option.

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My last post talked a lot about how I had been feeling depressed and generally not quite right. I have been struggling really hard this week to keep my head above water. I’ve been plagued by therapy dreams where my therapist has rejected me in one way or another, or simply not cared about me and I have woken up feeling heartbroken.

Yes, I know. They are dreams not reality, but the dreams I’m having tap into the insecurities I feel in the therapeutic relationship and end up intensifying the worry and anxiety I feel when I am awake.

I can’t count how many times I have said this now, but I really struggle when I am away from my therapist. No matter how I try I can’t maintain a sense of connection with her when I can’t see her it seems almost impossible. It is bad managing from week to week but it is always really very challenging during breaks.

All the fears I have about being left or abandoned come up, but equally there is a real anxiety that something bad has happened to her. I can’t seem to get my head to a place that can accept that she is out there, safe, and that the connection is still there. It is weird because this isn’t a problem that I experience in other relationships.

I don’t freak out if I don’t see or hear from my friends for months at a time…but then I guess this might be because I don’t have this kind of complicated attachment to other people in my life and therefore the triggers that I have from being a child don’t play out anywhere else because the child parts of me aren’t active with friends. I don’t know.

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Those of you that follow this blog will know that we’ve talked about trying to create some kind of transitional object (pebbles/note) but not got anywhere with it…and now I understand why. I know, too, that I ought to trust my intuition. I see now that my reluctance to engage getting a message written on the pebbles because I was scared that she actually wouldn’t be willing to write anything that would soothe me is right. She isn’t willing to say anything to confirm that there is a connection in the relationship or that it is any way important.

These last few days my anxiety about the therapeutic relationship reached a whole new level of hell. I felt so ill that I couldn’t function. When I say it took me three hours to load and reload the dishwasher and that I didn’t shower or get dressed until two in the afternoon on Tuesday (and that was only because I had to run an errand) because I just couldn’t face doing anything it might give an impression of just how debilitated I felt. I felt utterly crippled with anxiety.

I felt sick to my core, at times was physically shaking, and felt like a little boat of a very choppy sea. No matter what I did to try and ground myself or channel myself into a place where things felt better I just couldn’t succeed. I knew on Tuesday when I was standing in the kitchen with a massive knife against my wrist that something had to give. I knew that not eating wasn’t doing me any good and that I needed to get out of this headspace. I needed to try and get the adult back online, settle the child parts, and power down the critic.

So after three days of debating with myself what I should do: reach out to my therapist or continue down the path of self-destruction, I thought the most sensible option was to simply tell her how it was, ask for reassurance and then hopefully just settle this sick feeling down and then go discuss it all on Monday and try and work out why it has felt so terrible this break.

I know that we don’t text or email generally unless there is something about scheduling. Most of the time that feels ok-ish but sometimes it feels really persecutory. When I feel like I have reached crisis point (which actually isn’t very often) the no between session contact thing is really difficult for me. Because there is this boundary in place, it means that I can’t just reach out when I need to and ask to get a need met, instead I spend a great deal of time beating myself up for having the need for reassurance which makes it all much worse. I’ve always struggled to ask for help when I need it and so this feels impossible.

I beat myself up for breaking her rules. I beat myself up for not being able to manage on my own. I beat myself up because I know that it’s annoying her. I basically drive myself mad and all the while the anxieties I have about making contact exacerbate the concerns and worries I already have: i.e she really doesn’t care or want to know when things are bad and that I am an inconvenience, and whist she can’t openly say it that frankly she wishes I would just go away.

So, if I do pluck up the courage to reach out I end up feeling sick and guilty that I have done it. It feels utterly impossible no matter what I do. I don’t know why it should feel so bad to express a need for someone but it does.

When I was writing my text yesterday, I had debated sending the link to my post Why do I always dream about my therapist when we are on a therapy break? in my message as this is where the spiralling into anxiety began, but in the end I decided against that in favour of taking it in and talking about it on Monday. I didn’t want to do a big mind dump on her, I simply wanted to check in and re-establish the sense of connection in order to settle myself down until Monday’s session.

Simple.

Or at least I thought it would be.

Only things don’t seem to work like that.

In the past if have reached out I haven’t always been clear about what my need is and so when she doesn’t respond part of me feels upset but part of me thinks that maybe I am expecting too much of her to read between the lines of something fairly innocuous. So I endeavoured to be straightforward this time. Tell it like it is but don’t drone on!

I didn’t want to go on about the self-harm, or the slip into anorexia, how much I missed her, or how very bad it has felt recently because I didn’t want to make the text about trying to do the therapy outside the room. I get why it’s important to do the work in the room. I just wanted a sticking plaster in order that the wound didn’t get any deeper or infected before our face-to-face session next week.

So at 11am I sent this:

‘I started having vivid dreams about therapy on Boxing Day. I wrote about it when it started happening because I thought it would help, but the dreams are happening every time I sleep and I just feel completely overwhelmed now. No amount of deep breathing, visualisation, distraction, or sitting with it is helping. It’s escalated to a crippling level of anxiety now and it’s making me not even want to come back on Monday. The critical part of me is delighting in how bad it feels. It’s taken three days of battling with myself to send this:

Please can you tell me that things are still ok.’

*

I forwarded the message to a friend,  because having sent the text I immediately felt sick and started shaking. I was worrying about whether it was too much and too needy, and she assured me that it was fine and that she’d sent similar messages in the past to her therapist and all that would probably happen would be that she’d reply to say, ‘she’s there and you’re both ok and it will feel better’, which is exactly what I had hoped for.

So after anxiously checking my phone for an hour I left it upstairs and went and tried to get on with the things I needed to do. In that time I was thinking about what it might feel like if she didn’t reply to me, which is what I expected, and how that feeling of rejection would probably make me rage. I went upstairs at 2pm and there was a message from my therapist:

‘From my understanding of what you are saying, I think that it is very common for people to have dreams about therapy and for people to have strong feelings about such dreams and I hope that you will be able to continue with the therapy and come to your session on Monday.’

*

I won’t lie. I was a bit taken aback by the message. Perhaps it’s just me but it felt so distant and cold. I sat with it for an hour because I thought maybe on rereading it later my feelings would change I’d be able to find some kind of sense of connection in there and sense that she actually cared…

I didn’t.

I messaged my friend this because I was still trying to look on the bright side:

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I wondered then whether what I had sent was too much about the dreams and not enough about stating that I needed a sense of her being there and things being ok. Perhaps it’d got lost in text? So after some thought I sent this at 3:15pm:

Yeah. I get therapy dreams are normal and can evoke strong feelings. What I’m trying to say is I feel like you are gone and that there is no connection, and now this is being reinforced every time I sleep which is just horrendous. What I wanted was for you to tell me that it is just anxiety, not based in reality, and that actually things are ok still and that you’re still there.

*

I felt a bit eeeeeeek sending it but thought, if  I don’t clearly communicate my needs then there’s no chance of getting them met. I thought she probably wouldn’t reply to the text but a message did come in:

Thanks for clarifying. See you on Monday.’

*

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And that’s where I felt like I had been annihilated. Even just typing that I feel a kind of shock in my body and utter confusion in my brain.

I mean what the hell am I meant to feel about that response?

Well. First was utter devastation and then that was quickly followed by:

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My gut reaction was to fire off something like ‘Seriously? Fuck it. I’m done’ but  I didn’t. Again I waited for a while to see if my initial feelings would settle down or whether I’d go back to the message and read it differently.

Nope.

At 5:15pm I sent this:

Honestly don’t know whether to laugh or cry about that message. I’ll let you know about Monday but right now it just isn’t going to happen. I know you need 48 hours so I’ll let you know by Friday.’

*

And that’s where it’s been left.

I don’t even really know what to say to her now. I mean where do I go from here? I want to feel like I am overreacting or something because that in some way makes those messages seem less, err, what? Abandoning? I dunno. But I am not entirely sure that I can convince myself that I am making more of it than there is.

It’s not like my therapist isn’t acutely aware of my issues with disorganised attachment, being unable to maintain a sense connection, and the problems that therapy breaks cause especially for the most vulnerable child parts of me- and to not be willing to offer up the most basic amount of reassurance when I reach out feels pretty cruel actually.

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I don’t know if I can come back from this.

I’ve spoken to a couple of friends about what’s happened, both are staggered by the exchange, and one suggested that maybe now is the time to find another therapist because repeatedly not getting my needs met or even validated is hurting me A LOT.

The rigid nature of the therapeutic frame doesn’t seem to be helping and there appears to be no flexibility in it. I had just about come to terms with the fact that touch was out of bounds but actually not even getting the most basic level of reassurance when things are about as bad as they get…well, what do I do with that?

I don’t know.

I feel like I was trying to find a better way of coping with difficult feelings. I was trying to get help. It backfired and now I am back to square one. Maybe there’s a reason that blades and starving myself have been so long part of my existence. Maybe deep down what I have always felt to be true is true: I am not worthy of care and I do not matter. On the plus side, I don’t have to worry about the Christmas weight gain now. Stress of the last two days and 2kg has just dropped away. I shouldn’t be pleased about it, but fuck it. I am done.

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Solace.

What’s 2017 year been like for me? On balance, there’s been some good, some bad, and a lot of stuff in between. It hasn’t been all cupcakes and rainbows by any means, indeed, it’s been a lot of horseshit and heartache… but that’s life, I guess!

The death of a very close friend/mother figure has shaken me to the core; then there’s been reflecting on (and being overwhelmed by) the last few years since my cancer diagnosis and treatment; finally facing the reality of my childhood and the deficit in love and care from my mother in particular; oh and of course I’ve been steadily edging towards Christmas which basically means freaking out about the therapy break and attachment pain ramping up a notch or five!

It’s not been easy, but then I don’t think life is. The older I get the more I realise that for me, at least, life is about winging it. I might be a grown up now, and a parent, but actually the childhood concept of what an adult is (or should be) is completely unrealistic. I don’t know anyone with all their ducks perfectly lined up.

Perhaps it is just me and my immediate circle of friends but, honestly, it seems to be about making the rules up as I go and holding it together with rubber bands and chewing gum…which is why I chose this blog name!

I don’t really know where this post is going to go, I’m afraid. I have been so busy this last week that I really hadn’t had any time to think about myself until yesterday’s therapy session. So, whilst I know I have stuff to say, this is likely to be more of a stream of consciousness than some well-crafted post…yeah, right, same shit different day then! Business as usual.

Why have I had no time to breathe? Well I am a mum, of course. The run into Christmas with small children is like some kind of hideous military exercise testing endurance and memory set by sadistic teachers who want payback for having to cope with your kids for the last term. The two weeks leading into the holiday is basically designed to send any sane woman (and it is mainly women) over the edge.

In the last week I have been to two nativity plays and a Christingle service (wtf is that about anyway?!). I have sent my kids dressed in non-uniform, muddy winter walk gear, Christmas jumpers, and uniform (all on the right days- win!). I really felt for the poor mum who brought her son to school in uniform on wear what you like day…it was six minutes before the bell and she almost did a handbrake turn in the road to go rectify the wardrobe error: ‘was it in the newsletter?’

I have provided ‘bring and share’ party food for two separate class parties and sat through an hour and a half of mind-numbing (but not mind-numbing enough) children’s entertainment with a room of twenty kids under four before trying to feed them all party food. I was hanging on by a thread on Tuesday and all that got me through the preschool party was some choice WhatsApp messages to a friend!: ‘Shoot me now!’

I have bought and wrapped gifts for ALL the teachers and support staff at both my daughter’s school and son’s preschool. I have basically been some kind of mum robot/Stepford Wife and it is so not me! I really am not cut out for this. I am not PTA material…which is hilarious seeing as I have taken on the frigging Vice-Chair of the preschool committee. Ok, there’s a part of me that can do this stuff well but there is another part of me that wants to hang myself when in that ‘role’.

I’d go so far as to say that I have felt a little Grinch-like lately! And it’s not just because of what I’ve written above. I’ve almost hated the idea of Christmas this year for what it inevitably means for me: a lengthy disruption to my therapy and, therefore, the sense of connection with my therapist disintegrating again (oh the drama!).

I find Christmas stressful because not only is it a time where I am left without that much-needed support from my therapist, but the break in support coincides neatly with being faced with much of what has taken me into therapy in the first place! What a bloody irony!

I feel an immense pressure to play ‘happy families’ with my mother at this time of year. For the last decade she has come to us on Christmas day. These days my relationship with my mum is as good as it could possibly hope to be. Yeah sure, we don’t touch, and there is an awkwardness between us, but I don’t feel like she despises me these days which is how I felt for a really long time.

In fact I (adult) know that she loves me… The problem with this is that there are so many parts of me that are locked in pain from the past that I can’t seem to fully operate in 2017 and take in what’s in front of me now. There are so many desperately sad young parts that feel utterly abandoned that it just stresses me out being around my mum, especially at Christmas.

I know I shouldn’t, but I often find myself longing to be with my ‘therapy mother’ over Christmas and feeling disappointed with the biological version that is in front of me because I become someone else in her presence and it is not me…or the version of me that is emerging. I want to be with the person that makes me feel safe and the person that makes it feel ok to be me. I know that my idealised version of my therapist is not who she really is, but when things feel overwhelming my head and heart run and seek solace in the therapy mother.

I know my mum would be utterly devastated if she read my blog because I think in her eyes things are fine now. She tries really hard. I can’t really criticise the here and now. The thing is, I am not fine about the past yet. I haven’t worked out how to soothe all the hurting parts and until I do I don’t think Christmas will ever be easy.

The other thing that is really hard about Christmas is spending meaningful time with my children. That sounds totally bonkers doesn’t it? What I mean is I find it really difficult knowing how easy it is for me to love my children, to hold them, to tell them how special they are, and to be there for them that it is totally devastating knowing that there are child parts inside me that are still crying out to be loved and held because they never had this nurturing growing up.

It is not a chore for me to love my kids (sure the running around like a nutcase for school is). It is not a bind for me to snuggle them up in bed and read them a bedtime story. It is not a drain on me to listen to them tell me about their day. It is not an inconvenience to be their mummy so why was it so hard for my mum to love me?

Ouch. I can’t even go there right now. #motherwound

Anyway, maybe I have been a bit Grinchy lately but what I will say, is that perhaps my heart grew three sizes yesterday in therapy, or rather the tight tight squeeze on it released a little in session and I feel a bit happier, a bit more secure….or at least I feel that way in the therapeutic relationship which is really all I seem to write about here anyway!

So, yeah, I’ve now finished therapy for the year and am officially on break until the 8th January (Eeek!). Thankfully, yesterday’s session was a good one. I gave my therapist a popup card Christmas card with a snowflake on it that symbolised how our relationship is to me. I had been really torn about whether or not I should actually give it to her and struggled to find the words to put inside it.

The therapeutic relationship is so complex. Although it is a professional relationship it feels so much more than that. I know that for many of us there have been times when our therapists are probably our most trusted relationship and the person whom we feel closest to.

I didn’t sleep much on Wednesday night. I was anxious about handing over the card but I think I was also dreading the fact that it was the last session of the year. The previous session had seen me shut down and block my therapist out which is so often what happens when we approach breaks.

I know that I am not alone in the mental to-ing and fro-ing about gift giving or card giving at Christmas (as well as at other times). I had chosen the card specifically because it was meant to be a keepsake and yet was not obviously a ‘present’. I think my therapist would accept small gifts but from what I can gather she genuinely likes the more meaningful small gestures, i.e a carefully chosen card with thoughtful words.

It took some time to work out what I wanted to say but I ended up writing:

I saw this card and thought of you/therapy/the therapeutic relationship.

Sometimes I feel like being in therapy is a bit like the adventure in Michael Rosen’s ‘We’re Going On A Bear Hunt’:

‘We’re going on a bear hunt,

We’re going to catch a big one.

What a beautiful day!

We’re not scared!

Uh-Uh! A snowstorm!

A swirling whirling snowstorm.

We can’t go over it.

We can’t go under it.

Oh no!

We’ve got to go through it!’

It’s not always easy and I sometimes freeze when faced with  a ‘snowstorm’ or ‘thick oozy mud’. I am beginning to realise that these obstacles are all part of the journey and am hopeful that there will be plenty of beautiful days along the way. I am very grateful that you keep walking alongside me even when the terrain is pretty treacherous.

Keeping on with the snow theme, the snowflake serves as a great metaphor for how I feel in our relationship. The Inner Critic is always so ready to devalue and undermine what there is in the therapeutic relationship (especially when I can’t see you) because it knows that to you I am just one of many clients. I am forgettable just like a snowflake in a blizzard.

However, some people say that each individual snowflake is unique and special in its own way and so it is hard to compare one with another. So this Christmas I am trying hard to remember that actually no matter how many snowflakes there are, to me this one/relationship is special, it is valuable and really that’s all that really matters. 

I hope you have a lovely Christmas holiday and rest well- you surely deserve it just for listening to me.

With love,

There was so much I wanted to say when I was trying to find words for the card and somehow at the same time I was acutely aware of not ‘saying too much’ or ‘being too much’ or ‘overstepping a boundary’ or making her feel ‘awkward’. It’s so difficult knowing where that line is. Although, interestingly, my therapist said something that really stuck with me yesterday and that is:

‘boundaries are not barriers’

I am really going to try and keep that in mind because I have always felt that boundaries are designed to keep me out and stop me really getting close to her but perhaps that’s not the case?

She said something about working on the space between us and the relationship and so I’ll see if I can reframe my thinking about all this stuff over the holiday. I think it is something I want to come back to with her and ask her exactly what she meant.

It felt like we covered a lot of ground yesterday. I won’t go into it all here. I don’t have time and I need to sleep…but we talked about love A LOT. We haven’t done that before and it was really connecting.

Those of you that read this blog regularly know that I really love my therapist, and that’s not meant in some wishy washy ‘fond of’ or ‘warm feelings’ kind of way. I genuinely love her, and as much as it has filled me with intense feelings of shame and embarrassment (not sure that should be ‘has’ – we are certainly not in past tense with this yet!) there is also a bit of me that is beginning to see that it would be a bit bloody weird if I didn’t have feelings for my therapist after all these years!

I met her six years ago now, and although the was a break in the middle we have worked together for three years – nineteen months this time round! Don’t get me wrong. I have all kinds of feelings (positive and negative) about my therapist but yesterday I just really wanted to focus on the positives and the love rather than feelings of loss and abandonment about the break.

I wanted to talk about what there is rather than what I feel is lacking (hugs!). I really wanted to connect and get a sense of the relationship being real and not just something that is one sided and all in my head (which is how it sometimes feels)…and fortunately that’s exactly what happened.

When she read the card she started really talking to me about our relationship, about love, loving feelings, finding a way to make the space feel soothing, her choice to work with me, the fact that she isn’t going away, that the therapy will go on for as long as I need it….basically it was lots of the stuff I really needed to hear. Yay.

Of course, there’s a part of me that always wants more but under the circumstances, yesterday’s session left me feeling about as good as I could heading into a break. I’ve already had a wobble or two since yesterday. Can’t win! If I get the connection and sense of care I so desperately want in session, then moment I am away from her it feels like it disappears and suddenly I have all these little parts totally awake and screaming out for ‘mummy’. It’s really quite sad.

There are other times when feel like my therapist is so walled off from me and the blank screen thing is massively frustrating because I feel like she is holding me at arm’s length. How I perceive her has much more to do with me than how she actually is, though. She is incredibly consistent and warm. I just can’t always see, feel, or take in the care that she gives me. I don’t know what’s worse feeling the ache of the distance or managing the rage of being abandoned!

My own walls can be so thick and my heart so heavily guarded that there are times when there is nothing at all she could say to get through to me. My Inner Critic is massively powerful and persuasive and always ready to tell me that the relationship is worthless and that I am loser for even having feelings about a therapist. Thankfully, yesterday it didn’t come to therapy with me. I left it at home grumbling and bah humbugging!

I’m not sure where the Critic is at the moment, but I would really love for it to stay away over the break. I would like to think that I can just be here with the child parts and find a way to soothe them with gentle reminders that my therapist does care and that she will be back.

I’m not stupid, though. I know how this all works. I’ve been here enough times to know that there is always a calm before my inner storm. I know that the moment the little ones get really activated, really miss her and it is sustained for a few days that the nasty protector will step up. I know it will scare them into silence and make suggestions on how to get away from these feelings: cutting, burning, not eating, terminating therapy. It’s just shit.

Anyway, I’m going offline for a few days as of Christmas Eve. We always try and do a tech black out over Christmas: phones, laptops, and I-pads get put in a box for 48 hours. It’s both refreshing and terrifying disconnecting from the outside world. I think it’s important that we engage with what’s in the room in front of us rather than scrolling through and liking pictures of other people’s Christmases. I don’t want my kids to think that 6 inch screen is more interesting than they are.

This year, in particular, I think it’ll be me that will find this no phone zone thing a challenge whereas usually it’s my wife. The reason for this is because since I have started this blog I have made some really supportive friends. The idea of not being able to check in to ‘scream on screen’ or simply lament how tough it is at Christmas is going to be tricky.

Other than here, there is nowhere else that I let the attachment pain stuff out apart from in therapy (and let’s face it, I struggle to really say how it is there!). I know that this ache intensifies during breaks and so being unable to write about it or get some support from others who ‘get it’ is going to be a trial. I’ll probably binge read blogs on the 27th December! haha!

So as this will be my last blog before Christmas, I am going to sign off for now with this piece, ‘Solace’ by writer and poet David Whyte. It popped up on my Facebook feed the other day and I thought I’d share it because it really spoke to me, perhaps it will speak to you too.

I know I’m not the only one who finds the Christmas holiday difficult. I know there are a lot of you struggling with all kinds of issues right now: rifts with family members, feeling unsettled with therapists or simply just missing them, generally struggling to feel connected and safe with people whom you love and care for, missing lost loved ones. None of it is easy.

I really hope that whatever comes up for you over the next few weeks you can find some solace whether it be in nature, in a pet, in a loved one, art, music, anywhere. I hope that you might find it somewhere deep within yourself. Be safe in the knowledge that you are important and special and loved. You are as unique as a snowflake but like a snowflake, you do not fall down from the sky alone, you are surrounded by others, not the same as you, but not amazingly different to you either.

Merry Christmas x

From CONSOLATIONS: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of EverydayWords.
2015 © David Whyte: and Many Rivers Press

Solace is the art of asking the beautiful question, of ourselves, of our world or of one another, often in fiercely difficult and un-beautiful moments. Solace is what we must look for when the mind cannot bear the pain, the loss or the suffering that eventually touches every life and every endeavor; when longing does not come to fruition in a form we can recognize, when people we know and love disappear, when hope must take a different form than the one we have shaped for it.

Solace is the spacious, imaginative home we make where disappointment goes to be welcomed and rehabilitated. When life does not in any way add up, we must turn to the part of us that has never wanted a life of simple calculation.

Solace is found in allowing the body’s innate foundational wisdom to come to the fore, a part of us that already knows it is mortal and must take its leave like everything else, and leads us, when the mind cannot bear what it is seeing or hearing, to the birdsong in the tree above our heads, even as we are being told of a death, each note an essence of morning and of mourning; of the current of a life moving on, but somehow, also, and most beautifully, carrying, bearing, and even celebrating the life we have just lost. – A life we could not see or appreciate until it was taken from us –

To be consoled is to be invited onto the terrible ground of beauty upon which our inevitable disappearance stands, to a voice that does not soothe falsely, but touches the epicenter of our pain or articulates the essence of our loss, and then emancipates us into the privilege of both life and death as an equal birthright.

Solace is not an evasion, nor a cure for our suffering, nor a made up state of mind. Solace is a direct seeing and participation; a celebration of the beautiful coming and going, appearance and disappearance of which we have always been a part. Solace is not meant to be an answer, but an invitation, through the door of pain and difficulty, to the depth of suffering and simultaneous beauty in the world that the strategic mind by itself cannot grasp nor make sense of.

To look for solace is to learn to ask fiercer and more exquisitely pointed questions, questions that reshape our identities and our bodies and our relation to others. Standing in loss but not overwhelmed by it, we become useful and generous and compassionate and even more amusing companions for others. But solace also asks us very direct and forceful questions. Firstly, how will you bear the inevitable loss that will accompany you? And how will you endure it through the years? And above all, how will you shape a life equal to and as beautiful and as astonishing as a world that can birth you, bring you into the light and then just as you were beginning to understand it, take you away?

 

Fight. Flight. Freeze. Or all of the above?!

So, Monday’s therapy session was supposed the hail the start of the Christmas therapy break. No prizes for guessing how it went. Ugh! Same old pattern: I started off quite chirpy and present and then somehow when my therapist suggested that perhaps the dream I was talking about might actually be about how I felt a sense of loss around the break and how I was worried about things falling apart…. well, it took me by surprise and I felt a massive shift in myself.

I thought the dream was about grieving the loss of my friend…which it also probably was. Damn why are dreams so multi-layered?!

Up until that point I had been sailing through the session firmly locked in my adult. I’ve notice that I try and do this as I head into a therapy break. I think it’s something about wanting to try and ground myself firmly in a coping place before I am ‘left’ (or abandoned!). I don’t want to dredge up hard feelings, awaken the child parts, or really even let my therapist in when I know I am going to be left without contact for a period of time.

Sometimes this strategy works just fine and sometimes it really doesn’t at all! If I don’t have complete control over the conversation, then my therapist can say things that trigger a response in me and override the adult’s ability to keep things surface level. That’s exactly what happened when she brought up how I might be feeling about the break.

It’s not as though I didn’t know we would be addressing the time away from therapy in some capacity. I mean Monday was going to be the day to do the pebbles, to create a holding message for the therapy break. But before we even got to talking about them I had shut down.

As soon as she mentioned the break there was a part of me was really raging and angry. I think my therapist even commented that I might be angry about the coming disruption. I hate it when she says ‘maybe you are angry’ because it’s one emotion that I am not very good at expressing and it’s only recently that I have noticed what the feeling is. My way of feeling and expressing anger up until very recently has been against myself: self harm and anorexia are the products of internalised anger!

Usually I say, ‘I’m not angry’  but when I think about it, yep, there is always a part of me that is and of course she is right. I think in part it’s the frustrated teen part who knows that it’s going to be her job to run the show and protect the little ones but there is a far darker more pervasive part, too, that steps up and that’s the inner critic. That voice is terrifying and scary but it has also acted as a protector (of sorts) over the years.

The problem with the sessions before breaks is that if I can’t hang on to adult then team ‘Fuck You’ turn up. They simultaneously want to fight and run. I know I sat for a very long time in silence in the session desperately hoping that my therapist would reach out to me. I know she tried repeatedly to find a way to connect with me but when I am like that she has no chance because the critic has me on lock down. The parts of me that crave closeness (mainly little ones) are imprisoned by the hard one.

At one point I could hear its voice saying, ‘Just leave. She doesn’t care about you. Fuck this. You don’t need her’. My therapist asked what was happening in my head and I finally said that a voice was telling me to leave. She asked why hadn’t left and I replied, ‘because that voice has even more power over me when I am not here’. And that is frightening for me. I told her that I knew that the moment I left the room it was going to be very difficult. She said ‘because there are things that need to be said?’ and I nodded.

To be clear, I have never attempted suicide and yet recently there have been several occasions where I have mentally planned out how many pills I would need to take to put an end to feeling this way. I don’t think I would ever act on the plan. Although I am writing this from a place of feeling ‘okish’ and I don’t think suicide attempts usually come from this place.

Ultimately, there are several reasons why I can’t see myself taking an overdose. First and foremost: I just will not do that to my kids. I know what it is like to lose a parent and I will never willingly put my children through that, or put them through a failed suicide attempt. Even when I looked, and often felt, like I was dying when I was going through chemo I drew on every last ounce of strength to keep it together and present an ‘I’m ok’ front for my kids.

My daughter still worries every time I have to go to the doctors, even if it is totally unrelated to the treatment. That’s a hell of a burden for a five year old to carry and I am not going to deliberately add to that. With my history of cancer and the heavy duty treatment regime I underwent it is not beyond the realms of possibility that I will get ill again, either through relapse or as a side effect of the treatment. One day I may not be here for them anyway so I will not take myself away from them through my own volition.

This time two years ago I was being radiated to my chest every day for three weeks. I had a two day break from radiotherapy over Christmas but by which time I couldn’t swallow anything that was in any way crunchy because my oesophagus was essentially microwaved and red raw. Christmas dinner was a disappointment!

As much as I don’t like to look back at what I went through then because I just find it totally overwhelming, I do have to remember that when I got diagnosed there was a part of me that was terrified and part of me that dug deep, really deep, and that’s what I have to do now.

I made it through, bone marrow biopsies, CT guided biopsies through my chest wall to reach the tumour, multiple PET and CT scans, several lung function tests, heart echo tests, oh, and don’t forget twelve chemotherapies and radiation!

The treatment stripped me back and my immune system is still knackered. Which is why I am almost always ill now. I lost all my hair. I knew I would lose the hair on my head but nothing quite prepares you for it coming out in your hand in huge clumps and blocking the plug hole as you shower.

Even when I made the choice to shave my head there was something about sitting in the salon watching my lovely long hair fall to the floor that was awful. I wasn’t prepared to lose my eye brows, my eye lashes, and ALL MY BODY HAIR. I am sure there are some women who would like to look like a nine year old downstairs – indeed I know many pay for the privilege, but I hated the whole thing.

So, what am I saying?

If I made it through all that and survived then I must survive what I am going through right now. I have to believe that things will get better. Experience tells me that it will be the case. Each time that I hit the deck emotionally and/or physically, there is something that picks me up or I, at least, navigate my way to a more secure space to catch my breath a bit.

Ok, I’m not soaring through the clouds by any means today, but the sense of feeling like I want to die isn’t there. It doesn’t ever last. It’s just an extreme response to some really difficult feelings. It’s almost as though I feel like I cannot hold the emotion and so the only way is out. But it’s not. The only way is to go through it and wait to come out the other side because it happens eventually.

I’ve said a few times when I have commented on other people’s blogs that I liken therapy and life to the story of Michael Rosen’s, We’re Going On A Bear Hunt. It’s a great young children’s book. A group of children set off on an adventure to find a bear and on the way they encounter several obstacles:

‘We’re going on a bear hunt. We’re going to catch a big one. What a beautiful day! We’re not scared.

Uh-Uh! A snowstorm! A swirling whirling snow storm. We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it! Oh no! We’ve got to go through it.’

And that’s how I see it. I journey through life on my ‘bear hunt’ and a lot of the time it is a ‘beautiful day’ and when things are good I don’t feel ‘scared’ at all. But then sometimes I am faced with obstacles, sometimes it’s ‘thick oozy mud’ and other times I am caught up in the ‘swirling whirling snowstorm’.

What I do know for sure is that the obstacles are all part of the journey and I can, and will, overcome each and every one that is thrown at me….ok, a cancer relapse may be a bit out of my control, but barring that I will keep going forward because there is always the chance of the beautiful day in between the challenges.

It’s all about trying to hang onto that knowledge when it feels bleak. It’s not at all easy because when things feel bad I suffer from optimism amnesia. Last Monday, in session, I was caught up in an emotional storm and part of me felt frozen. Actually, I did. I was physically stone cold. But what I mean is, the fear, or shame, or whatever it was made me freeze. In the moment I couldn’t find a way out of how bad it felt. It was impossible to imagine that things could ever feel better when I was locked in that headspace and I just couldn’t talk. So rather than run from it, I just sat with it.

I used to get really annoyed with myself when I would shutdown and freeze in session but my therapist is great (gush, I love her!) and is really working with me to notice when this happens and how it feels when I leave the window of tolerance…or as a friend and I joke ‘letterbox of tolerance’ (because that space is so narrow).

I used to feel like these responses: fight, flight, freeze were a barrier to the therapy but now I see that it is all part of it. Processing how it feels when I get to that place, not necessarily in the moment because it is not always possible, is important and bit by bit we are doing that.

We didn’t do the pebbles. We touched on them briefly and I said that I was feeling anxious and stressed about them. I can’t really remember what we said, actually. I know I said something about how it was difficult for me to express the need for them (or the message) and part of me was really attacking that part of me for being needy. I think my therapist asked me if I had any ideas what to put on them and said she’d had some ideas but didn’t elaborate on what they were. I think I just went so deep into my shell that we didn’t get anywhere with it.

On reflection I know what it is that has been bothering me about the pebbles. It’s fear. I am scared that she isn’t going to say what I feel I need her to. Above all, I want a message that comes from her, not one that I have crafted with her. I don’t want to help script the words. Essentially the message I am asking for/need is a demonstration of care on her part. I am asking her to prove that there is a connection in our relationship.

Sounds ok? Well, it did ought to be after all these years but there is a big part of me that is terrified that what she will write will prove something entirely different to me – a lack of care and connection. Part of me can’t bring myself to go through that. Part of me would sooner live in the hope that just maybe she cares rather than have my heart broken by her showing me in black and white that I don’t actually matter at all to her.

I totally get how dramatic that seems.

I felt a bit frustrated at the end of the session because the critic/(asshole protector) part had taken so much of the session and had side lined the little ones that needed holding and containment in preparation for the break. But my therapist told me that the part that had shown up in session was as valid as all the others, and had a place there. She acknowledged that it often shows up around breaks and disruptions and that she has a far clearer picture of it now….which I guess is a good thing.

Leaving the session felt pretty awful but actually this week hasn’t been too bad at all. I have been really really busy and really really ill. I haven’t had capacity to look inwards or think too much. I can feel there are some little ones feeling a bit upset and in need of a cuddle but generally they are coping ok.

At the beginning of this I said ‘Monday’s therapy session was supposed to hail the start of the therapy break’ and perhaps that’s why I am not in full blown meltdown about last session.

A few weeks ago my therapist offered me a session on Thursday 21st to see her (because she couldn’t do our regular Monday slot on the 18th). Usually she works in the NHS in the middle of the week but must have started her Christmas leave by then and so had a session slot available if I wanted it.

Of course I wanted it!…but I knew the moment she said it that it was going to be pretty much impossible. I went home to check but I knew my wife is in meetings that morning and wouldn’t be able to work from home. Both my kids are off school as of Wednesday and so as much as I would like to have cut the break down a bit by having that session it wasn’t going to happen. I considered Skype but to be honest it would have been a nightmare with a 3 year old and 5 year old tearing around.

Then I had an idea.

Is it wrong that I invited someone to come and stay for three days under the guise of a ‘Christmas get together/catch up’ because I knew they would be here to look after my kids on Thursday morning so I could go to therapy??!

I know.

This is not one of my proudest moments.

It’s also a time where I really hope that my therapist doesn’t read this blog! Because that’s a whole other level of crazy right?!

Don’t get me wrong I am very much looking forward to seeing my friend and spending some quality time with her and her son (my kids’ half brother) in the lead up to Christmas. I am excited about taking the kids out to do fun things together. I am looking forward to chatting and watching Christmas movies. But I won’t lie. I am fucking delighted that I can go to therapy on Thursday and have another stab at a decent, connecting session to get through the remainder of the break!

Right, I’m going to go hang my head in shame now before I go and see Father Christmas!

I am shining my weird light brightly today so the rest of you know where to find me! 😉

 

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