On The Outside It’s Crazy… Inside It’s Comfortably Numb

Time is flying at the moment. Life is going by in a sort of out of control careering down an unmade mountain road kind of a way! Same old. Same old. Busy. Busy. Argh! I’m hanging on in there and by some miracle seem to be doing just about ok. I guess ‘just about’ isn’t exactly brilliant but I haven’t totally slipped up on my arse/hurtled off the edge yet (YET!).

I am somehow surviving each day and achieving the things that need to be done so far as work and family life go. I haven’t lost my shit…and feel strangely calm despite the chaos, so that’s a win. Slight  Very big problem is that I am still not quite finding time for the things I need for myself to be ok (and sane) in the longer term: regular exercise, the great outdoors, adequate sleep, relaxation, this blog…and bloody therapy!!!! To be honest I am being steamrollered by life in general…  I just haven’t become a complete pancake yet but it won’t be long!

You can probably tell from this that I am in a manic high, nervous energy type state; this is all well and good, for now, BUT it is only a matter of time until the burnout happens. It always does. I feel like I am yo-yoing a bit at the minute. My last blog post was very much struggle and doom and gloom and yet here I am today full of beans. Living as I am right now is not sustainable and once I get totally exhausted I know I will crash big time. I do need to try and find time in the day to totally unwind and relax but it’s not easy. I feel like I am on a treadmill that never slows down.

How many times have a talked about self-care? Talked about how important it is? So why is it always the first thing to go when it absolutely should be the thing that I hang on tightly to? Ugh! I guess self-neglect is hard-wired into me and it’s going to take a serious amount of effort to change the direction of the auto-pilot.

Doing self-care when things feel ok is pretty easy, I think; the real challenge comes when you are in the thick of struggle and mental hell. One thing I do know, and that my friends keep telling me is that I really have to make myself a priority in my own life. It’s my life so it’s perfectly acceptable for me to take up space in it. It just feels so bloody alien. Like I don’t see myself as important or my needs as being as valid as anyone else’s. I think when you have spent your formative years trying to not take up space or get in the way or even really be noticed it’s a switch that gets stuck permanently on. Still, self-care has to be top of 2019’s resolutions list. In fact really that’s it, the only thing -take more care of me.

Anyway, last post I was banging on about work and stress and people not taking my ‘no’ seriously and finding myself in situations I am not happy about. blah. Fortunately, teaching last week was really good with my new group. Don’t get me wrong, it was challenging but the time with the group of 13 was actually really restorative and positive for me. I know that sounds weird. But I went in and was just me, me on my teacher ‘A game’ but also me as a ‘human’.

I know these people have had tough lives and so started simply by talking to them, telling them that I was there to help, and hopefully we’d get to the end and succeed but all I was really asking for was their commitment to have a go. Teaching, like therapy, is all about forging positive relationships with the students, building trust and safety, creating an environment that feels inclusive, safe, and nurturing. This has always been a strength of mine (god that sounds so fucking egotistical) but I guess because I know how it feels to feel unsafe and not fit in or be accepted I am especially mindful of this in my classroom.

I asked each student to write something about themselves for me: their name, age, their interests, anything they think it might be useful for me to know about them, and then a strength and perceived weakness in English.  Immediately one guy said ‘what do you mean about useful things for you to know about me?’ and here’s where I brought a bit of myself to the room. It could’ve backfired. They could have seen it as a sign of weakness and capitalised on it, but they didn’t.  I said, ‘well, it could be anything, but for me, I’d probably say something like I struggle with anxiety and depression and sometimes it feels really hard’….and then they looked at me and put their heads down and wrote. Reponses included:

  • I get angry fast
  • I get low easily and struggle with depression
  • I have BPD and dyslexia
  • I have ADHD and get frustrated
  • I have health needs and need a full time carer
  • I am on parole
  • I struggle with drugs and alcohol
  • My mental health is bad

Just by opening up the space for them I could see that they felt like I was interested in them and listening but that I am just like them – human. I already knew some of the specific learning needs before I went in but to have them tell me themselves what their challenges are was really helpful.

Anyway, we had a good giggle, got some work done, and at the end one of the guys, 20 years old, 6ft 3 built like a tank said, ‘Thank you so much for today. The session went really quickly and I learnt loads. I thought Maths was my subject but after today I think I like English best’. Mic drop! I was so pleased and it made all the prep and effort feel worthwhile.

So, yeah, that was nice and a confidence boost. The rest of work is what it is. Challenging and lots of it but generally fine. And to be fair, not gonna lie, this week’s session with group was like herding snakes! I am exhausted from today with them!

AND THEN THERE’S THERAPY which, I guess, is why you lot are here.

I call it therapy, but maybe I should say, ‘the space I have been going to and moaning about my daily life but refusing to go to the difficult places despite knowing I need to’ …

That’s a bit long-winded though isn’t it?!!

So, therapy. It’s been disrupted these last couple of weeks. Em was away last Friday and I was working so there was no session which felt just about ok because neither of us were available and so I didn’t feel too much like I was missing out. I saw her on Monday in person. And then today (Friday) the was no session again because I was teaching…she was there though. And so this is not good! At all! As if we didn’t already know this, I am not good with disruptions and breaks in my therapy!! I am still very much in recovery from the break at half-term and with two successive weeks of the pattern being changed I had totally detached until today.

I know the numbing/avoidance of my feelings and the dissociation is how I cope and it gets me through but it’s not a fantastic strategy really. However, this morning was like an emotional car crash. The reality of two missed sessions and not being able to see her was agony. I woke up feeling anxious and desperately wanting to reach out to check she was still out there. My mind had gone to the place where she’s gone/dead… ugh. I didn’t text her to ask her to reassure me because I wasn’t sure that she would and that would have upset me even more and to be honest, the times she has text back have been hopeless too! So I have spent the day sitting on young feelings and trying to be a fully functioning adult. It’s not easy!

In and out of sessions for the last month or so, I have been cross with myself for going and ‘talking but not really’. Sure, I have had plenty to moan about but I don’t need to go to therapy and moan about work. I can speak to my wife and my friends about this stuff. I need to be in therapy and do the work on the relational trauma, the past, the stuff that keeps tripping me up and making me feel inadequate and full of shame. I need to connect with my therapist. I need to get in touch with the young parts and try and help heal them. So, knowing this, why the fuck have I been fucking about like I have?!?!! So frustrating and EXPENSIVE. Every time I don’t talk it’s a pair of new shoes I can’t have. AND I LOVE SHOES!

My session on Monday ran like so many recent others. I went in and I talked about stuff that was stressing me out in my adult life….you know, work and being busy. I failed to mention any of the other things that have been steadily getting me down. I didn’t mention the therapeutic relationship or how I have been struggling to connect on a deeper level or be vulnerable with Em. The difference this week, though, was that Em picked up on what’s been going on and asked me about it. She commented on how lately my life has been really hectic and I’ve come and just offloaded that stuff but that perhaps there have been things I have been avoiding talking about because I don’t have the reserves to go there. I nodded and then off I went, switch, adult was gone, I was numb and seeing stars and feeling little and desperate to connect…but SILENT.

Em talked to me, asked me what she could do when things get like this because we have been here so many times before. Of course, when I get into that state I have no words and as much as I would like to ask her to come and sit beside me or speak directly to the little parts and explain that they are safe and she is there I just sit frozen like some insufferable mute.

It’s agony.

Time seems to accelerate and then the session is almost up.

And then I have to leave…and lately it’s been for a whole 7 days…which feels like a very long time now that my internal clock is used to two sessions a week.

I was frustrated with myself because knowing I have been doing ‘capable adult’ lately I have been very aware of this avoidance of the big stuff. The attachment stuff. The relationship. The goddamn breaks in therapy. So on Sunday night I had quickly written out some stuff to take to the session to hand over and try and get the conversation moving in the right direction even if my adult was not on board. Thing is, adult is the one with the bag and the hands isn’t she?! So even though with fifteen minutes to go I knew I needed to get the writing out I remained frozen, paralysed, and internally distraught. FUCK. Adult wasn’t playing ball.

I managed to tell Em that she was right about everything that she’d been saying about me having things to talk about but feeling unable to. She said that it was understandable that when the pattern of therapy is so important to me…i.e regular and uninterrupted sessions –  that it might have been difficult to go there and open up these last few weeks but that as of Monday, when we are back to two sessions a week, that it might be helpful to really try and attend to these bits that have been neglected.

Yes. BUT eeek!! That is exactly what I needed to hear but in doing so it also woke up all the silent and resistant parts and everyone wanted to have a chat…but the session was over!!! You all know how that is! So, what did I do? You bet, I sent a screen shot of the letter I had written in a text with a short message saying I had chickened out of discussing it in session but that next week we needed to. Face palm!

Basically what I sent at 2pm was an incoherent 11:30pm mind dump from the previous evening – but hey it’s a way in…:

November – Therapy Stuff

  • I feel anxious…really anxious!
  • I don’t like feeling disconnected but that is how it is right now.
  • I don’t want to leave without addressing breaks: 1/2 term (sad face emoji), these two consecutive Fridays (sadder face emoji), and the upcoming Christmas holiday (crying emoji). I don’t know what the solution is but we need to work together to put things in place to try and avert a crisis like last year…which was hell.
  • I feel like a protector part has been doing therapy since 1/2 term break. There has been plenty of ‘daily life stress’ but I could easily have discussed this stuff with my friends. The young parts feel really sad and scared and several ‘older’ parts don’t want you anywhere near the ‘little ones’ after the phonecall we had. Even though we talked it through I still don’t feel ok. It doesn’t take a lot to hurt the most vulnerable parts but it takes ages to repair and regain trust
  • I have really missed seeing you but/and there are parts that have been unable to cope with feeling like you’re gone/dead. Initially it was really upsetting and now parts of me feels completely cut off … like I just don’t care. I hate how painful, physically painful, it feels when the needy parts feel abandoned but I also hate that when I have most needed to reach out I have built huge walls around me
  • I don’t think you realise any of this… but it is all mess of contradictions!
  • Adult me needs help getting the other parts safe enough to be in the room – and for that protector part to take a backseat for a while…but I am so wary of that because Christmas is coming up. The space that opens up is overwhelming and I can’t fix this alone. I feel like therapy is all about counting down from one break/disruption to the next. I never feel settled because you are always almost gone…

And so basically that’s where we are at right now! I feel like my blog is totally falling by the wayside but this is really a reflection of where my life is right now. I really hope that soon I can free up some time to write and wind down a bit.

I found this earlier…wondering if I should have it as the main ‘go to’ page on this…save everyone the bother of reading! haha! x

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Just Say ‘No’…

I feel like I am drowning in my life right now. I am actually fine-ish so as mental health goes…well, I’m probably in a slightly manic phase but actually it’s because my life is absolutely manic right now. I don’t stop in the week…I mean, I literally do not stop from the moment I wake up at 5:30am until I go to bed at 10:30pm (used to be 9pm but I currently have so much to do I can’t even manage my regular bedtime) unless I am in therapy and that’s not exactly ‘relaxing’ is it?

If I am lucky I sometimes grab ten minutes here and there, generally to check in with friends on WhatsApp: ‘Hi! Really busy. Hope you are ok? Will check in later xxx’ and sometimes make a cup of tea that then gets left to go cold on the side (!) but even that is a push.

It’s been relentless this last week and I realise I need to try and make some changes before I hit burnout. It’s time to have another go at implementing those self-care strategies methinks. I am so rubbish at self-care. The moment things get hectic it’s the first thing that falls away when really it’s the thing I should cling to like a life-raft in a choppy sea. I don’t know how to become more mindful about this. Maybe I need to set a reminder on my phone: ‘5 minutes deep breathing’ or something.

I dunno.

Something has to give because a couple of days towards the end of this week it got to five o’ clock and I couldn’t work out why I was 1) Exhausted, 2) Grumpy, 3) Starving hungry… and then of course I realised I had not paused all day. I had been running about like a headless chicken trying to complete a list of tasks that never ever gets any smaller and realised that I hadn’t sat down all day: I hadn’t eaten or even had anything to drink (not intentionally – just no time!). I was completely and utterly shattered by Thursday and kept saying things like ‘Why isn’t it Friday yet? How can there be another day to get through? I can’t see how I am going to manage to teach tomorrow.’ 

The young parts were starting to come online in a big way on Thursday – they were upset (I’d been neglecting them) and I could feel them heading towards complete meltdown (tantrum!). Does that happen to any of you when you’re tired? It feels like when I get very very tired I feel like a toddler or 4 year old who needs to be cuddled, tucked up in bed, and have a story read to me. Sometimes I can do this for myself but at 5pm it’s not even a remote possibility: I have (actual) children to feed, bath, and get to bed, and then the moment that is completed at 6pm I head out the door to go and tutor on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday nights. So not only do I need to keep my adult online for the day but just as things start to feel really precarious internally I have to summon up the teacher until 8pm. I manage it. Of course I do. But it is really draining.

I’m not surprised that I had a proper meltdown on Friday night. The attachment stuff that I feel about my therapist had been there all week (it’s always there!) but that ache and need escalated into something else that night…those young feelings generated full-scale flashbacks of my childhood and being five years old and being left by my mum. It was fucking agony. I reached total overwhelm. My body was in pain and I felt crushed. Oh man. It wasn’t good. I think being so completely exhausted meant that my filter/protective armour was completely gone and all the memories of being little and alone (but needing someone) came flooding in. I know this is where we have been heading in my therapy but made it felt like I had been wiped out.

Monday’s session was actually really good, I think (I can’t really remember – feels ages ago now!). I did something that I have been wanting to do for a long time, but you know me, everything is slow paced with doing new things in my sessions! I took a fleecy blanket with me and wrapped myself up in it. No big deal right? Exactly…but it felt like it was!

I think that the fact that I took a blanket to my session in itself indicates how precarious things have been feeling. I just thought ‘I’m gonna fall apart if I don’t feel soothed – I have to take the blanket’ and so packed it in my bag! I have never taken anything into a session other than pages and pages of writing. I really wanted to take a teddy (that’s how unsettled the young parts are right now) but I wasn’t feeling that brave.  I have to say it made a huge difference to how safe and contained I felt and so I will be making that a regular thing from now on….who knows might even build up to taking the bear in as well….in another 6 years?! haha.

Anyway, it was a good session in person and then I had the week of being uber adult and so when it came to my Skype session on Friday I got locked into that. I couldn’t come out of the coping, busy, ‘stressed but just about hanging it together with rubber bands and chewing gum’ adult. The Skype didn’t work properly either -FFS- and so I couldn’t see my T on the screen. I don’t think that helped me connect. Bloody technology! Grrr!

I spent the entire session talking about work. To be fair work is a challenge. One of the kids I see for home-schooling is a nightmare. I don’t say that lightly. Over the years I have taught some really challenging children but this one takes the cake. All the other children I see in the week I go and just teach and leave it behind when I go home, but this particular child is really difficult with severe emotional and behavioural issues- I don’t seem to teach him- I feel like a parent, counsellor, disciplinarian, coach…but not really a teacher and it’s really really draining. Six hours a week 1:1 with this kind of student is hard work.

I really want to help him but I am fast realising that even with all my years of experience I can’t be what he needs. I have my own children to take care or and my own mental health, too, for that matter and I simply cannot invest any more energy in it or absorb what is being thrown at me (and literally sometimes that is actually having things thrown at me!). I find it hard to switch off from it…and so spent the session talking about that. Which is fine but I could, (and did!), sound off about it to a friend about it. In talking only about the work stuff I neglected the struggling young parts again and so it’s little wonder that Friday night was sooooooo awful.

So what am I going to do/change?

I think one of the key things I need to get better at is saying ‘NO’. Ok, perhaps not shouting it! But just being realistic about what I can and can’t do. I’m generally someone who says ‘yes’ to things even when my head is screaming ‘no’. It’s a hard worn pathway in my brain to try and do meet other people’s needs, often at the expense of taking care of my own. I wonder where that’s come from?! ha!

There are somethings that I absolutely cannot change: my kids are an absolute priority;  work is necessary (to pay for all the therapy I need – lol!) but even that needs some firmer boundaries putting in place around it; the house, of course needs to be kept on top of and we need to eat but there are some things in my life that are a serious drain on my resources (time/energy) that I derive no pleasure from and leave me, if anything, feeling largely pissed off.

For example, last week I lost three hours of my week to doing observations in a pre-school that my children used to attend and a further hour in a meeting with the link school’s headteacher about the next academic year. I am on the committee for that and as a teacher take work closely with the staff and school. I can do it. But. It is unpaid and sometimes I simply don’t have the energy to give anything more of myself. I have another observation booked in next week and then will be interviewing for a staff member in the next couple of weeks. When I wasn’t working it was doable…but fitting it in around my now, too busy life, is too much. After this immediate stuff I will ensure I do less and plan to leave that post in September.

I know this is starting to sound like an enormous moan – that’s how it’s felt this week ‘woe is me’. I know I need to find a way of making some changes because if I don’t remove some of the pressures that are on me it won’t be long before the mental health button triggers and I end up being unable to do anything…and that can’t happen.

I cannot afford to end up in a place where my external world is so chaotic and busy that I start trying to cling onto any sense of control I can muster…which generally means not eating. I can’t go there. I don’t want to go there…but I can hear that voice of the inner critic starting to get louder and so somehow I need to combat that with some serious self-compassion and nurturing – I just need to find some time!

And so on that note I will get off here and go and make a coffee. I like blogging though, and am frustrated that I can’t even find adequate time to write and even more importantly read and keep up to date with everyone else’s posts.

This is my mantra for the week ahead!!

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