Grief (again): 10 Years On

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I’ve been wanting to something here all week but I haven’t felt able to. It’s not because I have been too busy to write (which is why I haven’t been blogging as much as I used to);  sure, I have been running about like a headless chicken, been ill, and been suffering the fall out of some tricky emotions stirred up in therapy last week, but really there’s nothing terribly new in any of that and I still usually find a way to put something on the page.

Arguably, this week, I have had a little more time on my hands than usual because I didn’t work yesterday (mind you I was very ill and even went completely blind for a few minutes so perhaps writing wasn’t really possible!) but still I haven’t been able to find words. I am floundering about now. I can feel it. The feelings are so there but the words just aren’t. It’s like being in therapy on a dissociated day- ffs!

I think it’s maybe the topic that’s the problem.

Grief.

This is not the first time I have written about grief. When my friend died after battling with myeloma last year I posted something, and when my dog died I even rattled a piece off. Both those times the grief was acute and immediate. The feelings were there, fresh, and I could tap into them, skim off the surface if you like. It’s different today.

I suppose, in reality, you could argue that most of my blog talks about grief in one way or another. Essentially, the majority of my work in therapy comes down to grieving losses: sometimes it’s the death of a loved one; sometimes it’s the loss of the image I had of who I might become before I got cancer; but mainly, week in week out, it’s steadily grieving the loss of a mother (my mother as well as the concept of the ideal mother) that I never had. The mother wound is going to take years to get over and heal. I know this.

But this post isn’t about grieving mother (although my next post most certainly will be after the internal shit storm that has blown up after my session this week!). No. Today this is all about the grief surrounding my biggest unexpected loss, my biggest tangible emotional trauma (in the eyes of a normal person – i.e an actual bereavement), the one that still gives me nightmares and accounts of some of the PTSD.

This is about the loss of my dad who throughout my life did his very best to be both mother and father to me. The one who tried to prevent the mother wound being too big, too gaping, too devastating. I suppose, given how bad things are it didn’t really work, but he gave it a damn good go!

I’ve been just about holding it together with my trusty rubber bands and chewing gum this week knowing that today was coming. It’s been a dire week in many ways. I’ve been ready to chuck in the therapy towel because I feel so stuck, so unseen, and so uncared for. I’ve been cycling through various emotions but mainly the two stand out ones are anger and devastation. But I suspect that this is in part because my feelings around my dad’s death were bubbling away underneath and manifesting in that way…I guess I’ll know more after Monday!

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So grief.

It’s really just another word we use for a response to trauma isn’t it?

And trauma is weird isn’t it? (‘weird’ – oh so bloody articulate!)

I know well enough that the trauma I am trying to process from my childhood has a kind of timeless quality. Or rather, my brain can’t readily distinguish between current trauma and past trauma. In therapy, I can be plunged headlong into the feelings I had as a young kid. I lose sense of my adult self and am right back in the moment – even if it was thirty plus years ago. My body remembers.

A similar thing has happened this week and today so far as where in time I feel. Part of me is certainly here in 2018 but part of me is stuck back in 2008 and of course others are further back in my childhood. The parts are all over the place!

Today marks ten years since I received the call that my dad had been found dead in his room by his friend whilst holidaying/teaching diving on a remote island abroad. He’d only been gone three days, literally just arrived there after two flights and a boat ride and had died in his sleep on the first night. He was 47 years old. Massive heart attack.

Even now, despite having had a decade to process this loss. I still can’t fully get my head round it.

Part of it is because I still can’t believe it. I think he’s still there having the time of his life doing what he loved. I know exactly where he was having been on holiday there myself twice with him.

I never saw his body. Not that I think I would have wanted to. He was cremated abroad not in the UK.

It’s complicated but essentially it all came down to the fact that had we have had his body flown back to the UK we would not have automatically got the body released for burial/cremation. A second post-mortem would have been needed and the pathologists over here said that given the body had been in 40 degree heat for over a week before it was moved to the mainland for a post mortem it would not be pleasant for us. We wouldn’t actually want to see the body. We were warned. It wouldn’t be him. Add to that a potential wait of six months for the body to be released to us there wasn’t really very much choice.

So, in the end, I only received a box of ashes and his dive gear a month after he died. The insurance company flew his stuff home to a local undertakers and the undertaker left the stuff out on his driveway for me to pick up as he had gone out. Imagine that. Your dad dies suddenly, you have no goodbye, and you receive a box of ashes and a bag of dive gear from a block paved driveway.

I still can’t even believe it.

How can that be? How can the person that was my rock and anchor be gone, and not only that, suddenly just become some ‘remains’ to be boxed and left outside? I can’t even … ugh.

I miss him.

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It’s weird too. Like, literally, just now I checked my emails on my phone and I have received an email from PADI about diving in Thailand. Like what are the odds? I maybe get a PADI email once a month, perhaps not even, and yet this morning I get one about diving in Thailand on the day my dad died about the place he was set to teach diving for a month. It’s weird how the universe communicates with us.

Actually I can’t talk any more about this today because this was only the beginning  of the trauma that kicked off with my family and led to an eight year estrangement and a complete mental breakdown. I thought writing might help but actually it’s just making it worse today. It’s too raw.

I know I am not especially coherent.

Today I need to take things slowly. I need to rest. I am very aware that I have one foot in the now but also one foot back in the past. I don’t want to be grumpy or short with my family and I’d like to find a way of celebrating his life rather than getting consumed by the horror and the grief of that time a decade ago.

There’s another problem with ‘old’ grief, too…people don’t really get it. They can’t understand why I could be as upset today as I was ten years ago when I found out the news. They can’t understand why I feel sick and need to cry and wail…

But that’s trauma isn’t it? It transcends time.

 

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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

Skype Session #2

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I wonder if I am just really rubbish at managing my time or if life is just taking the piss out of me right now? Finding time in my week to write is proving really difficult and so I’m not doing very well with keeping up to date with my blog at the moment. I know it’s not exactly a priority task, it can wait (of course it can), but actually this page has proven a very useful outlet and so I resent not being able to write. I have loads I want to say – but who knows when I will actually get round to writing it all down?

More often than not, I don’t even get to the ‘sitting down to write’ stage. This week has just been unrelenting. The level of stress and anxiety I have been under has been hideous and whilst I have longed for an hour to myself to be able to sit, splurge, and get it all out (the therapy stuff), the opportunity hasn’t presented itself until now.  Having said that, I am glad that I spent a bit of time writing to my teen midweek as things were/are pretty dire inside.

Frankly, it’ll be some kind of miracle if this post gets finished before I leave for my session tomorrow. I am so tired and overwrought that my brain just won’t work quite as it usually does.

Tomorrow is Monday and whilst I don’t necessarily want to write a blog post about every session I have – frankly that’d be dull as shit most of the time:

It started off fine; something happened and I got upset; my body reacted –numb/shaking; I dissociated; I couldn’t talk; child/teen felt distressed, critic dropped by; managed to talk a bit in last ten minutes; did/did not feel connected at end of session! Went home and brooded all week…attachment pain hell.

(Honestly, I really don’t need to any write new posts after that, do I? I can just keep posting that paragraph over and over! Time problems and blog writing issue solved – yay!)

Seriously though, I do want to keep myself in some kind of sensible chronology with these posts. i.e if there’s a session I want to talk about then I did ought to try and write about it before the next session comes along and shunts it into the half-remembered place in my brain where everything gets even more scrambled.

Right so, onwards to the ‘post’ – 400 words in and I’ve not said a thing yet. Is this procrastination or just an over-tired semi-manic state? Both probably.

This time last week I was stuck here writing about what to do about my session, knowing I couldn’t make it in person because my kids had been sick. In fact I was still stuck at 8:30am on Monday morning – the last moment I had to cancel or ask for a Skype session. The internal conflict was still going strong but in the end I did ask to do a session by Skype because I felt that I’d probably have a meltdown midweek if I passed up the opportunity to talk….turns out I had a spectacular meltdown even with the session, though. Ugh!

Once I decided that Skype was what I wanted to do I ….prepared for my session by thinking about what I wanted to say cleaned the house! (I’m not sure strike through always shows up on the WordPress reader so for those of you who are on it I DID NOT SPEND TIME thinking about my session until two minutes before I dialled in but blitzed my house instead!)

So yeah, by 10:28am the house was lovely and tidy: I’d hoovered, steam mopped the floors, cleaned the kitchen and bathrooms, dusted, cleaned mirrors, watered the plants, etc. I know. That’s fucking mental isn’t it?! Like seriously, the camera on the laptop probably gives a square metre of visibility and the place that I sat on the sofa in my dining room had received no special attention at all- but for some reason it seemed completely sensible to run round the house like a headless chicken/possessed domestic goddess/Cinderella creature and clean, clean, clean!

I don’t know if it was avoidance or what. I left myself just enough time to get showered and dressed before plonking myself on the couch and scribbling some very last minute prompts on some post it notes…something I had been meaning to all week (the notes, not the shower!)

Things have been a bit (a lot) difficult since coming back after the Christmas therapy break. The rupture that happened over the exchange of a couple of texts which led to me feel even more abandoned and rejected than usual hasn’t been repaired yet. We’ve made inroads into discussing what happened and, had I have had a face-to-face session last Monday, I knew there were things I absolutely needed to bring up and work though – even though it would be excruciating.

Sitting staring at the screen I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to bring those things up via Skype. Part of me thought that knowing that I tend to remain in a more adult headspace via Skype might allow me to speak more freely and tackle the difficult stuff because it would be unlikely that I’d switch into a young trauma part. On the other hand, not being in the room with my therapist might make it feel even more difficult to bring up some of the stuff that was hurting me still because the sense of connection would feel more stretched.

With a couple of minutes remaining before the session I wrote some questions/prompts (I’ve since tidied them up as the initial ones were barely legible and non-sensical) and stuck them round the edge of my laptop screen:

  • Last week I started crying when you moved and sat closer to me to do the migraine exercise. Can we talk about what happened and think about our proximity to one another?
  • You said in the first session back that you felt that my texts at Christmas were me trying to script you to say something, and that you wouldn’t do that because it wouldn’t have helped if you’d have said exactly what I’d have wanted – why then have you asked me so many times about what I might want you to write on the pebbles?
  • In September it was you that suggested writing me a note for on breaks. It/the pebbles haven’t happened and the break was dire. Can we work on this please?
  • You said something about not colluding with the child part that wants to be held because we can’t recreate what that part needs and the time has passed for that. I understand that but it felt like you were saying that working with the child parts explicitly is a no go – is this what you were saying?
  • When I dissociate I often end up stuck in a very young child part and it is really traumatised. When you sit and wait for me to say something I can’t, the adult part is offline, but your stillness makes it feel like the still face exercise* and it is agony. How can we work round this?

Anyway, I was all prepped and ready to go… and those post-it notes did not get a look in! Sigh! It’s almost comical isn’t it?!

Actually, the session was good despite my not bring up ANY of that stuff. To be honest just talking about how ill my kids and I had been; how exhausted and drained I have felt; how worried I am about my wife’s skin cancer; and a bunch of other things about my mum was what I needed. I just needed someone to listen to me about my life in the here and now – the hard stuff that is going on for me the adult and how some of it is triggering stuff for the young parts.

My therapist asked how I felt about Skype. I said that it felt different and like the session was really bad timing given where we were at right now, and that I felt like all the stuff that was bothering me was on hold. She acknowledged that it felt different, that there had been a lot that had come up recently in the therapy, how difficult breaks are, and that she hoped we could come back to that material and work through it together when I am ready.

So yeah, it wasn’t like we completely ignored the ‘therapeutic relationship’ stuff. We just didn’t dive right in. My therapist said she thought that given everything that was going on in my life right now it might be a good thing to have the lighter sort of session. I agree.

I spoke a lot about my mum – which actually doesn’t happen all that often. She’d gone off on holiday and hadn’t told me when she was going or where she was going. This is unusual. I usually get some kind of text as they are in the airport departure lounge and so it stuck me a couple of weeks ago that perhaps she was gone but hadn’t contacted me to let me know. This triggered all sorts of panic in me. No joke.

Firstly, I like to know when she is gone/due back and a brief itinerary of her whereabouts, travel insurance details because my dad died abroad whilst on holiday and it fell to me to liaise with the travel insurance company to get his body moved from a remote Thai island to Bangkok, to arrange his cremation, and then for his ashes and belongings to be flown home to the UK. I literally have panic attacks thinking about that month in 2008 and whilst I doubt very much my mum is going to die abroad, I’d at least like to know where she was if that did happen.

Anyway, then I started to get into an anxious spiral. Why did she leave without telling me? Had something happened and she’s in a mood with me? Cue all the young parts in terror. ‘What could I have done to annoy her? Why is she mad? Why is she withholding? What if she’s stumbled across this blog?’ And other totally irrational thoughts. The parallels between this and how things have been in therapy with my therapist are not lost on me!

I sent a couple of emails to my mum but knew she wouldn’t have her phone set up where she was going. Eventually on Wednesday she text me and then we spoke on the phone. NOTHING WRONG AT ALL. She’d had a great holiday and had been back a few days…

Panic over.

The thing is, she has no idea that a change in the pattern of our communications basically sent me over the edge into full blown anxiety. Whilst I clearly am not massively close to my mum our relationship has come on a very long way since my teens. I am processing a lot in therapy. I am both angry and disappointed that what I had growing up was lacking and has, in part, caused me such relational difficulties.

I wish I felt loved by mum, or the little girl part longs for that still – hence the mess in therapy with my therapist. That part so desperately wants to feel loved and is attached to my therapist now. My adult understands that my mum did her best, it just wasn’t quite enough. I understand that how she demonstrates care and love is not through the more regular channels of affirmations and holding.

The thought of what we have built up now being eroded because of her finding this blog was horrendous. I don’t want to hurt her. It’s not like anything I write isn’t true. It’s just that the adult part of me is learning to settle for what I do have now, and I appreciate the relationship that I have with her as her adult child. This blog, and my therapy, are about processing the pain of my childhood. So it’s tricky. I couldn’t bear to lose what I have now even though it is not quite enough for the young parts.

Anyway, I’ve gone off on tangent there. What a surprise! Ha.

So, yeah, the therapy session via Skype was good. It felt connecting. I think, in part, this is also down to the sense of proximity. That might sounds bonkers given that we were clearly 30 miles apart and communicating through a screen. But what is different in Skype is how much closer to me my therapist feels – i.e her face is closer to the screen and so she appears closer to me than when she is in her chair.

This is what I had sort of discovered with her moving closer to me in the previous session and why I really want to work on getting the chairs right now. It seems like such a small thing, but I think it could make a huge difference. I just need to pluck up the courage to talk about it ‘please sit closer to me!’ Knowing me I’ll just hand over the post-its and go from there! Lol.

Just before the end of the session I took my laptop into my living room and showed my therapist my, now, nearly six year old daughter and they had a little chat together. It was lovely. The last time my therapist saw my daughter she was 15 months old. She used to come to my therapy sessions as I started psychotherapy on the NHS when she was a month old and I was breastfeeding and didn’t have childcare.

My therapist said some lovely things about my daughter and how I was doing a really good job with her (of course I rebuffed that with a sarcastic comment – but I did feel happy inside!) then it was time to go.

It was a good session.

Sadly the rest of the week since then has been complete shit. I won’t go into it now…it’s a whole other post….when I get round to it! Just suffice to say, I thought I was at bottom a couple of weeks ago. Turns out there was a trap door. Ffs.

Anyway, that’s that. Wish me luck tomorrow!

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C is for…

Cancer.

Well, I guess I should’ve seen that coming on Friday. Another session where I didn’t even allude to the break or mention anything to do with the therapeutic relationship. It still felt like I was trying to work out whether she (my therapist) can still be trusted with the vulnerable child parts and until that happens I won’t be able to talk about any of their concerns and fears.

It wasn’t a completely wasted session by any means. I didn’t revert into the super-guarded, silent Gatekeeper which sometimes happens and The Teenager didn’t show up, either. She’s got no reason to be angry right now because the little ones haven’t come to session yet. In fact, the last two sessions have seen me remain firmly in my adult. I have talked plenty and got a lot off my chest. It has been helpful. I am aware, though, that if I don’t start talking soon about the child parts and those feelings then there will be a nightmare internal storm to deal with. I need to avoid that as I don’t have the energy to cope right now.

Anyway, I very rarely bring ‘cancer’ to session (sometimes if I have a consultant appointment but not always) and yet it’s something that completely saturates my life and is part of the reason I found myself back in the therapy chair in the first place. Since being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in March 2015 my life, my body, and especially my head, have been sent into a bit of a tailspin.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I was misdiagnosed for at least two years before finally getting the correct diagnosis and treatment. My repeated trips to the GP never resulted in a blood test (which would have shown the markers….it’s a frigging blood cancer ffs!). Unfortunately, I think when you’ve had mental health issues and it’s on your record, sometimes doctors then see you through a different lens and treat you slightly differently than they otherwise would. It shouldn’t happen but it does. I think younger people (I literally had just had my 32nd birthday when I was diagnosed) also get overlooked when presenting with classic cancer symptoms. I was just too young… even though it is a ‘young person’s cancer’!

Everything I went and presented to the GP with was fired back at me with a logical explanation. I was complaining of unbelievable fatigue: ‘you have a young child and are pregnant with another, it’s bound to be more exhausting than the first time round and it’s little wonder you feel low’; drenching night sweats: ‘you’ve been breastfeeding and are pregnant now, it’s your hormones’; an itchy rash that actually covered my massive mediastinal tumour site (15x8x6cm) ‘it’s eczema’; a funny whistling noise when I breathed (stridor) ‘your chest sounds clear’ (yes! That’s because it’s not in my lungs, it’s the pressure of the tumour pressing on my windpipe and stopping proper airflow) and it was like this for pretty much two years.

I stopped going to the doctor in the end and just assumed that feeling like I was dying,  and being so tired I was crying everyday by the time my wife came home was part and parcel of having a toddler and a newborn baby. I ended up thinking that maybe it was post-natal depression…nope, it wasn’t.

It wasn’t until a lump/swelling came up just above my breast through my ribcage at the same time as a pea-sized lump above my clavicle that I was finally taken seriously. I got an emergency appointment and saw a locum doctor who basically felt my lymph nodes and said, ‘well, it’s one of two things, you’ve either got TB or Lymphoma. I’ll take blood now’. Err what? You know it’s not good when the doctor starts taking blood rather than sending you to wait for a nurse appointment. I knew TB wasn’t ideal and the treatment was nasty but it was unlikely given I had had the BCG when they still gave it in schools. I had no idea what Lymphoma even was. Never heard of it, like most people. Must be treatable with antibiotics right? I kind of went into denial at that point and went home.

A day later I was called into surgery to see my GP (should have set alarm bells ringing, fast track results and an immediate appointment!). We were en route to a family day out at a theme park and so I said ‘we’ll just pop in quickly and then carry on.’ WHAT THE FUCK?! Again, it just didn’t occur to me that something serious was going on. It couldn’t possibly be something bad. So me, my wife, and my two children (my daughter just three, and son 6 months) bundled in in the way that young families do: changing bags, toys, snacks, general chaos and sat down.

I could tell immediately that things weren’t right because the doctor was doing her best ‘serious and concerned’ face and put on the ‘caring and gentle’ voice. Shit. This is not going to be good. I can’t really remember what she said now. I think from that point everything became a blur. But she essentially told me my blood tests indicated I had malignant blood cancer and that I needed to go to the hospital immediately to get a chest x-ray.

From there on out it got really really bad, I had a huge tumour and needed immediate treatment as the tumour was so fast growing and I was struggling to swallow and breathe. So, then it was straight into the IV 12 chemo doses (a session every two weeks – ugh!) that made me feel like I was dying (and wanted to die) followed by 15 sessions of radiotherapy. I lost my hair, my eye brows, and my already fragile sense of self-esteem. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

IT WAS HELL.

So, flash forward to 2017 nearly two years since last chemo and yeah, I am still here (whoop!) but essentially traumatised by the whole experience. Sadly, lots of people seem to think that when you are out the other side of treatment and have survived, that suddenly everything is fine again and will magically go back to normal. It just doesn’t work like that. I wish it did. I wish I could wake up and it had never happened or was just a nightmare but it’s not, everything has changed. I’m not a completely different person but my experience has shaped me in a way that I will never be as I was again….and in fairness it wasn’t great before. It’s just I have even more to carry now.

This change in me is frustrating for loved ones who have been cheerleading me through treatment and can’t understand why now that it’s all over and I have beaten the cancer that I am so overcome with sadness, depression, anxiety, fear etc etc. I ‘should be happy to be alive’ which of course I am but I am also devastated by all that’s happened. During treatment there is no time to take in what is going on, it’s all about survival but when it’s over the reality of the situation hits and that’s when everyone else has moved on from it.

Imagine how terrifying it is to think you could leave your babies behind and they would be too young to even remember you? It’s hard to be happy when you know that there’s a good chance that this cancer will relapse or if it’s not this cancer that kills you, then it’ll be another one because the effects of chemo and radiotherapy damage the system so much. I’ve been bought time, which I am unbelievably grateful for, particularly as two of my very best friends are currently battling terminal diagnoses but it’s still shit, really shit.

I had a kind of hospital phobia before my treatment. I hate the smell of hospitals – I want to puke every time I walk in the door. Part of it stems from when my aunt was involved in a huge RTA when I was six years old and she ended up in ITU. The wisdom of my parents was amazing (idiots!) and they took me to see her almost immediately following the accident and all the surgery she had had to have to piece her back together. I have never been able to get that image out of my mind. I was utterly terrified as I sat in the chair trying not to look at her.

So yeah, since having chemo that hospital phobia is now a million times worse and I have to go back to the unit every three months for follow ups. Every time I go I feel as though I am right back in the thick of it all. It’s awful. It’s like having PTSD and then deliberately sending yourself back to the trauma site over and over. The NHS needs to wake up to this.

No one really understands what it’s like or wants to hear about it…..but my therapist does, and she said absolutely all the right things on Friday morning in session. She made me feel validated and accepted and a little bit less frightened. And that, my friends, is why I love her, and why I will probably be able to go into session on Monday and talk about the break.

 

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