Dissociation

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It’s been a really very difficult week this week (although I am still in that ‘good place’ I spoke of last week where I am, at least, not beating myself up for having difficult feelings). I have been so massively dissociated since last Monday morning that just getting through the week has been an enormous struggle. I’ve lost sense of the day of the week, time, where the hell I am, as well as experiencing problems in having conversations with people because I can’t hold what the person is saying in mind and therefore follow the thread of what they are saying. I’ve had a real battle trying to locate my adult let alone engage her in any meaningful way. It’s been far from ideal!

The level of energy I have had to expend just to function in a way that appears ‘normal’ has been huge. The little parts have been running the show and they are poles apart from who I need to be in order to get through the working week/being a parent etc. The young parts are absolutely beside themselves having a proper meltdown and are trapped in some kind of trauma response (again). It’s been horrendous and I am completely exhausted now. In fact I have come back to bed to type this because I am so worn out.

I’m so glad it’s the weekend because at least for a couple of days I don’t have to fire up the teacher and can sit a little more with my feelings. Today I must be mum and wife but I can notch up my quietness to being ‘tired’ or ‘a bit hormonal’ rather than being in a dissociated mess. And to be fair, things are a little better today than they have been…thank god! Although I do want some peace and quiet and don’t appear to be getting any. (Like right now my wife has just walked in and has decided to sit on the end of the bed and just fire up her tablet….like WHY? Give me some space already).

So, to last week…

My therapy session sort of bombed on Monday because I was basically unable to connect with my T in any meaningful way until about ten minutes from the end. I had spent the session feeling either totally numbed and shut down or like I was two years old and hiding behind the sofa. Neither state is conducive to talking because I’m either ‘not there’ or ‘don’t have words’ (the youngest one is pre-verbal which makes things a bit tricky).

It’s been like this before. In fact I would say I spend at least some of every therapy session in a dissociated state but it hasn’t been as bad as how it was on Monday in a long while. I don’t know why it was so awful and I felt so trapped inside myself.

The first thing on my mind as I opened my eyes on Monday morning was that I would see my therapist (to be honest my life essentially revolves around where I am in relation to my next session! Six days a week it’s ‘Wahhhhh today isn’t Monday and I won’t see Em’, or on Monday it’s ‘Yay!’). I really wanted to see her this last week. There was a lot that needed to be talked through that I have been hanging onto since before I went on holiday– the rest of the letter, for example!

As I lay there half-awake the child parts longing and love fired up in a huge way ‘We get to see Em! We love her’ and then almost simultaneously a wave of fear, panic, and shame washed over me as I also realised the needs of those young parts can’t be met. They desperately want to hug her and be held and that just isn’t going to happen. My stomach hurt and my chest tightened. I could feel tears weren’t far away. I felt stupid. I felt pathetic. I felt so very alone.

What’s the point in going to therapy to be reminded week in week out that I am untouchable and unlovable? (Yes, I get it, to work through this and work out why it feels so horrendous! – but when I am in that state it just feels like torture).

Still, at that point, I had enough of my adult present to know where things were likely to be heading and so I drafted a text message to Em. I could feel I was on a slippery slope and suspected the session was going to be tough or a total washout:

I’ve woken up feeling really vulnerable and needy. It’s been hard this week and I can’t put my finger on why – perhaps the break? Or stuff left over from the before the break? It’s just felt physically horrible and I feel really shaky.

I can feel the shame and embarrassment creeping in and the critical part stepping up ready to silence the young parts who really need to connect with you because they are struggling and it’s making everyday life feel tough.

We need to talk through the letter I wrote before half-term today but I feel like the little ones are starting to run the show and so I don’t know how that’ll work out because when I am in that state I can’t talk – everything feels so sensitive and scary. I don’t think they are going to settle until we’ve gone through it all together, so I guess we’ll need to find a way.

Right now I am frightened that what I wrote is all too much and you’re going to go (same old story). That makes me want to run away or attack myself in some way. I feel like I am dissociated a lot of the time and I really don’t want that to happen, this week, in session.

Please keep checking in with me today. I want to be close but it’s going to be really tough to stay present because the young ones feel terrified and whenever I feel like this I hide, even though it’s the absolute last thing I want to do. It’s rubbish that the more I need to connect the more I hide or push you away. X

Great text right?

Yeah.

I didn’t send it.

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I didn’t sent it because even though I knew it said exactly what I needed her to know, I felt like if I were to send it I’d be overstepping the outside contact boundary. She prefers it if I write stuff down and bring it to session so we can discuss things in person.

Texting has been such a minefield that I didn’t want to ‘get into trouble’ about ‘breaking the rules’. I can see now how the young parts were instrumental in the decision making process here. It was very much coming from a place of not wanting to disappoint the attachment figure or not being a ‘good a girl’. It’s not surprising I felt like this because I was so frigging caught up in the young emotions.

Of course there is part of me also wanted to be able to go into the session and just tell her how I felt… so freaking optimistic!!

Anyway, the text remained in my phone and by the time I got to therapy I was a shaking mess. I hate it that sometimes when I arrive and sit down my body starts trembling. It’s like having the shivers all over. When I am like that I find it hard to concentrate on anything other than what my body is doing. I don’t know why it keeps happening other than it being something to do with fear and anxiety from my childhood playing out in the therapeutic relationship. It sucks whatever the reason.

I tried to get myself in a place to talk but I couldn’t. I just got further and further inside myself and could barely look at my therapist.

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Being shutdown and detached in therapy makes me so sad. The little girl parts (mainly the two and four year old parts) struggle so much through the week, basically holding on for the time when they can see my therapist and yet so frequently when I get there I can’t let either of them be seen or talk. It feels too much.

I absolutely love my therapist, she knows this (you know this!), but I feel enormous shame and embarrassment about having these feelings for her. Sometimes I am able to talk but about things and the session goes ok, it’s not awkward, but there are times when I completely freak out, dissociate and sit there in silent pain wanting to hide but also needing be seen simultaneously. It’s basically agony.

I know! I talk about this ALL THE TIME and it is GETTING BORING!

Don’t get me wrong, my therapist tries her best when I am like this. She really earns her money and I am staggered that she hasn’t given up yet. She did help me find a way to emerge from the hell I was in once she could ascertain what was really going on and who was there in session but I don’t make it easy for her!

Eventually she had done enough to build my trust – or rather the trust of the frightened young parts and any protector parts that were lingering. (I hate that we have to go through this process. I hate losing my sense of her care and being a safe person during the week).

My silences can be so multi-layered. She wondered were the teen parts there or the critic? Nope. Neither of those (this time!). The silence came from fear of rejection rather than anger. But it’s hard for her to tell what the silence means because the body language is the same, the sighing is the same, the lack of eye contact is the same. I might’ve been raging. I wasn’t. I was small and crying and lost. And I was trapped inside myself – or rather outside myself!

As soon as she found them (hiding behind the sofa), she spoke directly to the young parts and showed real care and empathy for them. I love that soft voice and gentleness. It was exactly what I needed and drew those parts out and allowed them to talk. Unfortunately so much time had already gone from the session by the time I felt able to let her in that I was unable to even share half of what I needed before I had to pick myself up and leave the room.

She is great at telling me that it’s ok when these difficult sessions happen because she says that I am still telling her a lot about how things are and at least we get somewhere in the end and I can let some stuff out. It makes me feel less of a therapy failure when she says this but having her acknowledge that often the week between sessions is difficult after these sessions feels unbearable. It’s like we both know it’s a recipe for disaster but I am still on my own with it. I can’t check in. There is no extra support available….and that can make me spiral down even further. I feel cast adrift.

I know that’s why this week has been so bloody hard. I have all this stuff inside massively activated and was unable to get proper help and holding last session – although did at least get some and I must try and hang onto that.

I know that this is what it’s like sometimes but man, I wish I would learn that when I don’t talk and open up I really pay for it in the week. I have never been as bad as this before so far a dissociation outside the session goes. I have never felt so spaced out or absent before. I have rarely felt so consistently caught up in the trauma of those young parts. I suspect this signals some big work is coming in session – if I could just get there and remain present enough to talk.

I have decided that I am going to send a text to my therapist that includes the one I wrote last week just before I leave the house of Monday morning. I can’t afford for her to be going in blindfolded again this week. I need to give her the map and a compass so she knows what she’s facing. There have been so many times this week where I have wanted to reach out to her and ask for reassurance but I haven’t. And I have tried to hold this all for myself – and I have done. I think giving her the head’s up an hour before we meet is a bit different from how I might have reached out before. I don’t expect her to reply and I suspect she will read it with me in session – which is all I want. I want a way in to talking when I feel mute.

I guess we’ll see what happens. Let’s face it, if I get the boundary talk all I’ll do is shut down and be silent so it’s no different to last week without any mention of boundaries.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what am I saying?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I totally get how dramatic that seems.

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

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

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

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

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

Then I had an idea.

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

I know.

This is not one of my proudest moments.

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

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

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

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

 

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C is also for…

Commitment

Communication

Conversation

Child parts

Crying

Compassion

Care

Connection

Containment

Today’s session had all of these ingredients.

I didn’t say much, I just couldn’t, but thankfully my therapist took the reins and soothed me with her words as I sat silently crying.

The one ‘C’ I really could have used?…

Cuddle

– oh but of course!

In my dreams! Literally, always in my dreams. Ha!

I’m so wiped out after today’s session that I’ll have to sleep on it before writing about it.

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I survived the therapy break – so why do I feel so bad?

It’s Monday today, my usual therapy day, but as it’s a bank holiday in the UK I’m not having a session. My therapist is still on holiday.

It’s technically day 21 of the 22 day break and with only one more day to go until my (rescheduled) session, I know I have almost survived the therapy break – so why do I feel so bad today?

Well, today signals the third (and last) missed Monday session of this break (phew!) and despite my having a session tomorrow instead, there’s something about the ‘actual’ therapy days that I really struggle with when on a break. I’m not sure what it is but it’s like my internal clock is now set up for me to be in that room with my therapist each week, and so being anywhere other than in that room, in that chair sitting opposite her, talking to her just feels plain wrong. I’m not where I should be and I feel agitated and upset about it. I am painfully aware of her absence. It throws all the issues about being abandoned into sharper focus because SHE IS NOT THERE.

It doesn’t matter what I do, I can plan in really nice activities to take my mind off it, spend the therapy money on a treat, and yet wherever I am, whatever I am doing, inside I know where I really want to be, need to be, where my heart is. I know she’s not there. I know her seat is empty. So it makes no sense to be like this but I can’t help how I feel. I really miss her.

Once the session time has passed I feel a little better because I’ve essentially ticked another week off the break. It is never easy on a Monday if I don’t have a session and if I am honest I know it filters down through the rest of the week. I am not as present as I usually would be at home. I try and find time to be alone because I know I am more grumpy and short-tempered than usual.

Essentially the little ones inside me start to have a tantrum, or the Teenager is pissed off and sometimes it comes out with those that are near me in the form of snappy comments, long sighs, or generally being frustrated about totally inane things: toys on the floor, the dishwasher not having been loaded and put on, laundry not in the basket, someone not replacing the toilet roll, those sort of things. I’m at my absolute worst when I am on my own in the car driving. I am a safe driver but I have a running commentary about every ‘fucking wanker’ on the road! I guess it’s kind of funny.

I think part of the problem is that therapy is basically functioning as a lifeline for me right now. I absolutely need that time each week to sort through my head and be supported by someone who can handle what I have to say and hold what I feel. Without that weekly check in I find it really hard to cope. I have allowed myself to become dependent on my therapist and so when she’s not there it really isn’t good!

Don’t get me wrong, I also find the therapy really hard too. Sometimes it feels like it’s the source of my problems (i.e feeling abandoned from week to week and horrid therapy breaks!), but I’d rather be emotionally overwhelmed and possibly silent in her presence, in session, than on my own…and of course I do talk to her most of the time!

I’m going in for a session tomorrow evening and again Friday morning this week. My therapist knows I am hopeless when there is a break. We’ve had a few ruptures since Easter and one was simply caused by her having to move a session to another day, she didn’t cancel me and make me wait until the Monday, and yet I still was sent through a loop. I’m not sure I’ve really recovered from it all yet.

She suggested having a couple of sessions this week to cut down the length of the break and to hopefully recover from it a bit sooner. It takes me a while to find my feet again after any kind of disruption. I feel like I have to start building the trust from scratch and it takes a while.

Last year I did the full 28 days of the summer break, basically fell apart inside, and it took about a month to get back to business. I never told her, then, how much it had affected me as I had only recently returned to therapy. But the long break last year echoed the previous three years without her and it was really hard to hang onto the fact that she was coming back and that I would see her again.

Despite how much I have written about how much I therapy breaks and how much I need to be back in therapy I can’t deny that there are parts of me that really can’t be arsed with it all, too. There is definitely part of me that doesn’t want to go to session tomorrow. I feel so torn.

The youngest parts absolutely need to go tomorrow night. They need to see her and be reassured that she does still exist, that nothing has changed, and that they are safe in the relationship. The thing is, there are several parts of me that are just so tired of all this. Tired of feeling shit. Tired of missing her. Tired of never quite getting what I needed in session. It’s exhausting.

I hate going into session knowing exactly what I need to say and then invariably hitting a block. Sometimes my mind goes blank the moment I sit down and sometimes I have so much whirling in my head that I say nothing.

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Sometimes I feel my adult disappear on me part way through a session, the littlest ones show up, they are crying inside me but don’t feel brave enough to tell her. Sometimes the Teenager attends and is just really fucking obstructive, sarcastic, and angry. By far the worst though is when the Critic is present. I can’t say anything to my therapist and am basically locked in a tormenting interior monologue. All I hear is the attacking voice that tells me she isn’t there, that she doesn’t care, and that I am pathetic.

I really hope that tomorrow I can talk and have a positive, reconnecting session.

I know I will be there. I have never yet not attended a session. There is always some part of me that drags me there. Maybe it’s a parental part?!