Flashback Friday: conversations we never had

When I re-entered therapy in 2016, long before I started blogging, I religiously kept a ‘therapy journal’. Although I would like to pretend the journal is beautifully handwritten, on handmade paper, and bound in leather, it soooo isn’t! It’s a Word document. A massive 120,000 words saved in my laptop! It may not be pretty but the format does allow for a bit of copy and pasting and therefore can, in part, be shared here.

My diary kept a log of what happened in therapy but mainly I spoke about how I felt in and about the therapeutic relationship. Isn’t that what they say? Therapy is all about the relationship?! I used my writing as a way to help me stay sane(ish) between sessions which is basically why I blog now!

I knew from having seen my therapist from 2012-13 that time between sessions wasn’t always easy but I never wrote about it back then. I wish I had because I have always found that my writing has helped me work through things.

So this time around I knew I should write, if only to be able to survive what I knew therapy was ultimately going to become again. When I left therapy last time I was in a really bad way: a self-harming, anorexic, attachment pain suffering mess. Had I not been seeing my therapist on a time limited basis in the NHS there is absolutely no way we’d have terminated when we did.

Anyway back to the journal. I pretty much always wrote it as though I was talking to my therapist, in some way trying to have the conversations that I needed to have with her in person. These diary entries were the unfiltered, honest conversations that (frustratingly) so often failed to make it into the actual therapy room.

I’ve just been looking back over my writing to see what, if anything, has changed in the last year. I think this time of year is often a time of reflection but also know that I always wobble before Christmas. I’m like an oversized emotional jelly being shaken on a rapidly vibrating plate right now- and so I wanted to see if there were any parallels to be drawn between then and now.

And, yes, I think it is fair to say the issues around holding and containment, fear of abandonment and rejection, and suffering with attachment pain are still there just as they were last year!

This healing is a slow process!

I know I am far more aware of my defences now and, of course, have been properly introduced to the younger parts of myself which was what made Christmas a frigging disaster zone last year. I wanted a spa day for Christmas and instead, to join with my Inner Critic, I got up close and personal with a bunch of traumatised children, turned out my Inner Child is comprised of: Little Me, Four, Seven, Eleven, and The Teenager and they had a total meltdown last therapy break.

The horrible sense of shame and embarrassment I feel about having feelings for my therapist is as raw as ever. The attachment pain is still rife. I guess the big difference now is that I know what it is and why I feel the way I do. We have slightly touched on hugs in therapy, or rather my therapist has told me, ‘it’s a boundary that I will not cross’ and since then I have shied away from discussing it because frankly every time I think about it it physically hurts.

Anyway, let’s call this ‘Flashback Friday’ and take a look at December 1st 2016:

At the end of the last session I really wanted to ask you for a hug – but didn’t because I couldn’t face the ‘no’ that I knew would ultimately be forthcoming. Rationally, I know that you not granting a request for a hug is not a rejection of me, it’s just one of the therapy boundaries – or at least that is the kindest way I can come up with for explaining it to myself because, of course, I actually have no idea how you actually feel about me, at all: bored and indifferent tend to feature quite strongly when my Inner Critic is in situ and when she’s shouting at her loudest. 

The critic does a good job of convincing me that you are repelled and irritated by me – therefore a therapy boundary is far easier to cope with. Emotionally, however, a ‘no’ last week would have felt like a knock-out punch to my stomach and total rejection when I have shown myself at my most vulnerable.

I so badly wanted to tell you how much I had missed you last week and how part of me had wanted to run and find you in the Psychotherapy Department and just hide out with you on Wednesday instead of having to put on my armour, be brave and face the Haematology Outpatients Clinic for my cancer check up.

I didn’t say these things to you because I know it sounds mental. I know it’s too much. I recognise that this is not a need of my adult self but I am struggling to give the child a voice/space because it is just too needy and ultimately highly embarrassing. Just typing that, I could curl up and die of shame.

It is so clear to me now, having gone through this cycle over and over and over (it’s like a broken record now)… that on the occasions where I let my guard down and let you see some of the real ‘me’ in session, I pay a ridiculously heavy price afterwards. When I gamble and make the shift from being closed off to more open it causes utter emotional carnage in the week.

I try and be authentic, build trust and emotional intimacy and it feels great in session to get closer to you….. and then I have to go and whoosh!- it’s like the flood gates smash open, I’ve lost control, and suddenly I am in massive amounts of pain because I am flooded by feelings and a bunch of needs that can’t be met by you.

I know there are boundaries but of course, that doesn’t stop the longing, and then the grief I feel about not being able to see you or reach out between our sessions. I can’t tell you how much it hurts, but there is a tangible physical pain in my stomach and chest.

By Wednesday evening even if we have had a good session I find myself feeling stranded and abandoned. I feel totally conflicted. The ache of wanting to tell you how it is for me and just express how I feel juts against the fear of what doing that would really mean: the potential of a huge rejection. So then I am back in this loop. I close off in session, I try and detach, and endure the discomfort of keeping my feelings to myself – which, actually, is probably almost as painful as the rejection I am so frightened of.

So yet again, it’s the same old story, I am terrified of you abandoning me because I feel like I care too much about you and that you are too important to me. My adult self knows that 50 minutes a week should be enough to work through what’s going on for me- but it’s not- and then I spend the week feeling like a toddler having a tantrum because you aren’t there. I need more of you than I can have and that’s horrible.

Most frustrating of all, is that I ultimately know that this is transference. I do like you a lot,  actually, if I am honest you know that I love you, but I also understand that what’s going on is not completely of the here and now – and so I keep trying to reason it out with myself.

I’m fine when my 33 year old self is holding the keys to the house; but often the 3 year old has got hold of them and is about to flush them down the toilet; and then sometimes the angry 17 year old feels like gouging a big chunk out her arm and then forcefully chucking them out the window- and that’s when it all feels unmanageable.

I know that we need to talk about where this fear of rejection has come from in emotionally intimate relationships but I feel really stuck! I don’t even know where to begin with trying to tell you this.

Something has to shift, though because I can’t carry on like this. I am dreading the Christmas break because I know that these feelings aren’t going to lessen. I barely made it through the Summer and that was after only seven sessions back in therapy….

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So there it is, a year to the day, and it really feels like I could be writing it now.

I don’t really know how I feel about it. I guess part of me is disappointed that I still struggle with these issues and that I am not totally able to be fully open with my therapist for fear of her rejecting me.

We’ve just had two great sessions back to back on consecutive weeks where I really did talk and open up after months of being too scared or too dissociated to say anything about the therapeutic relationship. Last week I shared the 10 things I wish my therapist knew… with her in session and although it was scary and exposing what came out of being that vulnerable with her was massive. I felt really connected and held….

But as I said in last year’s diary entry, often it is the deepest, most vulnerable, containing sessions that stir me up the most. When I feel safe, secure, heard, and held it is agony going back out into the world knowing that I cannot see her for another week and that I cannot reach out for her in between.

This week my little ones are so activated that it is physically paining me. My stomach hurts and my chest aches. In the ideal world I would be held close in her nurturing cuddle right now but as that is a total impossibility I’d settle for being able/allowed to send a text message that says: ‘I really miss you and it’s hard’ and get back ‘I know it’s hard. I’m still here’.

This morning I emailed my friend a list of activities that our various aged inner children were going undertake today to feel cared for and looked after: finger painting and messy art followed by a picnic for the very youngest ones; story time and a special ‘big girls’ lunch for the four year olds; shopping and then onto cupcake decoration for the seven year olds; cinema for the pre-teens; chatting over hot chocolate and pottery painting for the young teens; rebellious acts of tattooing and piercings for the not quite of age teens; and a spa day and drinks in a nice bar for the older teens.

In my mind I absolutely know that my young ones need really looking after. They need their needs acknowledging and attending to. But as I have said before, it’s not me (even in nurturing Mummy mode), that the young parts of me want. They grieve for the mum they wanted but never had, and they desperately long for the therapy mummy to come fix the hole.

Why am I having such a hard time accepting the fact that The Mother Wound cannot and will not be filled by my therapist? Rationally I know it but emotionally I just can’t accept it. And because I can’t accept it, her being a therapist and acting as a therapist feels like she is rejecting me. I feel like she doesn’t care about me and that ultimately no matter how much love I feel it will not be reciprocated because there is something wrong with me. It is absolute agony.

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The Mother Wound

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

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

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

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

I understand that it’s not the case for everyone and not all elements I’ve listed above are relevant to all people and, of course, there are more issues that I haven’t mentioned. I, for one, don’t drink alcohol or do drugs anymore but this is largely because I think I have quite an addictive personality and would probably end up in real trouble if I did now. I think it is quite telling that I am so controlled where drugs and alcohol are concerned. I think people must think I am quite boring but actually I just know what I can manage and remember what I was like in my early twenties. The idea of a hangover is enough to put me off!

We are all different but when I read these blogs the one thing that stands out is that that there is so much vulnerability and longing out there. There is so much emotional pain. People, fundamentally, just want to be loved, and to love, and yet the pursuit of this ‘love’ is anything but straightforward because of what has happened in the past. The lens through which we view intimacy is faulty and distorts everything. Our perspective is tainted, even as adults, and it negatively impacts on our ability to form and maintain healthy relationships. I find all that information both comforting and utterly devastating.

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

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

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

To be able to finally start getting the words out after all these years and say how it feels is, in itself, enormous but for other people to go, ‘yep, it’s really tough, and I get it. You are not alone’ is life-changing, because frankly sometimes these feelings feel terribly frightening and unsettling and isolating. I really want to be able to talk stuff through with my therapist but it’s not easy when so much of what I feel is triggered by being in therapy with her. It’s so difficult. There are parts of me that desperately want to connect with her but other parts that are too scared to for fear of being mocked and then abandoned.

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

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

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

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

I like to be in control and therapy doesn’t feel like that right now because adult me isn’t there all the time. There are young ones in the mix now and they are not quite so adept at filtering the feelings that come up. They act out. They are clingy and needy at times and at others completely shut down and avoidant. I really struggle with disorganised attachment: sometimes I totally trust and feel safe with my therapist and at other times I feel like the therapeutic relationship is dangerous and is ultimately going to hurt me.

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

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

‘Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch’

(Romeo and Juliet Act 3:1)

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

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

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

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

ROMEO: Courage man, the hurt cannot be much,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can you care for that smallest part of you when it isn’t your care that the child wants? Indeed, that child has no idea that you even exist. The child wants the love and care of the person who has helped uncover the hidden it. It is that caregiver to whom the child is now attached. They want the person who has taken the time to draw that wounded small child out to rescue them. Session after session of steady work, of calm, understanding, validating conversations lead to this moment. The child loves the therapist how could it not?

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

Oh, if only it were that simple!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘What have you got to be depressed about?’

‘You need to learn to let this go.’

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

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

‘Why am I not enough for you?

‘Why don’t you let me in?’

‘Your depression isn’t getting any better.’

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

How much therapy does one person need?’

‘Your relationship with your therapist is unhealthy.’

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

‘You need to try harder to be happy.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so, I guess, this is the bit where my therapist would say that I somehow need to summon up my adult, the one that is a mummy to two beautiful small people, and get her to pick up that little girl and hold onto her tightly, tell her she is loved, and that she is safe. I so want to be able to do that for her. I absolutely want to soothe that part of me but right now all I seem to be able to do is watch her suffer. I have no idea how to make things better for her. I know before long I will end up attacking myself because the pain is so overwhelming and that doesn’t help anyone.

The mother wound is gaping today.

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Not waving but drowning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Do not touch!: therapeutic holding and containment…or lack of it!

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So, the ‘holding in therapy’ conversation sort of came up on Monday. It was only a matter of time before it made it into the room wasn’t it?

Spoiler alert!: hugs aren’t going to happen in my therapy.

Part of me is like, ‘meh, this is old news! I already knew this, even if we hadn’t actually discussed it’ and another part, actually, several of the little parts of me are so devastated that they think they may die of grief.

Sounds melodramatic doesn’t it? – but it’s how it is. I’m not going to dress it up or downplay how this feels because I just need to let it out in whatever form it comes….which is probably going to be messy just like my mind.

I’ve now had a chance to sleep on all that happened in Monday’s therapy session twice, and to be honest my brain is still all over the place about it.

I wanted to post something yesterday but found I couldn’t write. As I so often say in therapy, ‘I don’t really know what to say’… but there’s also something about not knowing how to formulate my thoughts clearly on the page when I am still trying to work it out.

I’m hoping that today, writing will help process it all a bit.

Anyway, I’ll start at the beginning and work my way up to the end…

Before I even arrived I knew that my session was going to be difficult (again). I have totally come out of the breezy, rational, coping, adult state I have been in for the last couple of weeks and have landed back in ‘shit has hit the fan, child parts running loose’ state. I guess the emotional bit of me is back in the driver’s seat and the rational bit has done a runner. It’s quite scary really because the current drivers are way too young to hold a licence yet and so it really feels like a bumpy ride right now.

As soon as I sat down in the room I was super aware of my body. It felt like a strong electric current was passing through it. I felt shaky and buzzing. It was horrendous. It’s so unnerving walking into such a calm, quiet space only to be fully confronted with my body’s reality: it was neither calm nor quiet.

I am always really aware of the physical sensations of my body when I am in the therapy room. I guess part of it is because, for so long, my therapist has directed my attention towards how my body is feeling in session. I wish I could say, ‘it’s fine, calm, and settled’ rather than the usual, ‘anxious, buzzing, and jumpy’ response.

There were a few problems with the session for me from the outset. Firstly, I had decided that having not really ‘talked’ for a few weeks about anything that was really bugging me, I’d take in my laptop to go through the last blog post I wrote. There was plenty of content to work through and I needed to get some stuff off my chest – or try to, at least.

I didn’t end up taking the blog post into session. Something had happened with my computer in the car and it meant I couldn’t access my blog offline. I wasn’t too phased, I thought it’d be a good opportunity to try and talk and bring that content into session. I could tell her what I was worrying about rather than showing it to her on a screen.

Obviously this sounds straightforward. It should be, shouldn’t it? Talk about the fear of her being gone and how terrifying it all is? Speak about feeling uncontained and being unable to be there fully with her. It would be easy to discuss those things had my brain not emptied the moment I sat down rendering me mute. It happens all the time. Whenever I need to speak about the therapeutic relationship I lose myself and my words go….I dissociate.

This partly why I resorted to taking my writing into sessions around this time last year. I would sit not really talking and feel incredibly frustrated when I knew how much I had to say and how affected by what was happening in therapy I was. I know how ridiculous it sounds, but honestly, my mind loses its ability to speak, the words go. I get caught up in all the feelings I have but I cannot talk about them and vacate the space. It’s kind of a bummer!

My therapist has recognised that part of the problem is that it is my emotional brain that is most dominant when I am like this and not my rational one (where the words reside). She often makes reference to what’s gone on with me as a ‘very early injury’ and so those young parts actually don’t necessarily have the vocabulary to talk it through in the way I would want. When she acknowledges these vulnerable parts of me I seem to disappear. It’s too much. I can’t stay.

For that part of me, being seen is incredibly uncomfortable. It feels so exposed and scared that I just can’t stay with it and with my therapist. And yet, at the same time, those young parts want more than anything to be seen, held, and contained because they never have been before. I didn’t get enough physical or emotional containment as a child but I know I need/ed it. I know that’s where this fucking huge hole in me has come from. It’s agonising, really. I desperately want to feel safe and secure and yet, at the same time, allowing someone close enough to me to be able to feel contained TERRIFIES ME.

She commented on the fact that I have told her, in the past, that she sometimes reminds me of my mum. I agreed but said that it didn’t feel positive and that actually sometimes I feel frightened of her. I loved (note the deliberate past tense) my mum more than anything but she scared me as a child. She was so volatile that I never had a clue when things might kick off. I was always desperate for her care, love and attention and yet so often things would erupt at home that I could never feel relaxed of safe with her.

This is what happens in therapy: I long for closeness and yet am always on guard waiting for something negative to happen because part of me feels it is inevitable. In therapy I fear my therapist’s judgement, mockery, rejection, and abandonment even though she’s never given me real cause to think she would be anything other than kind and empathic.

It is so difficult to have such conflicting feelings. Part of me wants to run to my therapist and part of me wants to run far far away from her. We spoke about how I struggled to trust that I was safe with her, and how it was alien for me to feel and trust in the fact that someone might care or want to know what’s going on for me. She said something about the nervous system and how the brain is wired and that it’s difficult because the body is involved not just the brain. It’s hard to calm my system down.

She spoke about how I have been with my kids and how I try and hold and contain them in order for them to feel secure but that repeatedly hitting the contrast between how I am as a parent vs what I received growing up is incredibly painful and it’s something we are aware of.

And then it happened, the holding and boundaries talk came out of nowhere (well that’s how it felt!). It went something like this:

‘If we can understand it and know that that bit needs to feel contained and held here…and I know that, here, it’s not about physical holding. I know that you are clear about the boundaries, but it has come up in your dreams. You want to be held. It’s understandable because it’s what you needed and it wasn’t around enough back then. It’s ok to feel like that in therapy. You know I have this boundary and won’t cross it, but it’s still the idea about needing to feel a bit safer in this space, emotionally safe. It is important. It’s not the same as physical holding but it’s what we can do here bit by bit and that might feel quite frightening because it’s so alien’

I was a silent for quite some time after that.

As she was speaking I could feel the little parts of me crumble on the floor. It was a sucker punch. I froze and went somewhere else. I ended up where I always go, a huge dark grey space where there is absolutely nothing at all and I am totally alone. Only it’s not me, the 34 year old adult, standing there in the emptiness, it’s a tiny two year old little girl standing there in her nightdress holding a well-loved soft toy rabbit by its ear wondering why she is alone and there is no one there to pick her up and make her feel safe.

My therapist asked me what was going on for me, but it was close to the end of the session and I knew I couldn’t say everything that had just been triggered in me. How could I articulate any of what I felt? Her bringing up ‘the boundary that will not be crossed’ (touch) has made me certain of all the things I have always felt about myself. Having shown her the real me it is clear that there is something wrong: I am unlovable, untouchable, and repellent.

My mum couldn’t bear to touch me or hold me and it’s the same with this ‘therapy mother’. I guess I sort of hoped that it was my mum’s problem and her inability to connect with me but having this conversation on Monday makes it feel like it’s me. I must do something that puts people off. My Inner Critic is having a field day:

Why don’t you ever listen to me? I’ve told you time and again that you are a loser. No one loves you. It is you. It’s not your mother that’s the issue. How could she ever have loved you? Just look at you! Pathetic. No one wants to be around neediness. It’s so boring. You are boring and disgusting. Why are you so shocked that your therapist can’t bear to be near you? Why on earth would she want to be? If your own mother can’t even tolerate you then why would she? Your mum was stuck with you through biology, your therapist is blessed that she has no bond to tie you to her. Give it up. I’ll promise I will look after you, as I always have, but stop reaching out for something that you will never get. You are not worthy of love and care. You are nothing.’

Rationally I know that what I have just said there is crazy but that’s what is going on in my head. It’s that voice that encourages me to self-harm or not eat. I’ve run miles every day since Monday (both literally and symbolically) and yet I can’t run away from this no matter how I try. My body aches from distance covered on pretty much zero fuel and yet my brain is no further from how it was on Monday.

I know that I’ve ignored my inner child and the pain it carries for years and years and so perhaps I need to lean into how this feels rather than run away from it? My therapy is really all about trying to deal with my childhood. It’s about trying to give space to how my inner child feels.

How does she feel?

She is devastated beyond words. She is caught up in raw, all encompassing, pain. She literally just wants to curl up and die. She feels hopeless and abandoned: all familiar feelings that I have desperately tried to avoid feeling in the therapeutic relationship. But, of course, this is where we are….it was only a matter of time wasn’t it?

The other day I commented on another blogger’s post about mother issues and said something about how I was able to accept, most of the time, that my mum would never be the mother I needed because she is not that person, but sometimes I put myself out there, hoping for her to be that holding, nurturing person I needed as a child and when she doesn’t fulfil that need (because actually she never has been able to) I am devastated. I think this is what’s playing out in therapy right now.

My adult knows that my therapist is just a therapist, is grateful for her as a therapist, and can handle the constraints and boundaries of the relationship. BUT, and it is a huge BUT, there is the little girl part of me that still holds out hope of there being a chance of mending what is broken inside me. Maybe there is one last chance to fill the hole that was forged so long ago?

The little girl in me desperately needs to be loved and held and contained and is attached to my therapist. Right now the grief I feel is not about my mum, it’s about her. I had transferred that ‘hope’ onto her which has made how I feel about my mum more manageable…but now it’s all caught up with me again and I am grieving two attachment figures at once.

The little girl doesn’t understand that the window for meeting these young needs has gone because she is still alive in me, frozen in time, trapped in this grown up body. She longs to be held both physically and emotionally by the new attachment figure. But as I said in my comment the other day in relation to my mother it takes a long time for hope (of love and holding) to die. But I think I am one step closer to that after Monday. There is no hope now – either from my biological mother or the therapy mother.

I walked out of therapy and immediately wanted to self-harm. The urge was so strong. I was lucky that there is a 45 minute drive home because had I not had that time to decompress I would be a right mess now. I didn’t self-harm but the thoughts are not far away – if I am honest those thoughts are front and centre. It is really all about trying to hang onto myself right now and not go spiralling off any deeper into that attachment pain. It’s not easy.

When all this happened I talked it all through with a friend and she, as usual, had plenty of helpful grounding comments for me. At least part of me understands that this boundary is my therapist’s and for whatever reason it’s something she sticks to. It could be her training and the type of therapy she does that makes touch a no-go area or it could be about her own issues and comfort around physical touch.

I have got to try and hang onto the fact that this is not a reflection on me and that my needs and wanting to be physically held by her aren’t the problem. It’s not like it’s one rule for me and a different one for everyone else (at least I bloody hope that’s the case!). I won’t lie though. This has really hurt me in the place that I try to keep protected.

I know that physical touch is helpful to lots of people in their therapy and so it’s hard knowing that that cannot, and will not ever, be part of my therapy. What I do know about this, though, is that emotional holding is vital in therapy. You can have all the physical holding you want in session but if you aren’t also emotionally held then you don’t cope well outside the room. Hugs are great but only in addition to emotional holding.

Ah, there’s the problem, though…because I don’t feel emotionally held either. FFS!!!! Or rather, I can’t hold onto the sense of feeling emotionally held and contained if I am not in the room with my therapist. It all falls apart and disintegrates when I leave.

I know that the goal is that I should reach a point where I can hold and contain my own emotions but that seems like a long way off right now. I keep trying, though. I had a go at the visualisation things a few times – they categorically do not work for me; I’ve listened to music to try and help feel grounded; hell, I’ve even picked those fucking pebbles from the beach to try and have a transitional type object….and yet none of this is doing anything for me right now because the emotional holding needs to come from the therapeutic relationship and not from brain training! My brain will rewire itself once it has experienced being contained.

It’s really hard because I don’t really know how to move things forward with that. Right now I can barely look at my therapist in sessions and feel like she is a million miles away. Who knew that a couple of metres could feel so huge? I feel so removed and distant from her. I guess that’s maybe why I have been so caught up in seeking physical holding. I don’t know.

I’ve sort of run out of steam here with this and I have to leave for my friend’s funeral now. I know, I could write more and post at a later date but for now, that’s all I have in me. I guess I need to come to terms with lots of loss today.

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When therapy hurts: part 2

So, since my last post When therapy hurts: part 1 my week has been a bit up and down but I’m in a significantly better place than I was on Monday evening, thank god! I think I might rename myself ‘Flux’! Perhaps it could be my online name. It’s got a good ring to it, don’t you think? -and slightly less of a mouthful than rubberbandsandchewinggum!

I’ve been meaning to get on and write this post all week but just haven’t been able to for some reason. I’ve not been very busy, I just can’t really think of anything to say. I’m not very motivated to write. I can’t really be bothered with it. I know there’s no one forcing me to do it. There’s no pressure. It’s daft really. I am procrastinating. It almost feels like this is a piece of ‘homework’ I have to do but am resisting doing it. I think there’s a lesson for me there, don’t put ‘parts’ to posts. Last time I did it I had exactly the same predicament and got blocked.

I think maybe there’s another element in play too: ‘What’s the point in writing about it? Saying how bad I feel about things in the therapeutic relationship isn’t going to change anything, so fuck it all’. This attitude and reluctance to write makes a lot of sense to me, now, because I have finally identified the part that has been so dominant lately both in sessions and out of them. It’s an older teen part. She’s broken and pissed off.

I guess I feel about 17 years old which was a really tricky (also read ‘fucking horrendous’) time in my life: home was hideous, my mum was incredibly abusive ALL THE TIME, my anorexia was in full swing, self-harm was the norm, and I was in so much emotional pain that I could barely function.

I know it’s a huge cliché, but I had fallen in love with an older woman (a student teacher in my school -oh but of course I had!- huge huge eye roll!) and couldn’t tell her, or anyone for that matter, about how I felt. She’d moved away when I was 15 but we were very very close for a couple of years, speaking every night on the phone but as ‘friends’. I’d visited her a few times up country, being very intimate but not in a sexual way, and then the shit hit the fan when I became so ‘intense’ and needy that she basically cut off all contact with me.

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At the time it was meant to be a ‘three month break’ from contact but it devastated me like a breakup and once I’d been hurt I couldn’t go back to that relationship in the same way. I came out the day after the ‘let’s have a break from each other’ phonecall because I literally couldn’t stop crying and was beside myself. It didn’t get much better when I did come out, though, as a large chunk of my social group stopped talking to me and silence used to fall whenever I walked into a room…. So yeah, all in all it was a fairly traumatic time in 2000!

So when I am in that teen state I trust no one and shut down but am also hugely on guard, devastated, hurt and angry inside. I won’t let anyone in because I will not be hurt again like I was back then. I won’t express my feelings, in fact I’ll try not to feel anything at all, because I don’t want to be abandoned and rejected again by someone I love.

My therapist doesn’t stand a chance when I am in this state because the parallels of the relationship I had back then and have now with her are all too clear to me. She’s another woman, ten or so years older than me, who I talk to a lot but don’t get to see in person outside of the focused time,  someone whom I am very attached to but the power in the relationship is unbalanced. I don’t want to ever feel like I did at 17 again and so I won’t make the mistake of telling my Em how I feel her when I feel like this.

Fortunately, I am not physically attracted to my therapist, I absolutely see her as a mother figure (which isn’t easy either is it?!), but it’s also more than that. It’s quite hard to define exactly what she is to me. Of course, she’s my therapist, but I’m sure you know what I mean, it’s kind of the mother/big sister/best friend/fairy godmother idealised sort of thing and sometimes it’s none of those things. It’s a strange relationship, for sure!

I always really worry that my therapist will read my feelings and behaviour from the perspective of me having erotic transference because I am gay. She may not, I don’t know. I guess it is a sensitive issue for me. I have been rejected on the basis of my sexuality so many times. I worry that she only tolerates me because she has to. Unconditional positive regard is a cornerstone of therapy and yet part of me wonders if she is repulsed by me and just can’t show it?

It’s horrible to always be doubting the quality and authenticity of the therapeutic relationship. I know it shouldn’t matter even if I did feel attracted to her and that it would form part of the work but I just feel so fragile about this, even having come out 17 years ago, I still feel really vulnerable talking about my sexuality with her and I have only once brought up that massive heartbreak I had in my teens in all the time we’ve been working together.

I appreciate that I am rambling here and not really saying anything about ‘when therapy hurts’. I think this is what happens when I am fairly buoyant or in denial or both. I’m not really sure how I feel today – disconnected from myself is probably a good way of describing it. I know all those horrible feelings are inside and that the little ones are struggling but somehow they feel completely detached from where I am right now, they’re not front and centre.

It’s not a bad thing. I am functioning and frankly there have been too many days lately where I have struggled to. The teen part doesn’t need to be on guard and ready to fight because she doesn’t need to protect the little ones quite so much.

Since Monday I’ve been yo-yoing which totally follows my usual pattern of emotion after a session. I am always distressed, doubting, and devastated the day after the session. I feel abandoned, rejected, and hopeless. Ugh. It’s crap. I feel generally pretty rubbish until Thursday. By Friday daytime I feel as though I have survived the bulk of the week and can count down to the session on Monday. Friday evenings can be tricky, though, and so can Sundays. It’s almost like hope in the relationship and its potential is rekindled towards the end of the week, but then because I feel open and hopeful doubt can creep in again because she could hurt me.

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Another blogger, who I’d like to think I can call my friend now (you know who you are), has been really helpful in giving me another perspective on things and challenging how I have perceived what’s happening in my therapy this week. She’s annoyingly perceptive and her input has certainly helped me get my head together a bit.

I complained to her on Monday about how I’d felt my session had gone. I’d basically not been able to talk for the first 15 minutes and then handed over my laptop and asked my therapist to read the blog post I’d written. I sat there crying behind my hands as she read it and yet when she’d finished we didn’t really talk about any of it. I felt frustrated that I had shared all that content and yet we weren’t talking. Or that’s how it felt at the time.

However, on reflection it is clear that I was dissociated. My therapist asked again which part had come to session. And she very gently talked with me. She commented on lots of areas but it was me that couldn’t/wouldn’t engage and she didn’t push me. We just sat with how things were. She actually did a good job. I just couldn’t see it at the time because I wanted more. When I feel like that and am pushing her away it’s almost as though I am testing her to see if she’ll stay with me.

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She can’t win, though. She cannot communicate effectively with all my parts in a session because they all need such different things and approaches. What is right for one is completely wrong for another. It’s a minefield. The little ones need holding and soothing with that soft, warm voice that feels like a virtual cuddle; the teen needs reassurance and care and to be listened to and for her feelings to be validated; the adult needs to be told everything is ok and that there’s no need to be embarrassed or ashamed about the feelings that are coming up; the critic needs to be heard and wondered at. It’s not easy for her and I know she is doing her best although sometimes doesn’t get it quite right…

Shortly after she’d read my blog post she brought up something about payment – it was crap timing but I suppose there’s never a good or easy time to talk about money in therapy. I’ve been really poorly for a few weeks and on one of the session days I had done a Skype session because my son was ill, I ended up getting sick that day too.

I have basically been floating around on autopilot with no voice and propped up on pain killers and antibiotics for the best part of three weeks. Anyway, apparently for that Skype session and the one following it ,she hadn’t received my payments and yet last week did (but for just one session not the three I’d had) so she brought it up. I had been sitting in silence,not really, and I think the conversation was meant to engage my adult but also open up a conversation about resistance in the therapy.

The thing is, I hadn’t not paid her to send her a message. Hand on heart it was just a complete accident. I know what had happened because I’ve done it before making online transfers. I hadn’t confirmed the final page of the online transaction. I always go online shortly after the session and pay but obviously on these two occasions my brain was not fully in the game. I’d gone through the process, got all the details up on screen and just not scrolled down to confirm.

My therapist commented that I always pay promptly and suggested that maybe it was some unconscious communication about not really wanting to be there with her or something. I’ve said it enough lately that I haven’t wanted to be there (teen part can be quite dismissive of her) but that wasn’t what had happened in this instance. It was just a cock up and my autopilot had malfunctioned. It kind of threw me off balance a bit.

It made me think about a recent post by Life In A Bind – BPD And Me:  How do you pay your therapist? The answer could be part of your therapeutic work.  about payments and what they can reveal about the therapeutic relationship. I honestly don’t think I was unconsciously trying to send her a message by messing up the payments. I think, no , I know I was ill and just not functioning very well. In fact I am usually so quick in making payment to her when I get home or sometimes even before a session, despite the fact that she says she is happy to bill me monthly, because I value her so much. So meh, it was a bit of a weird conversation to have in the middle of the session.

What else has happened this week? Well another ‘interesting’ thing I’ve done is started looking around and researching other therapists. Uh huh. Yes. I know!

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Of course it’s all a reaction to feeling so completely lost in the relationship and like things are disintegrating between us. Googling therapists came from a place of sheer desperation. That was Wednesday. After a bit of research and contacting a therapist I realised that I really don’t want to work with anyone else. I don’t want to chuck three years of therapy away. I just want to get things sorted in the relationship I have….if I can. I just don’t know if it’s possible.

I certainly know what it is that I need to feel more secure between sessions and in the relationship more generally. Essentially, I need to ask for some boundaried contact outside the sessions, whether it be a midweek text just to ‘check in’, or a quick phonecall later in the week just to maintain the connection. Basically I need some form of confirmation that we are still connected in the relationship so that the sessions don’t bomb on a Monday because I have lost all sense of her in the week and don’t trust her to be there and not abandon me.

Monday is going to be hard because I am completely rubbish at expressing my needs. I don’t like feeling so dependent and needy. But mostly I am massively fearful of her refusing to do either of those things when it will take a serious amount courage to ask in the first place. I asked for a double session just after Christmas and she said no and I basically ended up self-harming because I feel so stupid for expressing a need and not getting it met. I know that I will feel so rejected and uncared for again even if there is a good reason for not engaging in either of those activities, from her perspective.

I guess looking for another therapist was about rejecting my therapist before she has chance to reject me. This therapy business really isn’t easy is it?…particularly when your attachment style is disorganised and your cumulative life experiences/relationships have only heightened your fear of abandonment and rejection. Looking back over some of my close relationships, it’s almost as though my attachment style acts as a map to create these issues time and again. I either push people away, shutting them out so they end up leaving or I cling on so tightly that they feel smothered, or yo-yo back and forth between the two. I hope my therapist can handle my volatility. I think she can.

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So back to the title, which I really haven’t stuck to at all – therapy hurts sometimes, a lot of the time actually, and sometimes it doesn’t. Right now I feel ok about how things are, like I might have turned a bit of a corner as I head into the weekend. I really hope that I am able to go to session and talk it out with her on Monday. The problem is, I have no idea who will arrive in session, how long they’ll stay for, or who else may show up along the way.

I guess we’ll wait and see!

 

 

When therapy hurts: part 1

Warning: this post is big on self-pity

Honestly, I think I am ready to chuck in the therapy towel right about now and that’s not something I thought I would ever say. I’m so deeply attached to my therapist that I didn’t think there was any level of emotional hell that I wouldn’t endure to at least sit in the room with her once a week.

I thought I’d always want to go to session, in fact there have been times when I have really panicked at the idea of therapy ending (how on earth can I live without her?!). The weeks between sessions are always tough but I somehow felt that if I could just go to session, be there with her, and try and charge myself up with her warmth and care, take enough of her in to sustain me through the week, then I could cope. Hopefully over time things would get better – they surely have to improve.

I’ve said before that I need that weekly interaction, or simply need her, like I need air to breathe. It’s always been intense but now I am recognising that it’s increasingly damaging to me. I am not managing my feelings at all well and it’s causing me a great deal of pain. My adult has gone AWOL. Emotionally I am a complete mess and it’s the therapy that is fuelling it. I know I have issues – lots of them – but I think I would rather a life of denial right now than be staring down the barrel of this attachment pain that’s being aired in the melting pot of the therapeutic relationship.

Things are bad because I can’t cope with my little ones. I don’t know how to make things better for them. They love Em so very much and they are distraught when she is gone. I can’t soothe those parts of me in the week. They just absolutely need to see her in person, they can’t handle the idea of her not being there, and I think that’s partly why I keep dragging myself to therapy each week even though I know it’s hurting me a lot of the time. I just hope that somehow those fifty minutes will be enough to get us all through.

In the past, no matter how bad things might have felt in session, I have always clung onto the sense that how things are in the moment is only temporary and have held out hope that if I just stick at it things will get better, that somehow the relationship will develop into something that is sustaining and nurturing rather than painful and triggering.

I want to believe that therapy will be helpful in the end and that once the foundations are laid we will be able to work through my attachment issues and developmental trauma. It’s not working like that, though. It’s not that straightforward. The relationship didn’t get soundly constructed with the therapy work following on neatly behind. It’s all thrown in the mix and we’ve got half-built structures and some really flimsy materials.

All my issues coming to the fore right now before I have got the safe base sorted and so I’m completely at sea. The push/pull of my feelings towards my therapist leave me exhausted. I have reached saturation point with how much emotional pain I can endure right now. I am stuck right in the thick of attachment pain, trust issues, and trauma. I can’t seem to get round it. I feel like it’s literally driving me mad.

I know that if I could just learn to trust in the relationship and my therapist, if I could just start to feel secure and safely held then some good work could be done between us because there have been times when I have felt safe with her, where I have been able to trust her, and have felt that we are connected….but it doesn’t last. It never stays. The negative feelings, the doubts that invariably flood in after a session decimate any positives. I feel like I am constantly having to build the relationship from scratch as it is repeatedly destroyed by my emotional storms.

I want to believe that this is just a ‘blip’ and that things will feel better again before too long. That one day soon I will walk in the room and she’ll smile at me and something in me will see that I am safe and I don’t need to fear her.  At the minute, though, I seem to be drifting further away from her and the security I long for. It’s terrifying. I feel like I am losing her just when I have shown my most vulnerable elements. I am pushing her away because I feel like she is already gone. Maybe that’s just in my head. Maybe she is the same as she’s always been. It’s just me.

Whatever the reason, all I know is that the hopefulness I had has disappeared. Why? Well, probably because I am fucking mental and emotionally volatile and generally unhinged- but right now it feels to me that my sessions really aren’t going very well at all. In fact it’s all a bit of a disaster zone in my therapy and it’s getting worse.

It’s always been a bit of a problem on and off but now, when I get in the room, I seem to instantly shut down and freeze. I long to connect with my therapist but can’t. I feel too exposed and vulnerable to talk about what’s on my mind and so spend most of the time feeling shit and am painfully aware of the clock ticking down. Today I couldn’t even look at her. It was torturous.

Sometimes I manage to talk as we approach the end of session but today, well, I just bombed and now I feel utterly distraught. Every one of my parts is hurting….so so much. I feel like I have been repeatedly punched in the stomach and attacked with some kind of weapon. My body aches and my head feels like it might explode. I am scared to go to sleep today because I think once the lights are out I might start crying and just not stop.

When the time with my therapist ‘in the room’ doesn’t help make things feel any better or more manageable then the time ‘not in the room’ feels even more catastrophic. Since coming back off the summer break I can see how I’ve slipped further and further into this depressed, self- and therapy-doubting state. I feel like I am hanging on by my finger tips and not even really living right now. I’m caught between wanting to run far away and clinging on tightly to her.

The thoughts about self-harm and not eating are very present and I am desperately batting them away. I don’t want to be in this place anymore. I don’t want to feel so sad, and uncontained that it seems like a good idea to hurt myself.  My Inner Critic is ready and waiting to launch into a full blown attack. It’s not good at all.

I really feel like am existing in some kind of negative bubble. Even my autopilot is faulty- more on that later in the next part of the post I think.

Thinking about it, it’s almost as though I desperately hung on over the therapy break, I endured how painful it was not seeing my therapist because I knew sessions would resume and felt that the connection could be restored….only it hasn’t really happened. I don’t feel connected at all. I feel so very disconnected that it’s like I am floating around in some kind of space-like vacuum.

Every now and then I send off a distress signal (i.e take a blog post into session) to try and communicate through the silence and yet I generally feel totally alone. I am sharing so much of myself and yet it feels like it’s not being heard and I think that’s why I find myself here. I have tipped my bucket of broken pieces out onto the floor and we are staring at the ceiling pretending like it’s not there.

It’s seems to be a bit of a negative downward spiral: sessions are hard, don’t give me what I need, leave me feeling lost and uncontained, as a result I feel more disconnected from my therapist during the week, because I feel more disconnected in the week I am then more shut down in session, I don’t talk, don’t get what I need, leave feeling rubbish and so it repeats on and on.

I am sure I will feel differently tomorrow and be able to see the bigger picture but right now I am totally wallowing in ‘woe is me’. There’s a part of me that is totally saying ‘get a fucking grip woman, seriously this is beyond ridiculous’ but it can go do one right now. Today I just wanted to be close to Em and because I couldn’t be I want to run away.

 

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Why does physical illness always go hand in hand with a mental health crash?

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Look, I apologise in advance for this. It’s basically an, ‘I’m really poorly, am feeling sorry for myself, and I really miss my therapist’ ramble written from under the duvet, on a Friday night, whilst my wife is out at a gig that I am too ill to go to.

My immune system is beyond crap. My blood levels have never fully recovered despite it being nearly two years since I completed my last round of chemo. As a result of depleted lymphocytes, my infection fighting capacity is pretty non-existent. The doctors had hoped that things would’ve improved by now, but unfortunately my body is stubborn and has decided it would rather pick up and fight every bug that is going! I’ve been ill for almost two weeks now with the exhausting cold, cough, chest infection, no voice thing that’s doing the rounds. I’m so so bored of it. I just don’t have capacity in my life to be ill and still.

I thought I was getting better at the start of the week, hence the fact that I managed to drag myself to therapy on Monday albeit sounding pretty husky. By Tuesday, though, the dry, croupy sounding cough headed south and turned one of my lungs into some kind of gurgling swamp and I suddenly felt like I’d had all my energy burgled from my body during the night.

I finally made it to the doctors on Wednesday. By which time both my lungs sounded like crackling Autumn leaves being trodden on every time I tried to breathe. I’d spent the whole night trying to sleep propped on the sofa in between coughing fits but it was all a disaster. I know that I need to get better at seeking help before I am completely on my knees but I always worry about people thinking I’m some kind of malingerer or hypochondriac….which is I guess a hangover from all the doctor visits when I was misdiagnosed with my cancer where I was repeatedly sent away (fobbed off!).

I didn’t see my GP (apparently she’s retired) instead I saw a stony-faced misery guts with GP qualifications. I was really only there about the chest infection so it didn’t really matter that she had the bedside manner of a cadaver. The annoying thing is, though, that I could’ve been there about anything: my mental health, or illness, depending on which way you look at it has been pretty bad for the last six months or so.

Realistically after the huge anxiety attack I had a few weeks ago, coupled with the negative feelings I’ve been having about my body and the urge to self-harm it would have been good to air some of those concerns and discuss the possibility of medication for the times when things get out of control. Of course I didn’t say anything, I just took my prescription for antibiotics and went home. I didn’t feel comfortable telling her anything about my emotional state. I wonder how many people feel like this about their doctors?

By the time it got to yesterday I couldn’t even get out of bed. I was absolutely knackered and felt like my body was made of lead. My wife had to take the day off work to look after our son as I just couldn’t move or function in any meaningful way.

I’m not really here to moan about how ill I feel, what I wanted to talk about is how I’ve noticed that when I am poorly my ability to function effectively in a mental/emotional sense is seriously compromised. I wondered if any else has noticed this in themselves?

I’ve said before that I struggle to maintain the connection with my therapist between sessions and that I hate midweek especially. It’s so tough. It’s essentially when the little parts of me are most active and start to overwhelm me. It’s the time when I most feel like I need to check in with Em, to ask whether she’s still there, that things are still ok, and that something hasn’t happened that has changed the relationship.

It’s a really tricky position to be in because that tiny, screaming, terrified bit of me that is totally uncontained is desperate to reach out to her and seek reassurance but the thing is, when I do that, she doesn’t respond and so that desperate little girl feels completely abandoned and then can’t trust her when we go to therapy.

So this week has been hideous. Because I have been so poorly it’s felt as though my adult has jumped ship or died. I haven’t had the physical or emotional strength to hold it all together and my little ones have had free run of my mind. I’ve felt like I am completely emotionally unanchored. I feel like I need grounding and holding tightly. I have been so ill that I’ve stayed in bed and hugged pillows to try and settle and soothe those little parts, but it hasn’t helped and I just feel lost. This small inner child is desperate to be held close and I don’t know how to do that for myself so it’s become overwhelming. I really could use a transitional object – not that I’ve said this before!

I always miss my therapist between sessions but this week it all feels unmanageable, like a life and death situation. I feel like my filter is down and I desperately want to tell her how I feel and how much I miss her. I want to tell her how scared and vulnerable I feel. I basically want some kind of reassurance from her that things are safe still. Rationally I know that everything is fine and that we can work through some of this stuff on Monday but the child parts don’t get any of it. They just want to be cuddled…by her…NOW!

It’s tragic really and I know it’s basically my wonderful friend ‘maternal transference’ doing the rounds. I know that this desire to be taken care of and nurtured back to health comes from my childhood where I was never cared for or fussed over when I was sick. More often than not I was packed off to school because my parents were busy, or sent down to a relative because, ha, my parents were busy. Always too busy.

When I was a bit older and my parents had split up I was left at home in bed when I felt unwell. My day would be spent drinking Lucozade, making toast, and watching Supermarket Sweep and the lunchtime episode of Neighbours….and then watching the repeat again at 5:40pm. There was no one there to take my temperature, hold me close, bring me treats etc. There was never anyone there.

I think so much of how I feel when I am ill (or well for that matter) stems from this feeling of my not being important or worthy of care and affection. I always felt like an inconvenience, something to be managed (when ill) and so now, it’s little wonder that when I feel like there is someone who maybe does demonstrate some care and compassion (Em) I want to latch onto it and hold it greedily against my chest, or place it inside myself. I want that person to be there when I am sick.

I feel like a whiny kid writing this, but actually that’s exactly what it is, I currently have a bunch of whiny kids loose inside that want to be held and contained and my adult who is really just a crap babysitter isn’t even available to try and do the job.

I hope I am well enough to go to session next on Monday – pray to the antiobiotic gods! – as I don’t think I can cope with a missed session right now. As the title of my blog suggests, I’m ‘holding it together with rubber bands and chewing gum’ – it’s fairly precarious.

The one positive from being this poorly is that I haven’t got the energy to think about physical self-harm and I am not eating much because I feel rough and so that in itself is enough to take care of the anorexic voice for now. It’s a sad day when you feel lucky that you’re only dealing with illness and attachment issues!

I literally just want to be held. I know it can’t happen. I want to cry.

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I wrote this poem over the Easter break and gave it to my therapist (must’ve been having a brave day!).  It still feels really relevant today:

Not here

I am not in your presence

but, oh

how painfully aware of your absence I have become.

 

Time and distance

stretch

out

endlessly

between us…

 

You are so far away.

 

The holding place in my mind

struggles hard to keep you whole

 

Are you merely a figment of my imagination?

A hologram, perhaps?

 

*

 

Even when within my reach

you always feel so very far away

 

I can see you,

feel you, but

I cannot touch you.

 

That small space

opens up like a vast ocean

I stand on one shore

you on the other

 

You beckon for me to join you

promise to be my guide

and to witness the lessons of the Self

that only I can teach

myself.

 

For the longest time I have waited

warily watching

assessing the dangers that might lurk hidden

in the deep.

 

I believe I will reach you –

eventually

(is it misplaced confidence or simply wishful thinking?)

and so I begin the swim.

 

My muscles relax into a familiar rhythm.

The hardest, aching parts of me begin to soften

as the distance between us lessens.

 

It’s farther than I thought, though, and

sometimes cold

sometimes silent

sometimes strange –

The horizon keeps shifting.

 

I tread water a while

rest and catch my breath.

I look up and discover that

I can no longer see you.

 

Panic.

 

a sudden shiver

a lightning bolt

 

Both sea and sky shift rapidly

calm blues now rage-filled greys

Angry, turbulent clouds roll heavily in

raining hot tears down like shiny silvery bullets.

My fear rises alongside the storm-whipped waves

 

I am exposed

I am scared

 

Is there still safety on your shore?

I can’t be sure.

But it’s swim or drown

and so I keep moving.

 

There’s no going back.

I must have faith in what I feel

And trust in what cannot be seen.

 

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Recovery from self-injurious behaviours (self-harm and anorexia): 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.

‘It took me so long to get here, but here I am’ – on sharing my blog with my therapist.

 

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Last week was pretty terrible for me by all accounts. I felt like I was on a slippery slope and heading towards a really bad place mentally. I was completely caught up in my internal hurricane and devastated by the damage it was doing to me, but by the time I had finished writing the last post ‘I’m watching the weather channel and waiting for the storm’ I think I had gone some way towards processing what is/has been going on for me and felt a little better about it all.

Sometimes just having a bit of clarity on the situation eases the pressure even though nothing is actually resolved. I know I am not out of the storm yet. I have been batting away some pretty negative and persuasive thoughts about my body and am trying not to slip into not eating or self-harming.

Despite this, it does feel like the storm is losing its power: it has been downgraded from a category 5 to a 3, or something like that. The anxiety that was completely overwhelming me has ebbed and now I just feel a bit flat – less anxious more depressed- I suppose. I don’t feel sick and my headache has gone. It’s not great, by any means, but it is certainly a good deal better than it was.

I mentioned at the end of the last post that:

‘ I feel that overwhelming need to contact my therapist and tell her how bad things feel but know there’s no point because she won’t respond to my messages and has told me to write it all down or draw it and bring it to session to talk about. I just don’t really know what to write or draw. I have so much to say but also don’t know how to say it.’

I don’t know what possessed me to do it, maybe I temporarily took leave of my senses (very likely!) or perhaps, finally, after a total 31 months of therapy something in me feels that now is the time to be a bit braver and stop hiding the really awkward and difficult stuff from my therapist. Like I said, I don’t know what happened, but a few hours after publishing the post online I was thinking about what I should write to take in to therapy but I kept drawing a blank. I didn’t feel like drawing anything. There isn’t enough black and grey paint to express how stormy and shit things felt!

I knew that that the post I had just written basically told it like it was, there was no concealing anything. I wasn’t avoiding the bits that are hard to say in it because, although there ‘is’ an audience for what I write here, the blog is also just a space for my thoughts. I don’t really have to face any judgment for what I say, think, or feel. Or so far, at least, the feedback has been positive, kind, and understanding.

What I wrote in the post was brutally honest – the truth. It was exactly what has needed to be said in therapy and what I have been steadily trying to articulate over the last few months but struggling to. I feel like I get so far but somehow the overall picture gets lost. I don’t know why that happens. I think there are just so many parts of me competing for attention and space to talk that sometimes nothing gets said.

I’ve been aware that a blog is a great space for letting stuff out and that’s why I finally got myself together during the break to start writing –I definitely needed an outlet when my therapist was away. (I guess it was one positive to come out of the break!) I am mindful, though, that some of what I write is really what I should be discussing in session, in person, with my therapist. Some of this is the stuff I might be running from saying in session because it is too hard, too painful, too exposing. I know I need to be careful not to splurge everything here and then not talk to her. So, what did I do? I sent her a text with a link to my blog and said that I’d bring my laptop in to go through it together in session.

The moment I sent the message I was like, ‘Oh fuck! What the fuck have I just done? She’s going to really think I’m really mental now. Oh god. What a fucking idiot. Shit! Fuck! Shit!’ But at the same time there was a sense of relief having put it out there. There was a part of me that felt a bit more pragmatic about it and was almost kind to myself, ‘What’s the worst that can happen? If I’m going to work with her long-term she needs to know about this stuff or I’m just wasting my time. This is how it is. This is how I feel. I can’t hold this for myself and I need help with the little ones. It’s time to tell her, really tell her how it is.’

There is one positive (ha, I can’t believe I’ve just written that!) about the agreement that we have about outside of session contact, which is that if I text her she might scan read it but won’t take in the detail or read fully, and she won’t reply unless it’s something about timings or session changes – admin basically.

This boundary was necessarily reinforced after a big rupture via text that happened a few months back leading into a break. We’d had a really good therapy session but I guess it had subconsciously stirred up a lot of stuff. The next day, on the surface, I was feeling positive and buoyant and so I sent her this picture text:

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What happened next was deadly. She responded to it but I thought, from what she said, that she was talking to someone else and had somehow messaged me by mistake. I got totally pissed off because SHE NEVER RESPONDS TO ME when I message her (only this time she had!) and so suddenly I felt like I didn’t matter and that she didn’t care about me as much as some other client. The Green Eyed Monster came out in full force. It wasn’t good.

She thought the picture was like an epitaph or something and was concerned enough about my safety based on what I’d said in session and from the message to check in with me. Whereas I saw the image and words as a positive, a sort of ‘I may be going through hell but I am in control, fuck you Inner Critic’, and therefore I assumed her message was a miscommunication.

I ‘calmly’ replied to tell her that I thought she’d sent me a message intended for someone else but then heard nothing back from her to confirm either way. Basically after a couple of hours all the stuff about being abandoned, not worthy of her care, being unimportant, and that it’s a fake relationship just reached boiling point. I ended up firing off a massive rant, I threw all my toys out the pram and said I was terminating therapy! I was so hurt and sad. Obviously that exchange just tapped into a really deep wound that I hadn’t been fully aware of until then.

Fortunately, she handled it really well, apologised for the misunderstanding and didn’t acknowledge the ‘I’m done’ bit and offered me another couple of sessions to work things through. I still cringe when I think about it all. It was embarrassing but it totally highlighted how sensitive I am to change and breaks. It also showed me how important face-to-face communication is and how easily even well-intended messages can cause upset. Written communications, particularly texts, lack depth and all the subtle nuances of face-to-face communication.

Part of the reason my therapist says it’s best to keep things in session is that she can pick up on the feelings and vibe in person even if I’m not saying anything. She can check her understanding and clarify with me. She says that there is always a danger in written communication in her honing in on the wrong thing or missing the point entirely which can make me feel like she isn’t attuned and that I am not being heard and that is best avoided. As an English post-grad and English teacher I can’t really argue with that.

Don’t get me wrong. I do completely get it and the adult part of me is in total agreement with what she is saying BUT I’m not going to lie, I don’t find this outside contact boundary easy at all. In fact, I’d got so far as to say I HATE IT. I find it incredibly painful most of the time. This is because the bit of me that needs her, wants her between sessions isn’t my adult, it’s the young child parts and to them it feels like she just doesn’t care about them at all and is perfectly happy to leave them in emotional limbo between sessions drowning in attachment trauma and feeling totally terrified and abandoned. It feels cruel.

I wish there was the occasional ‘we’re still ok, and I am still here’ message midweek. Maybe I’ll get round to asking for that again. That’s all I really want. I don’t want to enter into a huge dialogue outside session. I don’t need check in calls. I just want a simple reassurance that nothing bad has happened and that she hasn’t disappeared. My object constancy is crap and so I genuinely feel like she is gone and has left me during the week and even after all this time I am never really sure that she’ll be there on a Monday.

So, anyway, that’s a bit of a detour! Back to Friday, based on the outside session communication rule/boundary, I knew that she’d see the text but wouldn’t have read anything in the blog or even followed the link – she’d just be aware of something coming on Monday. Because of this ‘not reading stuff outside of session’ thing, I also know that I can still write freely here because she won’t read this blog unless I am there with her and want to share a specific post in session.

I’m not sure how I feel about that, actually. I guess it’s good because there are certainly things I’ll probably want to share on here that I don’t necessarily want her to see yet… but at the same time I guess the very fact that I have now given her the link to the blog, and the content of it is purely about the therapy, indicates that at least some part of me wants her to really know what’s going on. It’s complicated! I know if it was me and I discovered that someone was writing about me and my relationship with them I would just have to know what they were saying. My therapist just isn’t that interested, I don’t think.

So, finally, to Monday…

My adult (she’s quite good at this kind of thing) went to session with the laptop and handed it over for my therapist to read the post. I had thought I would be nervous or anxious when it came down to it, as previously when I’ve taken things in that I have written I have felt a bit sick or worried, sitting wondering how what I have said will be received. When you are in the room there is nowhere to hide except in silence.

I know that the fear that I might be rejected or abandoned by my therapist for expressing my feelings stems from when I was small. It’s a kind of negative maternal transference, but it absolutely doesn’t make it any easier knowing this. All the rationalising in the world about why I feel this way doesn’t change the fact that I am attached to her in the here and now, and all the fear about potential abandonment I feel is real in the here and now. The worst of it is that those feelings that have been dredged up from the past still carry the intensity of my inner child’s feelings that were hurt so badly when I was little. The adult can’t get round it.

I’m not sure why Monday felt less intense and less stressful, then. Perhaps I’ve done it enough times now and have always been met with a positive response that it feels a little bit less scary showing her my thoughts in writing. Perhaps it’s because in my head I’ve reached a point now where I know that I have to push things forward because I just cannot keep getting caught up in emotional hell over and over due to how I feel about her and the therapeutic relationship. I’ve got to stop expecting her to be psychic and know what’s bothering me.

I think a lot of the time I feel like my therapist should know what’s going on with me because so many of my internal thoughts are taken up with thinking about therapy and about what I want to say to her. I have to remember that she is not in my head and so unless I explicitly say what’s going on for me she won’t have the full picture. She is very intuitive and gets it right a lot of the time without me having to say anything but the finer detail needs spelling out. I am glad I did it.

So, bit by bit we worked through what I’d written. She asked how I felt about letting her see my writing and how it was different from speaking to her. I said that I have so much going on in my head that the detail often gets lost and my head turns to mush when I try and speak, whereas with writing I can process what I need to say beforehand and then build on it in session.

I often get blocked in session, especially after a break and so we agreed that maybe writing is a good way to get round this before the connection is fully restored and that I should/can bring things in to work through.

We talked through possible ways of trying to make things better, especially when there is a disruption, i.e trying a different strategy with a handwritten message on a card maybe and work on the content together in sessions so it works for me. You know I still want a teddy, though, right?! Lol.

She seemed to understand how and why the visualisation had missed the mark and how it hadn’t helped the little ones feel safe at all;  the language wasn’t right and that a visualisation was just too much at the moment. She said it is complex because she also needs to talk to the adult (that’s what she was trying to do in the visualisation) to try and integrate all the parts but by the end of the session acknowledged that it is really difficult because there are so many parts in play and they are all hearing and taking different things from what she says. She said that she knows she needs to talk to the little ones.

One of the best bits of the session, for me, was at the very end listening to the song that I had attached to the post. I love music and I often find that I get a song as an internal soundtrack that reflects where I am emotionally; it was Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide the other week, Sheryl Crow’s Weather Channel last week and this week there are a couple of Counting Crows songs doing the rounds…read into that what you will! So listening to the song and the lyrics together gave the session another dimension for me. Not only did I get to share a song that carries a lot of meaning for me and essentially summarised the feelings in the blog post, but it was a bit of quiet reflective time too after what really was quite a lot of processing and discussion.

I’ve been really struggling to settle down in sessions lately and we’ve talked about trying to find some strategies for calming me down and making me feel safe in the session at the beginning to enable me to talk. Based on how I felt on Monday, I think that maybe listening to a track together at the start of our sessions each week would be a really good starter – partly because it allows a few minutes to settle but also functions as a talking point. Usually the song of the moment has some kind of relevant emotional meaning. So, I think I might suggest this on Monday and see what she says.

God, this is long again and I haven’t written that out very well. To be honest, the session all feels a bit of a blur now. I guess what I can say is that we talked through loads and it was positive. I didn’t feel awkward or too embarrassed. She made me feel safe and as though all my feelings have a place in the therapy and that she isn’t going to reject me because of them. I know there is still a long way to go but as a result of sharing that blog post I now know that we are on the same page. Or at least, she knows what’s in my book

In the words of KT Tunstall, ‘It took me so long to get here, but here I am!’