Letter to my seventeen year old self.

Dear Seventeen,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think?

Sending you so much love,

X

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Don’t worry about it until it happens…

Don’t worry about it until it happens.

I am frequently on the receiving end of this nugget of advice. Clearly it’s well-intended and generally comes from an oracle who is extremely blessed not to struggle with anxiety or, indeed, any form of mental health difficulty (my wife)! Maybe she’s right. There is little point in getting wound up about things that are completely beyond my control and worrying about an eventuality that may actually may never happen- but just going on my experience, quite a lot of what I worry about seems to end up happening somewhere down the line!

I saw this on Pinterest earlier:

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And whilst I completely get the sentiment, my reaction to it was, ‘well it always rains sooner or later so surely that’s just being prepared!’

I can’t tell you how much I’d love to be able to live in the moment and not have every one of my internal cogs working double time, under huge strain, formulating ‘what ifs’ but that’s just not how I am built. I stress about the past. I stress about the here and now. I stress (a lot) about the future.

Anxiety is exhausting.

I fret a lot. I know that I think about things too much. My sprouting grey hairs are telling me that if I needed evidence! I sometimes wonder if the saying ‘ignorance is bliss’ is really true. I never really switch off and find it almost impossible to relax… it’s hard work being me. That’s not a cry for sympathy, it’s just an acknowledgement that running on turbo charge takes its toll after a while. It’s not sustainable.

I keep myself very busy (avoidance tactics) and then periodically end up burning out and drowning in whatever it is I am running from. The problem with the ‘busy’ tactic is that the stuff that I am avoiding is still draining energy somewhere in the background. If I were a smart meter there’d be a level of energy drain that is persistent and continual. It’d be a really good idea to unplug those energy guzzling elements but I have no idea what is plugged in or where in the house those items are located (that’s what therapy is about). So instead of conserving energy, knowing that there is this continual drain, in my frustration I just overload the system and plug in some bigger items so that the underlying stuff is just a buzz in the background.

I’m not sure about that analogy. It made sense to me when I thought of it!

Over the years I have tried all sorts to switch off, calm down, relax…and not much has been effective. I can be in a really tranquil spot alone and still my brain whirrs. I have repeatedly tried guided meditations and my brain fights against it and starts compiling shopping lists or suchlike midway through. I’ve tried visualisations in therapy and whilst my brain can take me to snow capped mountains or gorgeous beaches my body has other ideas. It’s always on edge. I’ve tried body based therapies such as craniosacral therapy (love this but more the therapist than the process!) and reflexology. I’ve been for massages. Done deep breathing. I’ve exercised. You name it, over the years I have tried all sorts.

The hypervigilant, anxious, part of me so far has proven stronger than whatever I have thrown at it…. and I am beginning to wonder if it’s because somewhere deep down I know that those bits are still needed as somewhat unlikely protectors. If I dare to relax too much then when something bad happens I won’t cope because I won’t be ready for it.

Since my dad died I have been especially on guard and that was heightened even more after my cancer diagnosis. I’ve been stressing out for the last month (have you noticed?!) and whilst a lot of it is clearly based in the attachment stuff that gets thrown into sharper focus on therapy breaks (and subsequent ruptures with my therapist – sigh), none of this has been helped by the continual worry about hospital check ups and never being able to rest easy with my health.

I see my consultant every three months for a follow up to check I’m still in remission. For about half of that three months I feel passable, i.e I just about hang tight to the knowledge that my body is on my side at the moment – but as the appointment draws nearer the sense of panic sets in, sleep deteriorates, and I am cranky as hell. What if I’m not ok? What if my bloods show something? What the hell would I do if I get bad news? What about the kids?

It all starts to swirl in my head. The memories of undergoing treatment edge towards the front of my mind and I get increasingly worked up. Again, logically there’s no point in worrying about something that might not happen…but then at the same time I know there is a fairly strong possibility of things going wrong within the next few years for me. It’s just how it is. My original treatment was ‘kill or cure’ and because I know that, I am almost unbearable to live with the week leading into my appointment.

It’s been especially bad this time round because I have been ill with a cough/cold/flu thing on and off since September and I just can’t shift it. I have no energy at all. I wiped the kitchen surfaces down today and it totally wiped me out. I wish that was a joke. It makes me nervous because I was heavily radiated to my chest following chemo and I know that a potential problem in the future is lung damage and possible cancer. Great.

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Anyway, I went to hospital with my game face on and the appointment was ok. I got a really good prod and poke and there’s no need to worry right now. The doctor was satisfied with me…apart from my weight…but that’s nothing to do with cancer is it?

My wife was right (on this occasion). My bloods are as they were – no change. They’re still not perfect, i.e infection fighting capacity is rubbish, but there were no markers for cancer. Good. I went and had a chest x-ray done to check there’s nothing untoward going on in my chest and I’ll hear back about that next week.

So that’s all good. Last night I slept a little easier.

Perhaps that should be a lesson in not worrying. But I do worry. Because as I said, there usually is something lying in wait round the corner ready to shit on you. My friend getting myeloma and dying when her treatment failed was heart breaking. How is that even real???? And today, my wife has been fast-track referred on the two week cancer pathway to dermatology as she has several confirmed skin cancer lesions by the GP. So, there we go.

I was right to ‘worry’ about the ‘dry skin’ patches and nag and nag for her to go to the doctor after months of her saying it was fine. Fucking healthcare professionals are the absolute worst at looking after themselves.

She’ll be ok. She is brave. She might have to have her face dug out and/or radiated but she’ll be ok….won’t she? She has to be.

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So yeah, that’s some what’s going on here.

I’ve also got a therapy post to write at some point having seen both my therapist and the other one again last week – but right now I feel a bit overwhelmed and can’t even deal with thinking about what last week’s sessions were like or, indeed, what therapy will be like this coming Monday.

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

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

 

 

 

‘Breathe Me’…when things fall apart.

*I wrote the bulk of this post over the course of the day yesterday. I can totally see how the tone/mood of this post fluctuates as I go through it which highlights to me just how up and down my emotions are at the moment. Ugh. I’m so bored of feeling like I am on an emotional rollercoaster.

*

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Help, I have done it again
I have been here many times before
Hurt myself again today
And the worst part is there’s no one else to blame

Be my friend, hold me
Wrap me up, unfold me
I am small, I’m needy
Warm me up and breathe me

Ouch, I have lost myself again
Lost myself and I am nowhere to be found
Yeah, I think that I might break
Lost myself again and I feel unsafe

(Sia -Breathe Me)

*

It’s one of ‘those’ days again (although I fear this may not just be a 24 hour thing). You know how it is-  you wake up physically exhausted and emotionally…fucked.

Today I feel everything and nothing all at once. Somewhere inside I am overwhelmed and terrified but externally I am NUMB. I am here but I am not here at the same time. I’m both in my body and not in it. Part of me is a spectator and part of me is long gone.

Actually, it reminds me of some of the lines in Romeo’s oxymoronic speech, where he’s out of sorts and lovesick at the beginning of Romeo and Juliet:

O heavy lightness, serious vanity,
Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms!
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health,
Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!

Opposing forces are violently clashing together creating one very uncomfortable conflicted state. I don’t really need to resort to Shakespeare to know that basically I feel like total shit today!

I’ve known it was coming, this… what is it? Depression? Probably. This feeling, place, space, whatever you want to call it, has been lingering just on the edge of my peripheral vision for a few months now, quietly stalking me. I’ve felt its presence but I have been coping, or surviving, or somehow evading it – to an extent. Something like that. I don’t know, really. My brain is so fuzzy….. and yet, oddly, strangely clear. I’m a complete contradiction today which probably won’t make for an easy read. Sorry!

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Maybe today’s feeling is simply depression BUT I feel pretty low most of the time and I think ‘depressed’ is essentially my normal. It’s hard to say what this is. This ‘something’ is more, it’s deeper, more saturating somehow … it’s like I’ve been running and running and running for such a long time and today through sheer fatigue and exhaustion I’ve finally tripped and fallen. FLAT. ON. MY. FACE.

I feel like I’m face down in the mud, a thick fog has moved in along with the darkness and I am stone cold and shivering. I am so desperately lost. There’s a part of me wants to be found, picked up and held (probably the child) and a part of me just wants to lie here and give into it – stop fighting against ‘it’ and myself (the exhausted adult). I’m done.

Today it feels like I’ve finally given up hoping that there is someone to rescue me from myself…because there isn’t. There never has been. I’ve got to do it for myself and the little ones inside, but I just haven’t got the first idea how to achieve ‘recovery’ right now. Nothing I do works. I always just teeter along the edge- surviving, desperately clinging on. Part of me is losing hope. Has lost it, maybe. I just cannot do it.

Is this just capital letters DEPRESSION rather than lowercase depression? Is what I am feeling just the bigger, badder version of what I’m used to living with day to day? Is this the one that signals a proper breakdown- again? The entity I am always terrified of meeting after the last collision that sent everything so far off track I never thought I’d find the path back to the road again?  I just don’t know. I literally can’t make sense of it right now. All I know is I just feel it and it is horrid. I am scared.

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What am I meant to do when it’s like this? Dig even deeper? Keep going? Hang on tight? Hide? Stop? Ask for help?- who from? Who can understand this or help fix it? Who wouldn’t run in the opposite direction if they saw the reality of what I am carrying inside myself?

I know from experience that letting people see even a hint of this stuff doesn’t work out well. It doesn’t suit other people’s agendas. I am not meant to be like this. This is not who I am (apparently). I am the one with the plan. The glue that holds the pieces together. I am reliable. I am solid. I am a safe pair of hands. NOT TODAY I’M NOT.

It is inconvenient when I act like a ‘victim’ and ‘broken‘. Let’s face it, I’ve already put everyone through enough with the cancer diagnosis and treatment….we don’t need another breakdown on top that.

Surely I should be jumping up and down for joy having survived something that could very easily have killed me? Yes, of course I am. But I am so tired now. I have had enough of battling. I am strong but, fuck, I am so exhausted. I have nothing left.

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Part of me just wants to reach for a razor blade and cut – to stop feeling and to feel. I will try not to act on that thought. I made a promise to myself in April but right now I ‘have lost myself again and I’m unsafe’. It’s easy to keep promises when things are ok, it’s much harder to keep them when things feel like they are falling apart.

*

I’ve talked about my internal soundtrack thing a few times in various posts, and about how important music is to me. Well Sia’s Breathe Me (YouTube link at the bottom of this post) is what’s inside today on loop. Strangely, I hadn’t heard it before until yesterday night – I know, I’m very late to the party on this one I think! Sometimes I hear a song and I know it’s one that’s going to stay with me for a long time, not just some passing thing on the radio.

Something about this song, the music and the lyrics, as well as her voice just really resonates with me right now. It basically is how I feel… which is both comforting and terrifying. It’s offering me a sort of outlet and yet, perhaps this is the last thing I should be repeating internally or listening to (although that’s not really how it works, there’s no choice, it just plays in my head regardless). Perhaps I need to try and find something uplifting rather than something that accurately conveys how I feel in this moment?

How the hell did I end up here again?

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I had my therapy session yesterday and today is Tuesday which is usually when the therapy hangover starts or, perhaps, the therapy/therapist withdrawal symptoms begin. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised by how I feel right now given how things have been lately post-therapy session….i.e dreadful.

So, to yesterday’s session then! Because I still sound like someone with a serious smoking habit, when I sat down I spoke about how bad I have felt physically in the last week and how ‘tired’ I have been. I spoke about how last Tuesday my lungs had decided to give up and I spent the week wiped out.

My therapist asked how it’d been emotionally, ‘rubbish’ I said. She said it sounded like there’d been a ‘double-whammy’ of difficulty and acknowledged how Tuesdays can be emotionally hard for me anyway… let’s not forget to mention Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday though eh?!

I suppose in all of this dark pit of despair/nothingness/ugh/yuck I need to remember that I have been really unwell for a couple of weeks now and it’s really taken it out of me. Perhaps this emotional flat-lining is feeling so much worse because my physical stores are so depleted. I know I talked in my last post Why does physical illness always go hand in hand with a mental health crash? about how aware I was of my little ones feeling activated, distressed, terrified, emotionally unanchored and totally overcome by it all.

Maybe how I feel now is just an extension of all that that was going on last week? I don’t know. I really struggled to talk about how things had been emotionally last week, in session, yesterday. I could say how physically ill I had been but not how bad things had been in my head. I couldn’t say exactly what the problem was.

I’m guessing my therapist can probably work out that my silences or avoiding her questions have something to do with the vulnerable child parts and the feelings that come up in relation to her, and my adult feeling really exposed, ashamed, and embarrassed about the whole thing. But who knows?

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I felt strangely calm in the room yesterday (even though there was a new sofa and a view change). Usually, I am agitated or anxious or some other uncomfortable mixture of feelings and we’ve spent ages trying to work out how to make me feel safe in the room in order for me to be able to talk rather than freeze -hence the visualisation stuff. Ugh.

I think part of the reason I felt more settled yesterday was because I had been down to the beach before the session and picked out some pebbles to write the ‘holding message’ we’re going to work on on. The sea was calm and still and the beach was empty. I would have liked to have stayed longer, actually.

Once I’d decided on the actual ‘therapy pebbles’, I spent some time writing some of my feelings and things I struggle to say in therapy on some other pebbles and then threw them into the sea which was quite cathartic.  I’m just hoping they don’t wash back up with the tide! ha!

I guess my beach visit was, in some way, me being proactive about trying to fix the situation that I’d, yet again, found myself in during the week. I can’t go on repeatedly feeling so disconnected and rotten in the week because I can’t hold onto the sense of my therapist being there. I can’t keep hitting that place where I doubt the relationship and then steadily dismantle any sense of security and trust in her because I think she’s gone or that she is going to hurt me. Something has to change before I go completely mad and the little ones destroy me. It sounds dramatic but that is how it feels.

Because I felt ok in the moment, in session, I found it hard to connect with how bad I had felt during the week when I was actually with her in person. I was almost too removed from all that horrible, painful, aching attachment stuff to be able to talk about it…or at least that’s what I thought at the time.

It’s hard to talk about how much you miss someone when they are sitting in the same room with you because you don’t miss them then, do you? It’s also hard to talk about the child’s emotions when you are sitting in adult. I mean, really, I still cringe even writing this. Why does she matter to me so much? How can a relationship that takes up 50 minutes of my week have such a massive impact outside that time?

I feel like such an idiot for getting attached to someone who really couldn’t care less about me. It’s ironic that I have spent my whole life being on guard in order to avoid getting hurt and pouring salt in already gaping wounds, and yet somehow find myself in a situation that mirrors the relationship I have with my mum. The therapeutic relationship stirs up all that pain and anxiety all over again. I know it’s transference. Great. But what do I do with that? The feelings are real and the pain is palpable.

I hate the distance between us because I read it as lack of care, and actually worse, that there is something fundamentally wrong with me that makes my therapist keep her distance. I hate never knowing where I am. I hate feeling insecure. I hate feeling like I am not good enough and that I have no power in the relationship.

Ultimately it doesn’t matter if I fall apart in the week because outside of that 50 minutes she doesn’t want to know, and that’s fine because she is just my therapist. I know that! But in so many ways what is happening feels so damaging, so re-traumatising. I don’t feel like I am repairing I just feel like I am reliving, or re-enacting the pain of the past in the here and now. I’m stuck in it and it’s awful.

Really all I want is to feel safe and secure in the relationship between sessions and have some sense that I am not too much, but that’s not how I feel. When it’s all going off in my head I can’t find a way out of it and it just spirals into something utterly horrendous. All the fear of abandonment stuff and attachment stuff has so much power once it’s in full flow. Sometimes I can feel myself starting to wobble and all I want to do is check in, ‘are we still ok?’ or ‘I feel like you’ve gone, are you still there?’ , get some reassurance before it all gets too bad, and yet I can’t do it. Well, I could but there’s no point because she won’t reply.

I hate being this vulnerable and having that need for reassurance leaves me hating myself and feeling stupid. It’s bad enough to have that need in the first place but not having it acknowledged makes it ten times worse because it tells me that, as I have always suspected, I am too much. It feels so rejecting.

So, perhaps the real issue about not being able to talk about this is not so much about feeling safe or not, or agitated or not, perhaps I just can’t talk discuss these feelings because it’s just too excruciating. I can write about them, hint at them, but I can’t engage in a proper conversation about them because I feel so exposed. I mean it really isn’t easy to lay this stuff out and trust that the other person isn’t going to run away. It feels too much. It’s too intense.

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I get that therapists are faced with this kind of thing all the time. You only have to look at the blogging community to see how widespread these issues are! Knowing this doesn’t make my therapy any easier, though! I know I have to find a way of getting this stuff out properly because maybe then it will have less power. Maybe I will feel less pathetic. Maybe things will improve.

I so desperately want to find a way of feeling secure in the therapeutic relationship because I think if I did then maybe the time between sessions wouldn’t be so emotionally fraught. The problem is that I don’t seem to have the password to access ‘secure attachment and emotional intimacy’. I don’t know who has it or how to get hold of it. It’s so frustrating. I don’t know how to make this feel better.

I understand why I feel like I do. I totally get it. I get that developmental trauma and attachment issues often come out like this in therapy. Knowing why I feel like this doesn’t ease the anxiety and hurt I feel, though.

I try so hard to cling onto that bit of me that isn’t a complete emotional wreck, who isn’t caught up in a whirlwind of emotions about someone who, in reality, I know absolutely nothing about, but it’s not always possible because that part is rarely dominant at the moment.

I know I need to help the ones that are in a blind panic and I can’t keep running away for forever but sometimes I just want to be halfway normal in session,  just to prove that I am not a complete fucking loser who can’t converse. I don’t want to be needy ALL THE TIME…it’s so grating.

*

The child parts were absent for most of the session – probably hanging out wherever they had been in the previous week or having a nap. I seriously need to give them a memo about where they need to be on a Monday morning, though. I need to find a way to get those vulnerable parts of me to attend therapy, because essentially they’re who I am there for. I also need to have a word with the censoring Gatekeeper part and tell them to allow the little ones chance to speak when they do actually turn up rather than shutting them down and banishing them to the corner. It’s all so difficult. It all sounds so mental.

My therapist asked who was there in session yesterday. I couldn’t identify it. I still don’t know. All I know is that I was finding it really hard to connect with any of those hard feelings and was really frustrated by it. Who is that?

The child parts eventually made an appearance about 10 minutes from the end of the session (usual pattern- sigh). It was like I had been hit by a truck which is something we had been talking about in the session. I’d said how all of a sudden those overwhelming feelings come crashing in and knock me over. There is no steady slip into overwhelm – it’s WHAM, and then I am overcome and pretty much unable to speak. I get so caught up in the feelings and the images that present themselves to me that I lose sense of time and how long I have been silent for.

My therapist had asked me a question about whether I recognised when this ‘hit by a truck feeling’ happens, i.e is there a common thread that activates the emotion….all of a sudden I felt myself go. I felt completely exposed and little and as though the ground had opened up beneath me and I was in freefall. I sat there in silence…same old same old. I knew I didn’t have time to explain what had just happened.

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I eventually returned to myself. I asked what the time was and if I could play a song that we’d spoken about in the previous session before I left.

Listening to the song really helped settle me and calm me down. At the end my therapist asked me what the impact of the song had had on me, i.e was it soothing? I couldn’t really articulate it at the time, but I realise now that sitting with music made me feel like me- whole in some weird way.

It was as though in that moment all the parts of myself came together and were able to  just sit in the moment and that was fine. I guess I felt present. There was no need to be anything other than myself, how it was, no front – just me. That’s what music does for me, I think.

*

So that was yesterday. I took myself off to bed last night and couldn’t sleep. I ended up on the sofa at 1am and lay awake until 4:30am.  I could feel that the little ones had moved in fully again and actually they just wanted a cuddle. Then I had this dream:

I arrived at therapy (i.e this coming Monday’s session). I sat down on the sofa and sighed a long, deep sigh and wrapped my arms tightly around myself. ‘Are you ok?’ I looked up briefly to meet my therapist’s gaze and said, ‘No, not really’ I was silent for a while and then asked,  ‘Can you sit with me today?’ and then averted my eyes as a wave of nausea and embarrassment flooded my system.

To my surprise she got up out of her chair and came and sat beside me and took my hand. ‘This is really hard for you, isn’t it?’ she said. I nodded and just started sobbing. I told her about how awful the week had been and how close I had come to self-harming. She rolled up my sleeves and traced the lines of my tattoos with her finger. ‘Your protectors have worked, though’ and smiled.

I asked if I could hug her and she agreed. I held on tight and didn’t want to let go. I was still crying but I felt calmer and more contained. I sat talking about what had happened during the week and how I felt. There was a feeling of connection and safety with her and I felt my system settle down. I felt like I was going to drift off to sleep. I was so relaxed.

Suddenly, there was a commotion in the hallway and then it moved outside the house. I got up and turned around to look out the window to see what was going on. There was a private ambulance, it was black, backed onto the driveway and its doors were open.

A paramedic (dressed all in black and wearing a balaclava) was carrying a screaming child out of the house using a fireman’s lift. The child was struggling and fighting against it. The paramedic violently threw the child into the back of the ambulance and went to the front cab leaving the back doors open.

The child was all alone in the dark (it was early evening) , it was terrified and crying. I couldn’t work out what was going on and stood frozen trying to make sense of it. I didn’t know what to do.

As I looked closely at the tiny figure I realised that this child was my three year old son. That’s when I lost it! I was totally filled with rage. At that moment, the ambulance started moving away and my son fell out of the back smashing his tiny body on the metal steps of the ambulance on the way down, and then cracked his head on the drive. Everything was in slow motion.

I ran out the house as quickly as I could to get to my son. I scooped him up in my arms. His head was bleeding and he was unconscious. My therapist and her husband were standing at the front door and stared at me but said nothing. ‘What have you done to him?’ I screamed. ‘Why is he even here with you?’

I felt so betrayed.

*

So yeah, that’s great.  Something else to think about! And we know how I am with ‘therapy dreams’ from this post: ‘To sleep, perchance to dream’…but please, God, not about my therapist! 

My child parts are really active and feel scared and lost. Part of me desperately wants to reach out to my therapist and check in but part of me feels like I can’t trust her after that dream. It’s the usual emotional push/pull. Hmmm disorganised attachment you say?!

Is it really as simple as that? Is this really where all this deep-rooted depression stems from- just a basic lack of containment and holding throughout my life? Can it be that not having a reliable caregiver has left me unable to trust in relationships or behave in a normal way? It seems so small and insignificant when written in words but it is massive, isn’t it?

I’m not sure if any of that makes any sense at all.

 

Recovery from self-injurious behaviours. Can it ever really happen?

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I apologise if this is difficult to read or triggering for anyone. Just to be clear, I am going to be talking about eating disorders and physical self-harm here. If you think that this might upset you or compromise your recovery, please don’t read it.

From personal experience, I know that if I am feeling on shaky ground with regard to looking after myself often reading someone else’s story can get right inside my head. Rather than encouraging me to keep eating or avoid harming because I see the damage it causes for others it somehow does the exact opposite. When I am in a good place, however, I am not impacted in that way. I’m trusting that you’ll make the right decision for you. (Hmmm, looks like my teacher persona wrote that last bit doesn’t it?!)

I have been wondering about something a lot this week in amongst all the other crap that takes up space in my brain and that is: is it possible to make a full recovery from an eating disorder and to stop wanting to use physical self-harm to cope long-term? Do the attacking thoughts and drives to harm oneself ever truly disappear or is the best you can hope for the strength to be able to ignore the voice that tries to persuade you to starve yourself or harm yourself? Can you really silence the Inner Critic for good?

I haven’t really got my thoughts together on it so this is really just thinking out loud.

To be honest, I am not in a great place emotionally/mentally at the moment and so I guess this is why this question has been circling in my head this week especially. The last few months have been hard for me. I have been opening up more and more in my therapy sessions and getting closer and closer to the core wound. Sometimes I have been staring it right in the face and it is total agony. At the same time, it has felt, week on week, as though I have been gradually edging my way closer and closer to a precipice.

This week I feel like I’ve finally reached the drop off and am peering down into the deep, dark, watery abyss where my old companions anorexia and physical self-harm reside. I’ve banished the pair of them to this place many times over the years at those times when I’ve managed to free myself from their shackle-like grips. There have been so many occasions over the years when I have found the inner strength to run screaming as far away from that place as my legs and mind will carry me. I’ve sought solace in activity, distraction, and the thought of ‘please let me make a proper recovery this time. I am going to change’ and managed a period of time where I function almost normally… BUT there is always something that draws me back to them and to this place. No matter how resolved I am to move away from this hellish spot I always seem to find my way here, as though on autopilot.

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As I said, this week it’s felt as though I’ve been metaphorically standing on the edge of the precipice and have seriously been contemplating diving down into the darkness again to join my terrible friends because frankly, what I am running from in my head feels too painful, too hard, too devastating. I need to escape from it all. I can’t cope with how bad things feel. I can’t just ‘sit with it’ and wait for these feelings to pass because it is all-consuming and it’s been going on for months and months now. My sense of inner strength and desire to keep fighting has been totally eroded. I just can’t do it anymore.

I am stuck, frozen, between two terrible choices – which damaging, crap friends do I hang out with now? Ahead lie Anorexia and Self-Harm. They’re more than ready to welcome me into their shitty mind games. Behind me lies Attachment Trauma. The question now, is which option hurts less? Attachment trauma is steadily destroying me. Right now I feel like I have been left. I feel so sad and little and lost. I am screaming out for holding and containment and yet no matter how loudly I yell or how many different ways I say it there is no one coming. No one cares about that little girl. There is no one who cares enough to scoop her up and tell her that it’s all going to be ok, that she is safe and loved and that it’s all over now, that she doesn’t have to hurt herself anymore.

I have tried to do that for myself time and time again over the years, but my adult is so overwhelmed by the intensity of these feelings that are coming up again that l am scared stiff and not sure I can keep going down this path, facing that demon, and essentially feeling increasingly anxious and traumatised. I just cannot continue feeling like this and so what lives in the depths of that black void is familiar and, in some sick way, comforting. Given the choice right now, I’d rather spend time sitting with anorexia or self-harm than be caught in the grips of abandonment trauma.

I developed an eating disorder when I was 16 and began physically self-harming (cutting and burning myself) at 17 and so, tragically, it appears that I have spent more than half my life (on and off) attacking my body in one way or another. I’ve never got my BMI up over 17 apart from when I was pregnant and feel very uncomfortable weighing any more than 46kg. In my head the magic sustainable in control place is 45kg and a BMI of 16.1. Yep. Fucking insane. But it’s the borderline weight where I feel ok and yet still able to conceal how unwell I really am. I don’t draw too much unwanted attention or concern as I can hide at this weight – or at least that’s what I have convinced myself. I’m not sure it’s really the case.

The one thing I know and hate about eating disorders is how skewed your mind gets. I hate the secretive, weird place I inhabit when I start focusing on my body in an extreme way. Everyone who ever tries to demonstrate care or concern becomes the enemy and I resent them commenting on my body or what I am or am not eating. I think it’s probably because so few people truly understand that it’s not really about food – eating cake won’t fix things. The eating disorder is a really shit coping strategy. For me it always starts off as trying to control something at a time where I feel like I have no control/am out of control.

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And yes, in some ways for me it is about my body image too. I am critical of my body and when I am really unwell I just cannot see how skeletal I get – how grey, tired, and just poorly I really am. The thing is, when I am caught up in full-blown starvation mode it’s a focus, a distraction from other terrible painful issues.

I know that starving myself or cutting/burning my skin doesn’t take away what is tormenting me and that’s why I know that jumping off the edge and into anorexia or self-harm isn’t a good option (really, I do know that!) because whatever I choose to do attachment trauma will only jump in after me.

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This, then, is not a good proposition because then the three of them will gang up on me and I will end up drowning again. I know I am literally only a few steps away from a complete breakdown and I need to try hard to back away from all this. I need to find a better way to cope. I just don’t know what that is. Therapy doesn’t seem to be helping much right now, in fact it’s just created the melting pot for all this stuff to truly emerge.

Recently, I threw out the scales in a bid to stop that part of me that gets obsessed with numbers. It was just starting to get bonkers inside my head. So, I have no idea what I weigh right now but I think it must be about 47kg because I feel fat and people tell me I ‘look healthy’ … yeah, that one! It’s insane that being told you look well is a frigging trigger isn’t it? Ugh.IMG_1474

I should be pleased with myself really as I have actually been working hard to pull myself back into a better place lately – this is largely through eating large tubs of Hagen Dazs each night and sharing bags of Galaxy Counters. Which, I suppose isn’t especially normal! But it has resulted in a stable body weight for a good few months. It’s not binge eating. It is systematic feeding of high calorie foods whilst being distracted by TV. I hate it.

My brain has the most brilliant inbuilt mental calorie counter. Several of my newish friends (those that have no idea of my history) are doing weight loss programmes at the moment and when they talk about it to me and I am able to launch into some detailed conversation about the nutritional value of something or the calorific content I think they must think I am strange. I often get the ‘you’re so lucky to have that kind of body that doesn’t put on weight. I only have to look at a cake and put on a stone. You eat whatever you like and you’re so slim’. Little do they know that I am fighting my own body battle, telling myself ‘I must eat the cake, the ice-cream, the fattening stuff so that I don’t fall into the place where I eat pretty much nothing and spiral downwards’.

Another reason that I have had to try and maintain a reasonably sensible weight is because (and here’s where I should be writing that I value my health, care about myself enough to look after myself, and that I am not plagued by negative voices) part of my follow up cancer care is that I see the consultant every three months and part of that check is getting weighed (rapid weight loss is a marker of active Lymphoma).

Last October I went in for my check and there was a flurry of concerned questions from the nurses as I stood on the scales because I had lost 6kg in the three months between appointments. I knew that the weight loss wasn’t down cancer but I also couldn’t tell them what mess I had got myself into with not eating and over-exercising. So since then I have tried to get myself off their radar and creep back to a more acceptable, if still too low, weight.

Over the years I have crawled back up out of the abyss more times than I can remember. I’ve sort of joined the rest of the world masquerading as someone who is ‘fine’ and has it all together. But I won’t lie, even when I am ‘well’ or as well as I ever get, the voice inside my head that tells me I am not good enough, that my body is disgusting, and that the only way to feel better about myself is to not eat and self-harm myself is always there. The only thing that changes is my response to that voice. Sometimes I have the strength of mind to say, ‘fuck you! Leave me alone. I am not listening to your shit anymore’ but then other times it just doesn’t happen and that’s where I am at today.

I have to be especially careful with exercise when I am in this head space. For me exercise is a double-edged sword. I have always been fit and active, sporty, and competitive. I really like to get out and run or cycle. It gives me an escape from being my head. I zone out. It feels good. When I am ‘well’ exercise is fine but it can quickly turn into something negative and self-destructive, like it did in the summer: I got back into my running in the Spring having not really done any since finishing my cancer treatment. I was determined that I was going to get my fitness back (despite the consultant telling me that I would struggle because of the radiation to my chest and weakness in my lungs).

My exercise plan started off as a healthy twice weekly thing: a quick 5km run. But it wasn’t long before I threw in a 40km bike ride, then upped my running distance to 15km each time. By the middle of the summer I was up to running 15km on alternate days of the week, cycling 40km on the other days, and walking my dogs 8km most days. Oh, and let’s not forget to mention the 30 day arms, abs, and plank challenge app that I would do in the evening. It’s literally all or nothing with me.

I liked getting out. I liked feeling super fit again. I enjoyed knowing that my speed and stamina were improving and that my friends, who have always been healthy and active, were posting significantly slower times than me. It’s so addictive watching your times on the Strava app…but then it soon became something to beat myself with, always needing to go faster. The only positive at this point, was that despite the ridiculous amount of exertion I was sensible enough to keep eating properly. I was attacking myself with exercise but I wasn’t attacking my body by not eating which is what I would have done in the past.

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Then one day it changed, just as it always does. Big sigh. I had started skipping meals again. I rarely have breakfast anyway, but on this day I hadn’t eaten at all. I decided to go on my 15km hill run. It was a hot, humid evening – 23 degrees according to the car thermometer – and I pushed myself hard. It had been a stressful day and I need to run away. I posted my quickest time by miles. I felt pleased with myself. The voice inside my head that berates me incessantly was silenced briefly. But by the time I got home and walked in the door I was dizzy and sick. I blacked out in the hallway. I had a bath and the room began spinning in the way it used to after drinking too much alcohol at Uni. I was so unwell that I had to ask my wife to help me up the stairs and put me to bed. I felt awful.

I really scared myself and since that day in May I have only done one short 8km run. Part of me wants to go out and run hard and fast and push myself but there is another protective part that is telling me ‘NOOOOOOOOOO’. I feel stir crazy and lethargic not moving and I have too much time to think but it’s the only way I can think of to keep myself relatively safe and right now that’s the best I can do.

So that’s the anorexia covered, what about self-harm, then? At Easter things were feeling particularly precarious with regard to wanting to self-harm again. I had self-harmed straight after the Christmas therapy break having not done so in several months. The break had stirred up a lot stuff: it’s when I started to become more aware of the different parts of me and how much the little ones were impacted by the separation from my therapist. I didn’t feel able to tell her about any of it at that point and so took to hurting myself instead.

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As the Easter break approached I could feel myself getting stressed and anxious about not seeing my therapist and I that’s when I decided that I would make a commitment to myself that I wouldn’t cut or burn myself again no matter how bad things felt. Tall order, I know! I decided to book in for some tattoos on my wrist, forearm, and ribs – the places I would generally hurt myself. I was going to get something symbolic in place of scars. There was three month wait for the artist I wanted and so in this time I knew I couldn’t damage my skin because it would affect the tattoo and tbh I didn’t want the artist seeing new cuts or scars either.

So for three months I didn’t hurt myself at all (even though I wanted to at times) and since having the tattoos I haven’t cut or burned myself either. Instead I have meaningful reminders that I can survive and that this is not the end: Lotus flowers, unalome, semi colon, root chakra etc. So, these tattoos have worked as a symbolic protector. I haven’t self-harmed but it hasn’t meant I haven’t wanted to. And that’s what I am pondering in the title of this post; will that desire, need, whatever it is, to harm ever disappear fully? Will there be a time where I feel anxious or depressed and my brain won’t take me to this place? It won’t cross my mind to cope in a negative way? I don’t know. I hope so.

So for now, today, at least, I am digging my heels in as much as I can and leaning away from the edge.

At the start of this I wondered if it was possible to ever really recover from an eating disorder and the desire to self-harm?

Perhaps the real question is: will I ever feel good enough? – because I guess underneath it all, that’s what it’s all about.

I guess maybe it’s time to bring this to therapy…again.

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Alanis Morrisette’s, ‘That I would be good’ has been stuck on an almost constant loop in my head since Wednesday. It’s another of those songs that I haven’t heard in years but I guess is a reminder of having been in this place before, in my teens, and so it’s come up again now.