System Error #128 – Update Required (or When Will My System Realise My Therapist Is Safe?)

Oh Man! Where do I start with this? Last time I was here I was circling the drain of doom where my system was basically in full meltdown. The young parts of me were in a total panic about the Easter therapy break (that wasn’t really a break at all) and I was edging into the place where part of me felt like quitting therapy in order to escape the painful feelings of abandonment but also to leave before I got left.

Over the course of that eight days, I had got myself so worked up. The fear of being abandoned or rejected by Anita was huge and felt totally real and possible (at least to some of my system). I was on high alert and had convinced myself that something had changed between Anita and I. I was sure that she’d had enough of me. I mean I laid it all out in the last blog so no need to go over it again too much. But jeez. It’s hard work.

I went through the cycle: young parts activated and distressed, teen trying to calm things down and feeling dismissive and angry, and the critic moving in to shut things down by attacking and shaming me. It’s thoroughly exhausting when this happens (did I ever mention that I am not keen on therapy breaks?!) and it’s so hard to ground and get my adult self to take the reins.

I think the thing I failed to mention about this cycle is that whilst it can seem quite linear a, b, c the reality is that it doesn’t get to c (critic) and everything go quiet with the young parts. Far from it! It can seemingly go in waves and a,b,c, a,b,c or a,b,a c, b, a, a… and sometimes all the parts are activated simultaneously…and god that’s hellish! When that happens the system is unsettled and noisy. It’s like there’s a house of different parts all screaming to get out of their rooms (apart from the teen – she’ll rot in her room with a razor blade). Imagine having a screaming new born, a toddler wailing, a four-year-old banging… etc etc…and then the critic going mad like some crazed warden from a Victorian orphanage. There’s no trauma-informed care here – it’s threats, and shaming, and “noone loves you and that’s why you’re here”.

Joy!

Even if adult me can see what’s going on with the parts it’s pretty hard to step outside it because the felt sense in my body that something is dangerous and that bad things will happen is so real. I know it’s a hangover from the past and the relational trauma I have experienced with other people…but try telling that to my system when it perceives slight changes in Anita’s behaviour and then runs away with itself. Yikes!

What I found really disappointing – this break – is how quickly I slipped into believing the narrative that I was sure to be terminated when the break was over when there has been so much evidence to the contrary. It’s like having my brain and body hijacked when it gets that bad.

Usually, if I feel disconnected from Anita or panicked, I might reach out with a text (mostly a GIF from the young parts) and Anita responds to that and it settles things down. The thing is, this break, for some reason I couldn’t send the message. I couldn’t clue Anita in to how things were and so kept spiralling downwards. Convinced she was fed up of me and wouldn’t want to hear from me I continued to drown in the horrible feelings.

Then on Tuesday I sent Anita the link to my last blog post. I don’t know if she read it. And then, finally, on the Tuesday night I caved in. The youngest parts were really activated and broke free of the critic’s shackles. I simply sent a GIF:

And as you can see within a few minutes she’d responded and instantly my system settled. Why the fuck did I let myself get so worked up and not reach out and get what I needed earlier? I guess part of it was the shame. I felt embarrassed for needing her and I suppose it’s something about the holiday too. I didn’t want to be pathetic and needy when she wasn’t working. However, it definitely didn’t do me any favours letting things spiral so much.

I was also so unsettled by the fact that my sessions have not been able to be as regular over the school Easter holidays due to my childcare issues. Of course, I could have done online sessions but I really know that given how unsettled I was that there would have been a huge likelihood that screen sessions might have exacerbated the situation.

Once things came down a few notches out of ‘she hates me and is going to leave’ I was able to tell Anita about how I was feeling about the sessions I couldn’t have/make, and we managed to reschedule a Monday one that I couldn’t get childcare for to tomorrow and that eased things a bit. I was also able to tell her how I struggling and asked her not to let me float away in our session on Friday (last week) because I was finding it so hard. She said she understood and knows it’s a well-used defence mechanism and told me she was looking forward to seeing me and sent me another hug GIF.

And then everything felt totally doable.

I arrived at my session and was so ready to see Anita. You’ll remember how the weeks leading into the Easter break I started to retreat and my False Adult showed up and did all the talking and prevented the child parts from getting what they needed. Not on Friday. I literally sat down. Anita commented on my bracelet, I said something about my hair and then gave up. I’d been there less than two minutes when I said, “Can I have a hug please?” and she replied, “Of course. Come here.” I snuggled into her and she noticed that I was shaking and gently rubbed my back and hugged me close into her chest.

I was so glad to be there, so glad I had been able to ask for what I wanted and needed, but the legacy of the last week was still in my body. I could barely breathe. I closed my eyes and tried to focus in on the steady beat of Anita’s heart to regulate my system. After about five minutes I opened my eyes. I felt conflicted. I was both tense and relieved – this is what it’s like when more than one part is activated at the same time. It’s the disorganised attachment stuff in action. Anita wondered what was going on, she asked if the hugs were helping. I shook my head into her chest. She replied “Do you want me to stop hugging you?” again I shook my head and she held me a bit tighter to her.

Then I asked, “Have you cleaned your fish tank?” – you know, as you do!

And Anita told me she had. I said, “This is the problem, with my system, everything is so alert. Your fish tank wasn’t even dirty – it’s barely changed, but I notice EVERYTHING in this room. I’m guessing most of clients don’t comment on your tank?” (or the bloody light switches or painted doors…or all the other shit I notice and have to ask about. I literally know when she’s dusted and some of the items on the shelves have moved a centimetre or two. It’s fucking exhausting, but if I notice the room imagine what I am picking up on in Anita – if she’s a bit tired, a bit snuffly, a cut on her hand, or she smells different…FUCK!!). She said no but then really soothingly spoke to me about my hypervigilance and how it’s ok and expected after the trauma I have had.

Anita really normalises everything for me where other people tell me that I am ‘too jumpy’ or ‘scared of my own shadow’ and ‘need to chill out’, Anita understands why and tries so hard to ease things for me. Like she’ll text me if there’s going to be a different car on the drive or whatever. She just really gets it.

How many times have I said this before? And this is what’s so fucking frustrating about the last week on break. I just can’t feel any of that stuff when things get disrupted because my system is thrown into a panic. Or I can’t trust it. Or maybe I could trust that but it’s always possible for people to change!…

So much of my problem with breaks and object constancy stems from my mum being away in the week when I was small and then coming home and being volatile but I know she also had a really tough time when I was a baby with post-natal depression and so the likelihood is that she would have been inconsistent with me as a baby too. Like the title of the post, there’s an error code in my system and I really require an update but it’s just not as simple as going into the start menu and selecting ‘restart and update’. Therapy isn’t a quick fix but it is a fix.

I guess the positive about all this is that there is change. Sure, I got the rug pulled out from under my feet over Easter but the difference, now, is that I feel able to talk to Anita about my feelings around breaks and separation when we are together. I don’t just sit drowning in my toxic shame, mute and dissociated like I did with Em feeling steadily more disconnected and upset.

To be fair, Anita and I didn’t speak much in this 75-minute session compared with when False Adult was attending the sessions. But my goodness was it a healing and connecting session. Somewhere in the middle after a lot of holding I miserably said, “Sorry I am hard work.”

Anita hugged me closer again and replied, “You’re not! You’re really not. You’re really not! I know you feel it but you’re not. You’re just very hurt. And I know that the separation just opens all those wounds back up again, doesn’t it? It really is ok. I get it. You’re not hard work. I think is the saddest thing for me about you. The trauma kept changing right the way through for you and was there right from the day you were born. But it’s not you. It’s not your fault!”

I asked if we were still ok and if anything had changed. She softly asked, “Does it feel like it’s changed?”

I nodded into her chest.

“In what way?… Does it feel more distant? It hasn’t altered. It really hasn’t. I haven’t changed. We haven’t changed. This really is ok.” And then she likened me to her rescue dog (again!)…we have a lot in common! The simple but emphatic reassurance from Anita really helped the little parts feel safe. I like how Anita doesn’t over-complicate things when it is clear it is a young part speaking to her. She makes it simple and easy to understand and this really regulates the system quickly. Em used to spend ages asking me questions and never giving any kind of reassurance and it was so hard for the young parts.

After another little while I whispered, “You’re not a horrible person.” I had been thinking about what my brain had served me up in the week. Trying to make me think that A was somehow uncaring or whatever and how she was going to hurt me. But the young parts don’t believe it. Not at all. They miss her terribly when they can’t see her but she’s not doing it to reject them.

Anita spoke softly and said, “I’m not, no. And you’re not either. I’m not going to trick you. I do mean what I say. I’m guessing your brain is questioning all of these things. One day it might believe me.”

I can’t really put into words what it feels like when we have these conversations and I am snuggled into her like a bloody baby monkey. When I think about it now part of me wants to cringe – like ‘OMG I seriously don’t let myself be that fucking vulnerable and pathetic and needy with another human being do I?’ but there’s so many parts that finally FINALLY are getting what they need and there is no shame or embarrassment when I am that close to Anita.

It doesn’t feel weird or too much.

There’s an incredible amount of intimacy and trust that has been forged between us and I know to anyone in the normal outside world, perhaps people who have not done therapy, might have some opinions on it – but what happens in therapy is not like anything else I have experienced in life. It’s like some magic grove where little by little we glue all our pieces back together and make new pieces for parts that are missing. It’s a bit like that Japanese thing where broken pots get put back together with gold. The cracks are celebrated and the structure is solid.

Eventually, and I mean very eventually, after about an hour I felt my system completely relax. My body went heavy like all the tension just left. I was able to breathe regularly and deeply alongside Anita’s breathing rather than holding my breath or shallow breathing. I told her I was tired. She told me she knows how scared I am and how much of a struggle it can be and that it’s only when we feel safe that you can really feel the tiredness. When we’re no longer in flight mode and it’s safe to relax do we get hit with the exhaustion. I told her I loved her and she told me she loved me too. Little by little it felt like everything was getting back on track. She said she could feel that I was more settled and continued to hold me.

And then my stomach started growling really REALLY loudly! Anita said it was a good sign. When you’re hypervigilant and in fight/flight/freeze everything is in a tight knot. Food isn’t on the agenda. So she sees it it’s a sign of things starting to relax.

I felt so relaxed and connected that I finally felt able to let out some humour and said, “Do I get the prize for most needy and clingy client?” Anita burst out laughing. I continued, “Because if I am going to do things, I like to be the best.” Anita giggled and responded laughing, “If you’re gonna do it, you’ve got to do it properly!”

Then there was a bit of silence.

“You avoided that well!” I poked.

More laughter from Anita. Then she composed herself. “Well, there’s all different types of needy aren’t there? You know? I think we can all be there. I know my three-year-old can kick off sometimes. More times than I would like her to.”

Ha! Good try therapist lady, I know I am the gold medalist!

And then it was the end of the session. I felt such a huge amount of relief after that connecting session.

Unfortunately, these last couple of days have felt tricky again and this is completely down to the fact that I couldn’t have my session yesterday and have to wait until tomorrow to go. It’s too long between the contact and too much disruption for my young parts. Whilst I don’t relish the end of the school holidays and being thrown back into the chaos that is my usual life I will be glad for my therapy schedule to resume…and hopefully get some handle back on my internal world!

Separation Anxiety: Young Parts In Meltdown (Again)

Warning: this is quite long and I’m not convinced it makes much sense – my brain is in meltdown!

So, it’s Easter break…which, actually, is not really an Easter break at all, so far as what I have previously had to contend with in therapy goes! Em used to disappear for two or three weeks over Easter and that was that. No contact. Radio silence. It was like she ceased to exist – and this triggered me on so many levels. In addition to this, there was no preparation for the break – I knew when it was coming in advance, but nothing was ever done to help get my system safe and settled before a holiday. The was no talking to the parts about how the break might feel. There were no transitional objects (ha – the pebbles debacle is case in point). There was just silence (which breeds shame) and then absence.

I used to dread the breaks (and I still do, actually) and the closer they got the more my young parts struggled. A few days into a holiday and those little parts felt abandoned (and completely terrified) and then to add insult to injury, adult me would panic because my dad died suddenly whilst away on holiday (when I was 25) and so feared something similar would happen again with Em (hello PTSD response!).

So basically, breaks in therapy have always set off an internal ‘bad weather’ event – it just comes in varying degrees: very breezy/light rain (mildly inconvenient), gale force/heavy downpour (wasn’t equipped for this but I’ll survive!), or complete tornado/shit storm (Run for your life! Take cover! I’m gonna die!). Like I say, sometimes breaks feel just about bearable, just a little bubbling of anxiety and feeling unsettled and other times it feels like it’s unsurvivable danger to the young parts who wailing and feeling completely overwhelmed.

Guess which version it is this year?

Uh huh…shitstorm.

Fuccckkkk!!!

It’s disappointing, to be sure. You’d think after everything I have written lately about how good my therapy feels, that my attachment to Anita would be so strong that I would sail through a week off. Only that’s not how it is AT ALL. Far from it. It’s crap, actually. I want it to be ok, but the truth is, I miss her a lot. I’m not surprised though, my life is a real struggle at the minute and my therapy has really been a lifeline so for that to ‘disappear’ (albeit temporarily) it’s totally stirred things up.

When things feel bad on breaks there’s a clear trajectory through the holiday. I know the pattern – I just don’t know what the hell to do about it! To be clear, I also know that it’s my stuff, not the reality of the situation or a reflection of the relationship with my therapist.

So, what happens?

The beginning part of the break sees the youngest parts crying and the attachment stuff is so painful. I have an image of a two-year-old part screaming, alone, abandoned in an endless grey space and it is so powerful. She feels so scared and lost. I can’t reach out to that part- she’s got her back to me. And even if I could reach her, it’s not me she wants. I’m not the attachment figure (yet – but hope to be one day). My body physically hurts and I feel completely ungrounded. It’s basically all the horrible stuff about not mattering, being forgettable, and unimportant swirling around – and it’s just so cold and depressing and lonely. Basically, it’s abandonment and rejection 101 and it feels like I’m stuck in a Groundhog Day.

As the break progresses that young stuff becomes completely unbearable. I feel like I am juddering inside and then nightmares start – usually about the therapist being burnt out, changing, and then rejecting me – which is what happened last night. Groan.

It won’t be long, now, until I move into the next stage where the teen steps in to try and get a handle on the littles. It’s when she steps in that I feel like ‘fuck the therapy, I am done with it!’ I woke up this morning and my instinct was to cancel my session on Friday. I don’t want to feel all this hurt and pain that has so vividly just played out in my nightmare. The anger I feel about the situation is massive – but it’s just a mask for absolute sadness and devastation. The teen feels so let down. So stupid for trusting and attaching to the therapist when actually the reality is it’s easy to leave me and the little parts and I just have to be ok with that.

BTW I get that this is all ‘me me me’ but that’s the teen’s feelings. Adult me understands breaks just fine. We all need them! Our therapists have earned them (mine more than most!) – but I am not talking about my rational adult self here – I am talking about the fucking nightmare that happens for my system on breaks! I wish I could just switch into adult and have all the various parts powered down. It just doesn’t work that way, unfortunately!

So, the cycle continues…

Once teen has had a try and failed to get things under control, I end up with screaming little parts and now suicidal teens who feel like self-harm might be a really good idea, or a trip into anorexia (I am making light of it here – but it’s anything but funny) and then it gets really nasty inside. It is so hard to focus on my life. I try and keep busy and productive but inside it’s just awful. Nothing is contained or safe and it’s agony, actually.

So, as I approach the point where it’s all totally fucked inside, the Critic steps in and shuts everything down. The level of self-attack and shaming is just utterly horrendous. It makes the little parts want to die. The teen is already there. And so, it’s just like being in a torturous boot camp. The Critic is so mean.

This is where the narrative about Anita not caring, it all being fake, that I am too much and that’s why she’s gone away comes in. It says that actually Anita’s glad to see the back of me, I’m responsible for burning her out and now she won’t come back. I am stupid for hoping things would be different – because ultimately, I am the same ‘tick’ that Em saw and anyone in their right mind would find me too much and want to escape eventually.

Ouch.

Even though she’s a complete tyrant I do realise now that the Critic is just trying to protect me from getting hurt. Shut down the vulnerability, hide the need, and cope…I can do it on my own…I always have.

Only the little ones don’t want to be alone anymore.

Ugh.

So it feels like I have ended up on the emotional waltzers again. Waltzers are way worse than the rollercoaster.

I’ve been thinking about what has happened that has made this break feel so hard. It all started a couple of weeks ago. I knew the holidays were coming (I count the weeks down for time off work!) and I was glad that I would be able to rest and recharge a bit as it’s been so so hard lately – in fact I was looking back over messages to see and it’s been 5 solid months of hell now. I need to sleep. I am so so tired. The thing is, holidays don’t feel restful because whilst my work goes on a low gear my maintenance plan stalls.

When it’s school holidays I am automatically plunged into a childcare situation, or rather ‘lack of childcare’ and so therapy gets disrupted and so my ‘rest time’ actually feels massively stressful because that consistent therapeutic space for me is just gone and so the system gets thrown into chaos. Anita is only taking the bank-holiday off, but I still can’t see her as much as I’d like because I simply can’t get to her in the daytimes. In some ways this feels worse than if she wasn’t working and was unavailable. The little parts know she is there and it’s just them that can’t see her when other people can. This stresses me out and sends the little parts into a really bad place.

It’s horrible because I really don’t want to be ‘that client’ (or this client!). I don’t want to be having a meltdown over this. I don’t want to be so unbearably needy. I don’t want to make a big deal out of something that neither of us can do much about. It’s just embarrassing and I am so over it! So, I try and hide what’s going on inside. And this is where my ‘False Adult’ steps up.

The last couple of weeks I have gone to session and talked…and talked…and probably seemed fine. I have, I think, come across as mildly annoyed about stuff in my life, tired, and same same…but also pretty ‘together’ given what’s been going on. Anita probably has no idea that there is anything going on underneath, probably thinks I am doing pretty well all things considered.

Only, it’s that swan analogy – on the surface everything seems fine enough but underneath the legs are going like the clappers.

I am not ok.

So, what do I do when it’s like this? First thing is retreat. Part of me knows I am not going to be able to see or be close to Anita over the holiday so I start protecting myself from that loss before it happens and go into hiding (which is bonkers).

There was a session recently where, despite desperately wanting to reach out and ask for a hug, I just couldn’t. If I am shutdown and dissociated, I think it’s pretty clear what I need and Anita generally offers me a hug or to hold her hand in order to bring me back. This False Adult is different, though. I seem ‘fine’ and engaged and there are no silences. I think I even do a pretty good job at masking how I feel with ‘reasonably relaxed’ body language. On the surface it seems like I am coping and don’t look as though I need anything. It’s smoke and fucking mirrors, though.

Inside the young parts are still there and wanting connection and holding so badly, but I just don’t let them out. I guess I know just ‘how big’ the need of those young part is and I don’t want to be too much for A, or overwhelm her before her break. I don’t want her to go on her break and it be such a huge (and welcome) contrast/rest that she realises that working with me is draining and so she decides not to come back or to refer me on.

It’s stupid though (and I really know this – but am trying to show the process in all its bonkers), because all that happens is this young, needy stuff builds and builds and then when the break comes it explodes all over the shop and is more likely to encroach into the break. Realistically, it’d probably annoy Anita more reaching out during a break than if I was just needy and clingy in the time leading into a break. So why does it still happen? I don’t think what happens before breaks is conscious but it’s definitely a pattern. It’s easier to pretend that I don’t need Anita than actually have to say, out loud, ‘I miss you already and I hate that I feel like you’re gone and it scares me’… because … ugh… puke. Vulnerability overload and eeekkk it’s not safe!

It’s certainly not much fun feeling like I am at the emotional fairground. It’s like part of me can see exactly what’s going on and just wants to cringe in the corner because it’s so predictable, so familiar. But at the same time, I can’t help but feel some compassion for myself. It’s such an exhausting situation. I just want some time out from my system and to properly rest. I feel so sad that this happens over and over again.

So, I seem to have digressed a bit. The day False Adult turned up I talked my way through the entire session…because that’s therapy, right? But no. It was the first session (face-to-face) in months and months that I hadn’t had a cuddle with Anita during the session. And OMG was that a massive problem afterwards! As I got up to leave, I gave Anita a hug but…it wasn’t the same, or enough, or what I needed and the young parts were in bits.

The time between sessions that week was fucking hideous. I mean, really bad. It was me that didn’t reach out and yet, somewhere in my poorly wired, misfiring brain, it felt like it must be something wrong with me. Maybe Anita didn’t want to be near me anymore. Maybe she was glad that I didn’t ask for a hug. Maybe she was relieved that she could keep her distance. Maybe something has changed between us. My mind went to town on me and it sent the child parts into freefall. They couldn’t understand what had happened and why Anita hadn’t seen them.

It was agony.

And this, remember, is all because a break was coming up. The lens I view myself and the therapeutic relationship through at this time distorts everything… and I hate it.

After that session I felt awful. I almost text Anita the morning of the next session to ask her to keep an eye out for the young parts and to ask if we could have a cuddle at the beginning of the session so that they knew it was safe to be there. But I didn’t. It felt too exposing. Too vulnerable. I hoped I would be able to ask for that myself.

Nope.

I didn’t leave this next session or those thereafter without a hug but it took me a really long time to ask and to get what I needed. And before I knew it, it was time to go. And when that happens it’s like being ripped out of the safety before I’m ready. I know this is my own fault. I know that Anita isn’t going to shame me for wanting to be close to her or for struggling with separation anxiety – but there’s a part that is terrified of exactly that. There is so much inner conflict.

Just writing this makes me feel mental.

As I said, adult me can see what the processes and patterns are…but insight doesn’t actually help much when I feel like this. It’s only Tuesday today and so it’s a few days until I get to see A. I have managed to get a friend to have the kids for me this week so I can get to my session, but god knows what I am going to do next week – and that stresses me out when I feel so unsettled.

I realise all I have done here is moan in a confused way. I’ve actually really struggled to write this so I do wonder if I am a bit dissociated because I can’t hold anything in mind properly. I’m trying to work out what to do next but also trying to work out what I could have done differently leading into the break to maybe make this more of a ‘breezy with a bit of drizzle’ break rather than a total ‘shit storm’.

I guess, I should have told Anita how I was dreading the break (that isn’t really even a break). I should have been honest about what was going on for the young parts because that might have invited a conversation about why they are so terrified and perhaps we could have put something in place to make it feel less bad. I should have sent the text before the session knowing it was likely that False Adult would turn up and hide the reality of what was going on.

I am so lucky. I really know that. I am reminded every day of Anita’s love and care. Sitting in bed writing this by the glow of the light she bought me for my birthday is a huge transitional object, as is the gorgeous necklace she gave me after the Nov/Dec lockdown but right now, the youngest most traumatised parts just feel like she’s gone…dead gone. It’s the object constancy stuff again and I don’t know how to get round it. I know it’s not all my system that is having a meltdown (thank god) but when this really young stuff is activated it’s just pure hell. I am so tired of feeling overwhelmed. Right now, I just want to listen to a bedtime story and fall asleep. I know some people have voice recordings of their therapists reading stories, or saying something reassuring and I do wonder if this would help those very young parts…but again, it’s hard to ask for that when you’re drowning in shame and feeling like you’re already too needy and demanding.

I’m trying to shake off the horrible feelings I have been left with after last night’s dream/nightmare. I hate when I dream of A and she embodies all the things I am panicking about. To be rejected in a dream is just so painful…and waking up it just adds fuel to the fire.

Anyway, that’s the break so far…fun times eh?!

Dear A, this is hard and I am struggling…

Dear A.

This is hard and I am struggling. It happens, without fail, every year. The period from the 27th December to the start of the new school term is a complete emotional disaster zone. I can trace this feeling back over at least the last twenty years, if not longer. It’s become part of the season just as much as Santa and Christmas films. I think a lot of people feel this way (do they?) – but even if there’s a lot of people in the same boat, it doesn’t help because what I feel right now is so incredibly isolating.

I desperately need time to recharge and given how hectic my day-to-day life is surely now, of all the times in the calendar, this should be the time I kick back and relax and have pj days. Nobody is expected to do much – I mean there’s the joke about not knowing what day it is and feeling like there’s no purpose – only it’s absolutely no joke feeling the way I do now. This isn’t relaxing. It’s harrowing. Yes, I am in my pjs but it’s because I have no energy or will to get dressed.

I feel so depressed. Everything feels a huge effort and I feel overwhelmed by the smallest of tasks. I should go and empty and reload the dishwasher, or at least get in the shower, but I can’t. I will do it at the very last minute before my wife gets home from work so as not to arouse suspicion of the fact that I am not functioning.

I feel so lonely and unsafe… I don’t mean that I am going to self-harm (although that has been a feature of this time of year before) I just mean I feel scared and not ok, not safe in my body. My nervous system is in tatters. I feel incapacitated. Frozen. Paralysed.

It’s at this time, every year, when all my fears rise up and I just feel desperately sad but also worthless and useless and all of those other horrible things that I struggle with so much. I can’t escape it and I can’t shift it – in fact, thinking about it, a decade ago it was this time that signalled my complete emotional breakdown which saw me off work for 17 months. It’s not a good time!!

As much as I want to ‘cheer up’ and find some energy and joy I just feel emotionally and physically wiped out. I know, now, that this is the very young stuff – pre-verbal- activating. It’s the feeling of that endless painful black hole in my chest that I wake up with, the panic, the emptiness, the tears that won’t come, the overwhelm and the detailed relentless bad dreams night after night.

And I can’t soothe it, that part of me. I just feel like I am in my own emotional prison and I don’t have the key to unlock the door and get out.

It’s bad.

Thinking about it, I am not surprised that over the years it’s been this time that has signalled the start of a rupture with Em. Things feel so desperate. I mean it’s as bad as it gets for me, and I’d reach out when I shouldn’t and then get radio silence which obviously triggered more pain, more shame, more of the ‘I am not worthy of care or love’. And this is where I am at again – now. Only I am writing this in a blog post in order not to create a rupture or to push you away. I don’t want to be ‘too much’ but this stuff, these feelings are too much for me and it’s hurting…and we’re only at the midway point.

It’s a negative downward spiral.

I know you’d probably say something like ‘try and do something nice for yourself’ but I don’t even feel like I have the capacity to exist right now. I know that’s dramatic. But ‘self-care’ feels like asking me to start speaking Chinese. I simply can’t do it.

I feel so stupid. In my last post here I wrote about how I genuinely thought this break would be ok because things are so much more secure and settled in my relationship with you. What I failed to recognise was the part that was around then is settled but this part, here, now is not. This part is the one that cannot take anything positive in. It’s the one who has no sense of object constancy. It’s the one who feels desperately alone and scared and has no words – it feels like a matter of life and death. I guess, given how bad it feels in my body it has to be the baby. It is the distress of a child who needs holding and is left out in the cold.

I don’t think how I feel is triggered by the break alone. It doesn’t feel like that…but when this stuff becomes live, it’s the break – the lack of contact – that makes it so much worse. My mental health maintenance plan is on ice – you and K aren’t there. In the usual run of things if I felt this way, the longest I would have to wait to see you is three days. I could text you and ask for a check-in and we’d probably be able to speak within 24 hours, and you’d respond with something holding in the meantime. But it’s different now. This is your holiday and I don’t want to burden you with my mess. It’s only been 9 days since I saw you but to these little ones that are panicked that feels like a lifetime ago.

Adult me is trying hard to just count it down and get through the days until we meet again. The thing is, this year I don’t even feel like I can take comfort in the fact that I am seeing you on Monday, 5 days from now. I really need to see you. I need to hug you and to cry and let some of this stuff out…but there is no guarantee that will actually happen. I am usually panicked enough on a break that my therapist won’t come back or that something bad has happened or things will go wrong (and they did last year!) but whilst I think you will come back because you care, we still might not get to see each other.

The COVID numbers are going mad here in the UK and I genuinely think we will be put in a strict lockdown again. It’s only a matter of time. And whilst there have been more provisions made for supporting mental health face-to-face in recent lockdowns, even if you don’t choose to go away and bubble with your partner, if schools revert to online learning as of next week, I will be home, here, looking after my kids and still won’t be able to see you face-to-face because I’ll be unable to get out in the daytime. As daft as it sounds there is a part of me that hopes you do go away because the idea of you staying here and my being unable to see you during the week when you are just down the road feels utterly unbearable. I could cry.

And so there it is. All my usual annual Christmas stuff playing out, the attachment pain, break struggles, and the extra cherry on top of the doom of potential lockdown just to add insult to injury. 2020 has been so hard and yet I fear there’s not a great deal to look forward to going forward.

I am so sick of hanging on by my fingertips. Survival mode is … overrated.

I miss you.

x

Therapy Break #1: You’re The Other Side Of The World To Me.

Ugh, noooooooooooooooooooo!!!! Here we go again. Somewhat predictably, as I find myself nearing the end of a therapy break, having almost survived it, the feeling of panic has taken root in the young parts of my system and the last couple of days I have found that I am perpetually on the verge of tears and feel completely overwhelmed but also totally incapacitated. It’s bloody awful but not unfamiliar.

The result of this shifting gears down into inner chaos is that I literally cannot cope with the smallest thing. When I say ‘smallest thing’, I really mean it. My system is so sensitised that the slightest noise from anyone else in the house is making me feel a combination of irritation, agitation, and anxiety. Even the noise of my kids eating some raw carrots with their dinner downstairs earlier, when I was upstairs in my bedroom, made my nerves jangle and I wanted to scream, or walk out the door, or rage for them to ‘shut the fuck up!’ I didn’t, which is obviously really good news, I just stayed upstairs willing it to be bedtime. But this really demonstrated to me how my resources are so lacking and I feel like I have no skin – no resilience.

I understand that the rage and frustration is just a defence against what’s really happening. Underneath all the desire to take flight is the need to feel connected, contained, and secure and I don’t feel any of those things right now which is why I feel like everything is too much.

Another example of this being too wound up has just this second happened…My wife has been out all day and I knew she was on her way home because she called to say she was leaving, and yet the noise of her quietly walking through the front door saw me jump out my skin: my legs actually left the couch, I jolted upright as though an electric current had been passed through my body, and now my hands and feet are fizzing. It’s fucking horrendous and I just don’t know how to help myself. Even craniosacral with K didn’t seem to touch it. Everything feels wrong.

Part of me desperately wants to be alone but actually, I also want peace and to escape from all the noise inside. I have listened to what all parts are saying but there’s no way of soothing them. I have no choice but to accept what I am feeling but it is so hard to live with when you have the responsibilities of an adult, of a parent.

I really need a reset right now. I need a hug and to be reassured that things are ok – but I can’t get that and they’re not – and I can’t see things getting any better for a couple of weeks. I have too much swirling in my brain, too much to do, too much stress and anxiety (not just mine) to absorb and the panic is getting worse rather than better.

I hate this!

I realise how bonkers this sounds, but I genuinely feel like the big red button has been pressed and the alarm is sounding. EVACUATE! EVACUATE!

I feel as though I am hurtling through black space, internally. It’s terrifying. It’s like all the parts of me have decided to form a skydiving team and have, yet again, completely overestimated their ability to dive safely, in formation. At this stage they should really only be attempting tandem dives with a trained professional and yet I think because they’ve done so many dives (breaks) they kind of thought they’d be ok this time. But it turns out that things are even more precarious than usual and, if I am honest, I am not sure my lot have even remembered to pack a parachute! Or maybe they have one, but there’s one parachute between…err…thirteen parts!

Shiiiiittttt!!!!

And where the hell has my adult gone? – she’s not plummeting with the rest of them… but then I wonder if she already hit rock bottom? – she’s burnt out – already crashed and burned? I mean I literally could not get out of bed until 2pm today (I mean I got up to feed the kids and checked on them, but kept finding my way back into bed because I just couldn’t face doing anything) and have just felt completely suffocated in the thick fog of depression for days. And that’s why I am left with this chaos, because there’s no glue to hold all the pieces together – I don’t even seem to be in possession of my rubber bands or chewing gum!

It’s felt almost inevitable that I would crash out at some point. To be honest, I don’t think this is about just this two week therapy break, I think this is the culmination of the last nine months (or really, eighteen months) of emotional stress and anxiety that I have been trying to carry and survive without falling apart. It had to catch up with me eventually, and so I suppose it’s not really surprising that the moment I am left to my own devices and have time to stop and reflect a bit, but have also just started down the track of new stresses (back to work and back to school), that something would give.

How it feels now is just like that hideous dream I had the other week, spiralling downwards from space towards the earth, completely out of control. I guess the only saving grace this time is that I won’t crash land on Em’s driveway and then have her slam the door in my face….because I have already been there and done that in February – and am still nursing my injuries. Part of me can’t actually get my head round what happened. I cannot believe that I will never get to work this out with her. I cannot believe she cut me dead.

Honestly, I feel so bloody bruised from that experience. It’s almost like the shock of the initial injury has worn off now and I am just left with that deep gnawing ache of bones that haven’t set quite right. Occasionally, I move in a way that I shouldn’t and white hot pain courses through my system (and that’s what’s happening now) but largely I just feel battered. Wounded.

I said, in my last post, this break has a different quality to it, partly because it is the first one Anita and I have had, but also because it has fed directly into everything that happened at Christmas with Em – the last therapy break I had signalled the unravelling of an 8 year therapeutic relationship and I can’t help but feel worried that it might happen again.

Breaks before now, with Em, have felt bad because I’ve been panicking about the ‘what if’ situations and fearing abandonment which really had no basis in the reality of the relationship with Em… [ha you should hear what a part just screamed as I typed that! – they certainly have other views!: ‘She perpetually abandoned us week in week out for years – and we were right to fear she would leave because she was never really there in the first place!’] whereas now I feel like my fears have actually got some validity because they became a reality because of what happened earlier in the year.

I guess with Em I was viewing the relationship through an historical lens with a child’s eyes and fearing something repeating that had happened a long time ago – whereas now I have all that fear and anxiety from the past, but also a real adult experience of having been dumped. And so it’s like every single part of me has been rejected…even the bits that I thought were likeable enough and that’s really hard to come to terms with.

Yeah, I get it. Anita is not Em.

Repeat: Anita is not Em…

But we’re not dealing with the rational side of me right now. This stuff is so young and so hard to settle. No matter what I do – and I have an extensive self-care list- I can’t ease this horrible gut level sense that something is very very wrong and I am not safe. All of a sudden I have a bunch of inconsolable child parts losing their shit.

I feel lost.

I want to see Anita but also I am worried that something has changed. I should be able to keep in mind that I had similar anxieties about whether it would be ok returning to face to face, and it was all fine – better than fine. But I guess I am worried that because we’ve had contact through the break she’ll be feeling like she’s had enough…‘Give me a fucking break already! Leave me alone!’

There’s definitely something big going on with the object constancy stuff too. Some of the lyrics KT Tunstall’s ‘Other Side Of The World’ keep coming into my head. The song is about long distance relationships but actually feels quite apt for breaks, too. I know A isn’t on the other side of the world, she told me where she is, which has helped those young parts a bit because that must mean she’s not actually disappeared and still exists!

There’s this verse:

Can you help me? /Can you let me go?/ And can you still love me when you can’t see me anymore?

And I think this really captures that feeling of panic that young parts have of separation. I don’t for one minute think that A loves me but the feeling of potentially being forgotten about or not being kept in mind is the worry that the youngest parts have – and this is because they too lose connection on breaks. It’s so shit. Anyway, here’s a link to the song – the whole thing is great! x

I’m frustrated with myself too because I literally feel as though I have sleep-walked my way over the edge this time – like it’s happened in slow motion or something. I knew from the beginning that this couple of weeks were going to be ‘interesting’ and yet I really couldn’t face what was coming up for me again. The grief around the loss of Em, of being rejected and abandoned is just too painful. So I tried to power through, kept going, pretended that everything was fine but that has been achieved by a shit tonne of avoidance and keeping too busy! And that is a recipe for disaster because I can’t outrun this forever and it always catches up eventually.

I literally finished painting my house on Monday and then was back into work on Tuesday all day. There has been no down time but then I knew that if I stopped this was all here waiting for me. In some ways it’s not surprising that I would try and avoid feeling this way – it’s thoroughly unpleasant and exhausting.

To be fair, teaching was fine that day but then in the afternoon I was stationary in a line of traffic, leaving a car park and a car ran in the back of me. There wasn’t any damage done but again my system went into meltdown – the bang was so loud! -my hands and feet were buzzing for hours afterwards and my heart was racing.

Then straight, after this, I was driving to the national park with my kids and the dual carriageway I was on had a huge accident on the other side which meant the road was closed. I drove past the scene, and instantly knew something very bad had happened from the amount of emergency vehicles and the fact that traffic was being turned around and sent back up the carriageway. I later discovered that a man had been killed walking his dog when a tyre had come off a moving vehicle at speed and hit him.

I think that Tuesday was the start of things starting to not feel ok inside. And by ‘not ok’, I mean bad. I wanted to talk to A about it all. I felt so shaken up. But really what is there to say? These things happen all the time (I mean the car accident in the car park, not the freak accident on the road.) and I need to not be so sensitive.

So, this week it’s as though I have been on some kind of conveyor belt that’s headed towards the drop off and into the horrible place where everything feels terrible and scary and yet I’ve not been able to get off. I really didn’t want to do a sky dive right now. I just wanted to chill out in a hammock somewhere and be brought snacks and have someone wrap me in a blanket and read me stories!! But my life seems to have other ideas…

I wish I felt more equipped to cope with what’s going on/coming than I do. I guess it’s just going to have to be a case of taking one day at time and celebrating small wins…and hopefully I’ll feel more settled and in a routine soon.

I feel more like a damaged rescue dog than ever! I saw this the other day and it made me laugh – so apt! haha…sigh!

‘I’m Still Here…’

I woke up this morning feeling sick to my core, again. This has happened quite a lot lately. I become aware of it in my sleep, when I am dreaming (usually about something painful), and then when I wake up, I feel ill. It’s hard to explain because it’s not the sort of feeling I would usually associate with being anxious/stressed/dissociated/the attachment stuff – you know that familiar deep, tight ache in your solar plexus and a heaviness in your chest? It’s really different to that. It’s like the whole of my torso feels ‘sick’, like a whole-body nausea rather than specific patches of ‘ache’.

I’m not ill (I don’t think…although it would be funny if I am making all this fuss and it turns out I have a bug?!), and yet, there’s nothing major going on in my mind today – at least not consciously… having said that, the last few days have been rammed with worry and stress – I’d literally forgotten that I just went for my lovely cancer follow up at the hospital which was fine but is always so draining! – so perhaps it’s just a late move by my system to somatise it all and give my head a break? Who knows?! Either way it dragged me out of bed at 6am on a Sunday morning because lying down made it worse.

Rather than wallow in self-pity and achieve nothing, I dragged my family out for an early morning walk by the river. It was really beautiful today. Autumn seems to properly have arrived now. I love the season but hate what it represents – a long slog of teaching until Christmas, dark evenings, and a big dose of SAD! But I still have a day of holiday left before I have to put on my teacher hat and so this morning, I tried to shove the anxiety to the back of my mind and take in- and enjoy- my surroundings. The air was crisp and the sky was that perfect blue that comes at this time of year. It was great to get out and get some fresh air and it distracted a bit from the nausea…until the ride home with the wet dog stinking in the back! Ha.

I’ve been meaning to write all week but every time I think about sitting down at the laptop, I get a mental block. I have stuff to say but at the same time I haven’t had the energy to go there and look at what’s happening. It’s the worst kind of procrastination/avoidance. Instead of sitting with myself and my feelings I have gone all out with avoidance …so much so, that in two days I have completely decorated a big chunk of my house and had a mad one sorting out the garden.

I like to be productive, and the house has been a job I have been putting off for a couple of years, so spending hours mindlessly painting whilst listening to playlists on iTunes meant I didn’t have to be with ‘myself’ too much and that’s what I needed.

So, what’s been going on? What’s prompted this mad phase of action? Well, part of it is trying to avoid back to work dread (and there is a shit load of it – I genuinely feel like crying) but also, I’m half way through a two-week therapy break – the first one I have had with Anita.

Eye roll.

You all saw that one coming, didn’t you?

A hasn’t had a break since I started working with her in January so she certainly deserves some time out but it’s stirred up some unexpected stuff and that’s not easy. The good news is that wheels haven’t completely fallen off just yet! It remains to be seen if I crash and burn as the week progresses and work picks up, though. The heightened anxiety paired with tiredness (oh and PMS week) is sure to throw a few spanners in the works- I already feel a bit wobbly.

There have already been a couple of flat days, but I don’t think that’s purely down to the break, I think it’s my life in general catching up with me and my feeling overwhelmed by it…oh and the hormones of course. They don’t help! I’m beginning to realise that I can’t underestimate the power of the veil that shrouds my rational self when PMS hormone hell is ravaging. I suppose at least I am aware that it’s week where I seem able to blow stuff up in my head to apocalyptic levels of doom: two months ago it was freaking out about feeling like A was ignoring my texts (she wasn’t!), and then last month it was the jealous hell about the walk with the other client…pray for me that I keep my shit together this week as I am really done with overreacting and having the emotional resilience of a fractious three year old!

I didn’t really help myself leading into this break, either. I got to see Anita in person again for our Friday session. Yay, right? Err…yes and no. I didn’t even realise what was happening until about ten minutes from the end when it became blindingly obvious that I had spent the whole session hiding. It was that horrible thing where more than anything I want to connect but there’s that part of me that packs up early and gags all the parts that need to be seen before a holiday. So the needy young parts that are terrified that something bad is going to happen during the break and need reassurance get left high and dry. Then I feel like there is no connection – even though it’s me that has run away from connecting! FFS.

Anita was sitting right opposite me – and we all know how big a deal not being able to be with her in the room has felt during lockdown – but she might as well have been on the moon. I could barely look at her and whilst I was talking, it wasn’t really talking…………….. well it was, but I’m so well practised at filling space with what seems like important stuff, I have such a good disguise, that it’d be impossible for her to know that this ‘stuff’ isn’t the ‘priority stuff’ because there’s just too much fucking stuff! I manage to seem like I am letting her in when actually I am holding her at arm’s length….

FOR FUCK’S SAKE!!

I talked a lot about how bad it’s been feeling in my body; about a horrible dream I had where I was falling towards the earth from space without a parachute, having to fashion something makeshift so I didn’t die, and then landing with a thud on Em’s driveway. She opened her door, looked at me, and then slammed it shut (ouch); feeling like having insight into why I am the way I am is worse than being ignorant of it because I realise there is soooooooooooooooo much wrong and sooooooooooooo much to heal and it feels overwhelming; how internally it’s like a school corridor on change over between lessons – it’s complete carnage…

See, it looks like the important ‘stuff’ doesn’t it?!

And we talked a lot about all these things and A was really lovely but sometimes even her tentatively asking me a question to see what is possible is enough to send my system into lockdown. She asked me if maybe we could ask the parts in the corridor to get in a line because when they’re all stuck together it’s really hard to see who is there and who needs help – especially as there are so many little ones in there alongside the rowdy teens. And whilst that makes loads of sense and is what I need – we need to work with a part or two at a time – it put the protectors on full alert. No way are they going to let that happen ……………..AAAAAAAARRRRRRGGGGHHHH!!!

I so wish that I could take a step forward when I am invited to. I wish I was able to really look at what’s going on but those gatekeepers are so bloody fast and strong. I wish I had been able to talk because there’s the story that doesn’t get told because it just feels excruciating to feel so vulnerable and needy. I wish I could say:

‘I’m anxious about the break because the last therapy break I had was a disaster and ended with Em and I terminating. Our relationship completely disintegrated over two weeks. Part of me is frightened that you might go away and something will happen whilst you’re gone. I’m worried that the narrative will change from ‘I am happy to work on this with you and the therapy will only end when you want it to, or if there are unforeseen circumstances in my life’ (just like she said) and you’ll go away, realise I am too much to cope with, be reminded of how nice it is to not have to see me, and you’ll come back and end it saying something about how you’ve reached the limit of your competency (like she did).

I know it’s mental, but the youngest parts of me are terrified and recent history has really made this feel scarier than it might otherwise have felt. I am not very good with breaks anyway – fear of abandonment was massive before this year but now it’s…huge. Part of me wants desperately to cling on to you but another part doesn’t want to freak you out with the need and then push you to the point where you terminate. I know this is really messy and comes from a really young place – it’s so embarrassing and totally overwhelming’  

So, I guess that’s what I would have said if the words had have been available to me, or if the protector part of me hadn’t have shut things down so that the young parts were locked away.

However, it wasn’t a complete disaster because the light flicked on near to the end and I became aware of what was happening with my inner dynamics, like I came out of autopilot and was in control of the plane again. And there was the realisation: ‘Ooooh fuck, it’s this bloody shit pattern again’. I told A that I felt like I wasn’t there and felt disconnected. She asked if part of me felt threatened and so had taken myself away (when she’d suggested making the parts line up). Yes. Always yes. But not only then…

I managed to tell A that I had disconnected early, because even though she was sitting opposite me, she would be going away. A was really understanding and said how it made sense that part was getting ready because it feels like it’s protecting me. I said I understood this but that it isn’t helpful. I didn’t say it, but I do this so often. I go into shutdown early, batten down the hatches readying myself for the storm, but in doing so I deprive the youngest parts of myself the connection they need and so that actually makes any separation much harder.

When will I learn?!

It was time to finish and A said I could write to her if it would and asked me if there was anything she could give me do for me before I went…

Ha…we know where this is going, right?

The ‘I don’t give a fuck about anything, teen part’ stepped up and was so dismissive (she’s only trying to protect the littlest ones). I don’t think I could have been any more combative in the, ‘like what?!’ answer I gave. Oh god I just want to die of shame thinking about it! But I have to love Anita, she didn’t seem put off and asked if I maybe wanted to take something from the room like a stone or a shell…but after the hell six months with the pebble with Em the idea of a hard transitional object like this just feels awful. It’s too much of a reminder of what happened before. And when the youngest parts are falling apart they just want to curl up in a blanket or cuddle a soft toy that has some kind of link to A– but voicing that just feels cringey.

Anyway, I declined the transitional object because I am a grump, but also because I don’t think it would really have helped the parts that struggle with breaks… I dunno.

Whilst all this was going on there was a total meltdown happening inside with the little parts, ‘What if she doesn’t come back? What if she forgets us?’ Etc. I think A must’ve noticed because as I got up to leave, she asked me if I wanted a hug.

There is only ever one answer to this question!

Yes.

And fortunately, the dismissive, connection severing part of me sat back down and folded her arms and waited for the other parts to get what they needed. As we were hugging, A said, ‘I’m still here’ – and that was so soothing and reassuring.

I don’t think I can really put into words what getting a hug with A is like – because whilst it is just a hug, it feels like so much more than that. It feels like it repairs a little bit of the feeling of being untouchable and unlovable that has been so present in my relationship with my mum (who has only hugged me once in the last 23 years… and that was the day my dad died). It also makes me feel like the feeling of being physically and emotionally abandoned time and again over the last 8 years with Em when I have been distressed and dissociated might have been more about her rather than there being something inherently wrong with me… anyway, it’s a big HUGE area…and there’s a lot of work to be done round it in the therapy – oh god…I can’t wait for that! LOL.

I walked away from the session feeling a bit frustrated with myself but also so much more connected than I had earlier in the session. It really is amazing how something as simple as leaving on a hug can do enough to settle the young parts who worry so much about whether the relationship is real but also who are freaking out about a separation. Anita actually asking me if I wanted a hug makes those parts that feel untouchable think that perhaps she is safe, and perhaps she isn’t disgusted by them… it feels nice.

Physical touch really does help when stuff feels off and I think this is because when young child is terrified and having a tantrum you don’t try and have a big dialogue right in that moment. First, you pick it up, hold it, help it regulate, and then when it’s settled you try and talk things though and make sense of it all. And I think this is where I have got so lost for so long in therapy.

My system is so fragmented and there have been so many times where the attachment stuff has been activated in a session and then I’ve been stranded in a very young, often pre-verbal dissociated state and have been expected to find my way out of that by myself. It’s impossible. It’s abandoning and traumatising being in that state and having a therapist do the still face on you, or tell you that you need to hold that part for yourself.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting for one minute that I see myself as some kind of ‘adult baby’ …it’s fucking mortifying enough experiencing the range of feelings so intensely and having to talk about it – BUT – there are definitely times when words are simply not enough and being physically held really helps regulate the system and bring the adult coping parts back online so that maybe we can work out what’s going on. The work can’t be done when you’re not in your window of tolerance – and as I have said before, my window is more like a letterbox!!

Anyway, that was our last session. I’ve checked in a few times with A via text since then…and that is another thing that has made this break more bearable. For the parts that genuinely can’t hold her in mind she almost ceases to exist and so these little reminders, that ‘she’s still here’ really help.

I feel like A understands how this stuff works, like she speaks my language…and that really is amazing.

Some Things Never Change

So, that was a week!! To be fair, I’ve had an absolutely wonderful time away with my family. The weather could not have been better and after the last stressful six months it was exactly what we all needed. I’m not usually sad to leave a holiday – usually I’m ready to return home and look forward to time in my home and own bed but this time I literally did not want to leave the hotel. I could have cried leaving the spa this morning.

Even though it’s Christmas coming up and I have two more weeks off work, I could happily have had another week of spa and massages and someone feeding me and entertaining my kids!!! When I get home it’s a suitcase of washing, the Christmas house clean and food shop to look forward to… oh and the gloom and floods! It’s not just that though- I’m avoiding what inevitably is waiting at home back in the therapy room and just need more escapism!

I really really wish that I hadn’t have had the rupture, or whatever you’d call it, with Em in our last session. It’s been playing on my mind all week but luckily I have managed to shelve the worst of it, most of the time, and I think that’s largely because I had already decided to cancel Friday’s Skype session before I left.

There were a few times when I was sitting by the pool and my mind would wander. I’d go through various trains of thought. Often it was, ‘wtaf happened on Friday?’ which would leave me feeling a bit pissed off but also disengaged with therapy and feeling like I had no great desire to go back in January. That would actually make the break bearable so I’ve been trying to hang on to that where possible.

Sometimes, though, panic would sink in and the young parts would go into a mini meltdown but not long enough to cause any real problems. There was one night where I was really tired and felt desperate to snuggle with my soft toy dog. I rarely sleep with stuffed toys but that night I felt the need and of course there was nothing that could be done. Ugh.

On Thursday night I had a therapy dream and I woke up feeling stressed out, little, and sad. The dream itself wasn’t horrendous – far from it- but waking up from dream with Em where everything had been better than good – a big hug at the end of a connecting session- well to wake up in the reality of rupture land was ouch. I guess my brain was trying to serve me up a bit of soothing but it backfired because the distance between the dream and reality is massive.

I’ve been catching up on quite a few blogs this week and it’s clear as day that whatever is going on with me and Em it isn’t great- and whilst she’s not a particularly demonstrative person I feel like her inflexibility round some things is just making things worse.

The question I guess I have to ask myself is whether the things I feel like I’m missing out on are deal breakers or whether or not I think what is on offer with her is enough. What I do know is that I have given so much time and energy to this therapy and yet I feel like I’m stuck. I feel like I’m trying so hard but just keep running into walls which makes me reinforce my own walls.

It’s getting boring!

And depressing!

Anyway, unsurprisingly there was radio silence all of last week from Em. She didn’t respond to the text I’d sent after the session on Friday which felt kind of punishing, actually. I wasn’t sure whether she had received my notebooks in the mail because she hadn’t acknowledged them either.

So on Friday morning I was torn. Was I really going to pass up the last contact time with her this year? Parts of me longed to talk… but I’m not a moron and I knew that the likelihood of the session being anywhere close to what I needed was about as likely as me winning the lottery. In fact I’ve probably got more chance of winning the lottery and I don’t even buy a ticket!

So on Friday morning I sent this in a text:

I’ve been stressing all week about what to do about today. Internet signal is too patchy for Skype and whilst the phone is ok I honestly I don’t even know what to say to you if we did talk there’s so much swirling about inside. I don’t know if you’ll have received the notebooks in the post or not but if you have can you read those please. I suspect that you’ll say something about difficult feelings being stirred up and how you’re ‘just my therapist’. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong after nearly 8 years (on and off) because I feel further away from you than ever right now. It seems like at a time when lots of people like me struggle some therapists are bringing in transitional objects, writing notes, encouraging parts that struggle to communicate verbally to write, offering up text check ins, playing games, sitting next to clients and generally being reassuring etc and I get that’s not how you work but yet again we’ve landed upon a break and it’s, ‘if we don’t speak I think we’re back on the 3rd or 4th’ and it’s just a world away from what I needed. I hate that it feels like this and disruption is so hard.

Have a good Christmas

I didn’t want to sound blaming or petulant – I don’t know if I succeeded? I did, however, want her to see how far off things feel for me.

Fortunately, she did reply to the text:

Hi RBCG thank you for your notebooks and I’ll read them instead of Skyping or phoning today. I do understand that it’s been difficult and that you have complex feelings about the therapy and me and that breaks intensify the inner pain and battle within you. I hope that we can move forward in the new year. I wish you a pleasant Christmas and New year. See you on Friday 3rd January. Em

I’m guessing she’s relieved I didn’t want to talk. The message feels a bit lukewarm but I think we are in a lukewarm place… if not bordering on arctic! 😂

So, yeah, I dunno really what to think. Maybe a break is what I need. And if it continues like this I’ll cope just fine. I hope I have the resources not to fall into the pit of annihilation doom! I’m hoping that because I don’t have any immediate work pressures I can just allow myself to feel what I feel and honour those feelings and the various parts that are feeling them. I am resilient but it’s not always easy.

I get the sense that this coming year is going to be a lot about grieving and ‘letting go’ and metabolising a lot of pain.

I’m big into Frozen (1 and 2) again right now (the joy of having a daughter!!!) and Em and I have spoken on and off about why I like it and how I relate to Elsa in a big way – journey of self discovery and self acceptance is bound to resonate right?! So I’ll be channeling my inner Disney Princess this holiday, if I can!

So, yeah, that’s about it. It’s a bit Bleurgh but I’m not falling apart just yet…but then I’m usually fine until about the 28th! I just found out, too, that I can’t do my first session back on the 3rd as my wife is away and there’s no one to have the kids. Part of me doesn’t care and part of me thinks I’ll be ready to go talk by then.

Oooh and I really must find time to write about my craniosacral therapy experiences so far because they are, at least, uplifting and I don’t feel like a complete disaster in those sessions!

I won’t have time to blog before Christmas again now, so I wish all of you the best Christmas possible – I know for many many of us that this time of year can be really tough for so many reasons. Just know, whatever happens you’re doing the best you can and take space as and when possible!

And when all else fails channel a bit of angry teen part Elsa and ‘fuck it all!’

See you on the other side 😳😉

Reaching Out

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The last time I posted here I was circling the pit of attachment pain hell and I won’t lie, it was complete agony. I know these feelings well, but they aren’t constant any more (thank god!), and the intensity of them is not full on all of the time and so it takes me by surprise just how debilitating it feels when they hit full force again after a period of being pretty ok.

I was both surprised and disappointed that I had started to struggle so hard the moment the therapy break kicked in. I mean I basically had my session – a hard one – and then boom straight into the bowels of hell! Nooo! I had done relatively well with the therapy break at the start of the summer and yet within two weeks of one ending I was already starting another and I think that’s probably got a lot to do with how bad things felt starting the second.

Anyone who’s been reading my blog for a while will know that I don’t always handle disruption very well but to give myself credit, I do cope much better than I used to – or at least I had been! My benchmark for ‘break from hell’ came at Christmas 2017 when I basically lost my mind – I am so embarrassed about it now (especially as I rage/breakdown typed it all out on here and then made Em read it in our next session! Not surprising that after that she said she would be reluctant to read another of my posts because she didn’t need to be “that masochistic”- ouch) but it was all part of this messy process, I guess, and that’s why I don’t take it down/delete it. I do internally cringe a bit (a lot) when I think back over all the times I have ranted at Em for doing nothing wrong but feeling like EVERY WORD SHE SAYS IS WRONG and lashing out at her!

So, sure, I don’t really like disruption but I can largely cope with the breaks now without becoming some wobbly attachment jelly creature/raging text psycho but not this time it seems! So that leads me to wonder: how much disruption is too much disruption (for me)? And based on recent evidence it looks like two separate two week breaks in a six week period is the threshold! I said last time that Em more than earns her breaks and I understand that breaks are part of the fabric of therapy it’s just not easy explaining that to all the parts that get so affected by holidays. Like part of me wants to cheekily (but kind of seriously say), “take a holiday but just one per calendar month, please.” 😉

I have been wondering whether I would have handled a break of one solid month better than this? I doubt it! Or maybe if there had been a slightly longer intervening period between the breaks it may have been more manageable…I just don’t know. I suspect it’s not just about the number breaks it’s the fact that this second one came just at a time when my life has got a whole other level of stress come in from left field and so really it’s more about timing – which can’t be helped because life doesn’t work like that!

Thinking about how much this break has disrupted me has also made me really grateful that Em is not a sickly person – she seems to have the constitution of an ox and has only cancelled one session, at short notice, in the entire 4.5 years we have worked together. That happened in the very early days when I was seeing her in the NHS and I really wasn’t bothered back then because I hadn’t really allowed myself to feel anything towards her at that point, and was grateful that I didn’t have to get myself and my new baby out the house and into a 9:30am session! How things change eh?!

If she were to text me to cancel the day before or perhaps on the morning of a session, now, there are parts that would struggle not to feel abandoned, upset and (probably) a bit angry. I know this is because my need for her feels massive and a lot of the time those younger parts seem to exist on some kind of countdown until the next session. However, alongside this young needy part, there is another older, more nurturing part that would also really want to make sure she was ok and was being looked after if she was unwell and not care at all about not having my session.

Recently, when I could tell she wasn’t quite right (physically – lol!), I bought her the gem stones as a gesture to show her that I care. Therapy had been difficult for quite some time and I didn’t feel able to just ask her if she was actually ok despite knowing that she wasn’t. I was shutting her out because I was feeling shut out by her (not because of her being ill!) and it had become a vicious cycle.

Having worked together for so long I wonder, now, why I couldn’t just ask her at the time if she was ok even though it was a rough patch? I suspect part of it was something about not wanting to be intrusive and being fobbed off or ‘kept out’ whilst another part of it might have been about not wanting her to confirm that she wasn’t ok because so many parts of me need her to be ok. I want her to be human – but not so human that she gets poorly! Oh my god I’m such a walking contradiction! Lol!

The therapeutic relationship certainly is weird isn’t it? Our therapists poke at our core issues time and again (not always on purpose – we just sometimes don’t see the open trap door as we’re walking along and plunge into darkness) and yet also offer some of the most powerful healing we’ve experienced. It is a relationship it is set up to benefit us, not them….and that feels odd, particularly to those of us that have had a lifetime of trying to meet other people’s needs whilst sacrificing our own!

I hate that Em’s absence affects me but I also really struggle with the fact that she doesn’t need me in the least. She doesn’t miss me when she’s away – or certainly not in the way that I miss her (which is a very good thing because I don’t think she’d be the ideal therapist if she did)! When she is sick she has other people to care for her. If she is struggling in her life I would never know about it. I am not a friend or family member and so I am completely ignorant of what goes on for her outside that room – unless it impacts me in some way and then she lets me know what I need to know.

The whole thing is set up to help me and focuses on me…and that is actually alien in most of our relationships. It’s not a reciprocal arrangement and that’s why we have to pay for it. That’s how we meet their needs. I know for a lot of us paying to maintain one of our most intimate relationships feels weird but paying for it doesn’t make it any less of a relationship, it’s not fake (the teen part and inner critic are off somewhere else at the moment so can’t argue with that!).

I know that this is how it’s all meant to be but it is hard to find a place to put all that sometimes – other than ‘this is a therapeutic relationship and it’s different from other relationships we have’. Ironically when Em says that to me it makes me bristle, like I get a proper kick back, because I’ve always seen that comment through the lens of ‘limitations’ ie what the therapeutic relationship ‘isn’t’ or ‘can’t be’ for me. “This is a therapeutic relationship and so x, y, z and that might feel rejecting or like I don’t care…” In the past I have felt that this means the therapeutic relationship therefore ‘has less value’ than other relationships and it must be ‘meaningless’ because it doesn’t fit the mould of other ‘meaningful’ relationships. That deduction instantly fills me with shame, though, because this ‘nothing’ relationship is so hugely important to me. So on the one hand I am like ‘fuck it, it’s nothing’ and on the other hand I am like ‘oh my god this relationship is killing me because I need it, and HER, so much! It’s so important to me.’

Whenever Em has said something about our relationship being ‘therapeutic’ I’ve often heard that as her attempt to distance herself from me rather than her trying to show me that the boundaries that can feel so difficult sometimes are there to protect us both even when they feel rejecting. She can’t meet all my needs but she can meet some. She can’t be there all the time but when she is there she gives me her undivided attention. I’m beginning to see that I actually need and want the therapeutic relationship (even with its limitations) because what I am SLOWLY learning is that Em is committed to the work with me and I get the best version of her in the time I have. I suspect in real life she’s probably just a dick like the rest of us!

Anyway back to this therapy break. I joked at the end of my last post that I hadn’t text Em ‘yet’. And despite flailing about like a fish out of water I really had no intention of reaching out to her. I mean let’s face it, what’s the point? Pretty much every time I have sent a desperate connection seeking text and she has responded it’s all gone belly up anyway. Our hit rate of her replying to a text and me responding in a triggered state is about 90% Ugh. And let’s not even talk about the times I have text her and she hasn’t replied or acknowledged it at all. Ha. Let’s face it outside contact has been a minefield. I’ve wanted it and it’s pissed me off when I have got it and pissed me off when I haven’t!!

Em’s boundary on outside contact has always been that she would prefer it if I didn’t text or email unless it’s something to do with scheduling but that she does generally respond if she has a concern for safety. So in theory if I text her to tell her I am struggling and need an extra session she’ll respond but if I send her something but without an overt request then she’ll leave it til session– unless she thinks I’m properly not coping. To many parts of me this no outside contact rule has always felt incredibly rejecting but as time has gone on I (adult) can understand why she wants to keep communications in the room as she often say, “therapy happens here” and it’s “live” and “between us in the here and now”.

I am living proof of why outside contact can be such a minefield. I have got used to occasionally sending messages and not getting replies. It’s not great. It upsets me a bit but it doesn’t send me over the edge because most of the time whatever it is I have said can wait. It’s almost like when I am struggling I want her to have a heads up so that if things go silent in the session she has something to work with. Ie I’ll send a link to something and put ‘can we look at this in session on Monday’. I don’t require a reply in the moment I am basically just forwarding her the map.

I try really hard not to reach out at all because it fills me with shame when I do. Most of the time I don’t text or email Em. I don’t need to. I don’t actually want to either. Things are contained enough in the sessions and it’s fine…I mean it’s not fine, but I can hold things for myself until I am in the room. It’s only when the wheels are falling off inside the sessions and things are not contained enough that outside contact becomes a problem. If I can’t touch base and connect in sessions then part of me goes all out to try and connect outside them. It’s bloody embarrassing.

So, no prizes for what happened on the Wednesday following my Monday session – only two days into the break.

Yup.

I sent a text.

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IDIOT!!!

Why? Why? Why?

Do I never learn?

Clearly not.

I mean honestly. WTAF?

I hate that my feelings of abandonment and rejection (just because there is a break) make things feel so difficult. I hate that when I do cave in and contact her I feel as though I am breaking the rules and disappointing her but sometimes I just can’t not. I know how daft that sounds.

Why would I knowingly walk into a situation where I am going to be left feeling rejected and abandoned for more than two weeks? I guess, the answer to that question is that there is a desperate little part of me that hopes I won’t be, hopes I will get a response, hopes that something will come that is enough to be soothing and settle things down…

… And perhaps this, too, when I am drowning, and I mean DROWNING in attachment pain and feel like I can’t breathe or function perhaps hitting the big red button where I don’t get a reply from her and thus can prove she doesn’t give a shit about me actually shifts me into anger and rage and I can instead focus on how shit Em is, and how neglectful, and how I hate her and that is easier than sitting with the feelings of just really fucking missing her. Don’t they say that anger is just sad’s mask?

As I sat full of that deep deep aching empty pain on Wednesday morning it dawned on me that in the past I was so triggered by the pain I felt when Em was gone (yeah yeah, the mother wound it’s not all about her! I know!) that I was unable to see that when I had reached out to Em in a state she had generally responded to me outside session. She has, on multiple occasions tried to connect with me when I have asked for it. She had proved that she was still there. And yet on these occasions I was in such a triggered state and so programmed to feel rejection and abandonment that was all I could see in her messages. I had one narrative ‘she doesn’t care’ and part of me was looking for confirmation even though clearly another part was reaching out hoping for connection.

The messages she sent me were never ‘good enough’. They never said quite the right thing. They weren’t right for me. I guess at that those times I have such a clear idea of what I need that I don’t see that she can’t give me word for word what I want because she’s not a bloody mind reader – and in addition to that she is her own person in the relationship with me and she has to reply in a way that feels right to her. Oh, and let’s not forget that actually what each part needs can be wildly different too and so getting a bullseye is like walking round blindfolded and trying to pin a tail on a donkey!! OMG it’s a disaster!

She said, after the Christmas 2017 debacle that she had felt like I was trying to script her and that she did reply to me and that she did care but I just couldn’t take it in… and I understand that now, whereas at the time I thought I was showing her what I needed to feel better and felt so indignant about it all when I didn’t quite get it. You’ll laugh now, that I read those messages and they are ‘fine’!!!

On Wednesday, then, I sat on my bed and was fully pissed off with myself. Why? Well, because basically it seemed to me that Em stopped responding to me in April 2018 and perhaps it’s because I have always criticised what she’s done for me and our ‘crisis’ communications just weren’t working so she stopped them to stop more ruptures. I mean sure there are probably a whole plethora of other reasons for what’s happened and I guess I will try and have this conversation when we meet on the 6th September but on Wednesday that’s where I was at.

And so this is what I sent:

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I didn’t expect a response, although I did hope for one.

The day dragged on and on.

I kept checking my phone despite knowing that she was at work in the NHS and so wouldn’t reply to me during working hours (or at all).

I knew she had an hour’s drive home.

I know she has a child and would have things to do in the early evening…because that’s what my life is like too.

But at 8pm I had given up hope and had resigned myself to another break of feeling like she doesn’t care, that I don’t matter, and then cycling through all the associated feelings.

Fun times.

That evening I was talking to my wife about her new job and didn’t look at my phone until 9:34 when it lit up.

And low and behold there was a message from Em.

OMFG!

I didn’t read it straight away as I wanted a quiet space to take it all in. But actually, just seeing that she had responded felt amazing. Like properly amazing. I really didn’t care what was inside the text. As I said earlier, I’ve kind of gone past worrying about the specific words, and wanting to unpick every tiny bit of a text searching for what I need in the moment, and rather have decided that seeing the bigger picture is a better idea – ie she has text me out of hours and that must mean that she cares – and try and take that in and absorb it instead. And you know what it really worked.

I opened the message. It was fine. Really similar to the one I got my knickers in a knot about two summers ago. If anything it’s ‘less’ personal than that one. BUT the big difference is I can see that she’s trying to help me AND THAT, MY FRIENDS, IS PROGRESS!

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I felt my whole system calm right down after reading the message. I still miss Em. I really want it to be our next session because I feel like there is loads and loads to say and work through. I want to know what it was that made her reach out to me again in this way after so long. I want to tell her what a huge difference that message made. I want to express how being willing to stretch her boundaries a little bit has made me feel much safer and settled in the relationship again BUT importantly it HAS NOT made me want to keep contacting her or reaching for her. I need her to understand that I am not someone who ‘if she concedes and inch I’ll want to take a mile’ – far from it.

I’ve been really ill this last week with a viral throat infection and tonsillitis and despite feeling mega sorry for myself (and little) I have not wanted to text Em at all. I can handle those feelings of longing to be looked after for myself. I can adult my way through it until the 6th because I know she’s out there. Right now I am able to hold her in mind and I haven’t always been able to do that.

Anyway, it’s just over a week til we meet again and in the meantime I need to get my arse in gear and get school ready – both my kids and me! I’m sure the time will fly by… well, I hope so because I really want to go in and smile and say, “thank you!” And you know what? I think I am gonna survive this break!

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Summer 2019 – Therapy Break #2

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Ok, so buckle up because here we go again! Yesterday signalled the start of therapy break number two of the summer. THERAPY BREAK TWO???!!! WHHHHYYYYY DOES MY THERAPIST NEED TWO TWO WEEK HOLIDAYS IN A SIX WEEK WINDOW????!!! (whispers: ‘because she’s more than earned it working with me!’) Let’s be completely clear here (in case you struggle to read between the lines) this break is ALREADY a total shit show and I am only 31 hours into it! The feelings and emotions I am experiencing now compared with what I was managing for most of the last break are as different as night and day (and not in a good way!).

FUUUUUCCCCCKKKKKK IT!!!!

And…. breathe…

..breathe some more…

…it’s not working!…

Seriously, though, as I said in my last post the last break was pretty good by all accounts. It didn’t feel like Groundhog Day from day one and I didn’t fall into the depths of attachment pain the moment I left Em’s house on the 19th July. For the most part I kind of just got on with things, actually had an ok time despite my day-to-day life stresses and it wasn’t until the second week when I started to get the wobbles a bit so far as missing Em went. Given how things have been in the past with breaks I take that as a significant win. Shame I can’t continue the trend now, though, eh?!

The first break of the summer wasn’t perfect by any means but for a two week disruption I was pleased with how I managed especially as therapy hasn’t been exactly easy for a while now. Basically, what I am saying is, compared to what’s already going down now I did a bloody amazing job! I guess getting wiped out with a week or less to go to the next session is more manageable, there is only one Monday or Tuesday or whatever left to get through and tick off whereas right now I think it’s three Fridays until I am back in the room and I am already on my arse…help me!

I was certainly looking forward to seeing Em again as the break came to a close but I wasn’t desperate to see her, it didn’t feel like life and death (which is how it feels now)- I had not been engulfed by the gnawing ache in my stomach for the entire 16 days she was gone. I missed her but it was ok. I wanted to reach out for her but I didn’t. I could hold stuff for myself and could wait til I saw her again in person on the 5th. I think it was all helped by the fact that I took a risk in my last session leading into the break and told her how I was struggling and not ok about the break which enabled us to do some work on it and settle some of the niggling doubts before I left. I was able to connect to her in that session and that carried me through for a good bit.

The return to therapy was great too. I have had four really really good sessions where I have done nothing but talk – no awkward silences, no dissociation, none of that horrid stuff that usually happens. I have had so much to say to her. BUT it’s been so much to say about what’s been going on in my current life which is to say stuff that affects me as an adult. There’s been some really nightmarish stuff happening the last couple of weeks here and I have even had to talk to the police about the harassment I’ve been experiencing and so there’s plenty of grist for the mill in session.

It’s been a relief to go in to my sessions and just talk and be able to make eye contact and to laugh and just be NORMAL. It’s been nice to see Em be angry on my behalf, to swear (she almost never does that) and to feel like she’s genuinely on my team and really cares that someone is trying to make my life difficult and is annoyed by it too. I guess, if I am honest, I like it that she seemed to be protective of me…it’s all felt connecting and positive. I have felt more able to cope with what’s been directed at me because I have been able to talk with her about it… and now she’s gone again and I feel like a wobbly jelly.

It was almost inevitable that everything would come to a crashing halt yesterday, then. Session five and the last one before the second break and boom – welcome back child parts! They’ve not been seen by Em for weeks and weeks…and they missed her on the last break … they have been dreading this second break too and it all just got too much. I knew it was getting a bit dicey inside and the system was getting agitated so I mentally planned out what I wanted to say in session. I was all prepared to go in and talk about how I was worried about the break – I had even drawn a picture and written some notes around it to start things off:

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But of course I never showed it to her because the moment I got in the room I completely dissociated. I’d felt it starting to happen as I was driving to session. We ended up having a painful session where I was almost completely silent throughout. Em tried really hard to help me talk but it was just too hard. I couldn’t do it. The feelings around being too much, too needy, and potentially bombarding her with my suffocating feelings felt horrendous. I desperately needed to connect and yet I found myself stuck behind a glass wall unable to reach out.

I needed to tell her that I was anxious about the second break because things were so unnerving with the harassment stuff and I feel like without her regular support I wouldn’t cope as well especially if I received any more communications from the person in question. I wanted her to know that I have my cancer follow up next week and I am scared about it. I wanted to tell her that the young parts were going to really miss her too and that whilst the work we have done in the last couple of weeks has been essential and helpful they felt like she’d forgotten about them and would therefore not have them in mind whilst she was away this time…and they are terrified of that.

Anyway, basically I needed some tangible words of reassurance about us and the relationship and I stopped myself asking for them/getting them because I AM A MORON/I WAS TOO SCARED OF BEING REJECTED. I am so frightened of Em rejecting me that I couldn’t even tell her what I needed. It’s so frustrating. I am so angry with myself because I have basically plunged myself down into the belly of attachment pain by failing to be brave and trust that Em won’t deliberately hurt me. How much evidence do I need from her that she is safe and is not going to shame me or abandon me??? Clearly a load more – ugh!! The problem isn’t as straight forward as choosing to talk or choosing to withhold. I don’t deliberately sit there thinking ‘ah ha, I’m not going to say stuff!’ actually when that very young part comes in she is just utterly frozen and terrified she can’t talk.

I left yesterday’s session feeling totally steam-rollered and it’s been agony ever since. So, needless to say, because I am in the grips of the fucking hideous pain where my chest aches and my stomach hurts and my whole body feels like it is crying out to be held, today has felt as though it would never end. I have achieved next to nothing and struggled to even get out of bed til after midday – which is not like me at all. I have felt so flat and ugh and depressed it’s been really horrible. I have thought about writing here but haven’t known what to say – I still don’t really but am just seeing what comes out – diarrhoea by the looks of it! I thought about doing something creative/arty but have just sat on my bed staring into the middle distance. It’s been shit, really.

Anyone who regularly reads this blog will know that usually I am really busy, productive, whizzing about… but to be honest that has its own pitfalls and doesn’t always mean time goes quickly on breaks, it just means I get more burnt out when trying to navigate the fall out of the mother wound. Being still today and moping about has really shown me (again) how hard the feelings I have actually are because I feel as though I am drowning. I hate it. I want to run away. I don’t know how to make them stop. I don’t know how I am meant to help the young parts of me that feel like they are going to die because Em is gone. I know this isn’t about Em, or not wholly about her, but the little girl that was abandoned all those years ago is still hurting…what on earth do I do for her when it all seems to be happening again?? How do I self-soothe??

My best friend told me this week that she thought I was the most feeling avoidant person she knew…which is a great accolade 😉 but she’s totally right. I am so terrified of sitting with the overwhelming feelings that I literally do anything I can to not have to experience the full force of them. The other day I was experimenting with feeding my feelings (rather than starving them!) but that just made me feel like I was going to puke. I don’t think binging is my thing! It’s occurred to me today that perhaps I should get on the treadmill and focus on exercise…but I am so lethargic/down/sad that I can’t be bothered right now. The Critic isn’t here just yet but give it a few days, if things continue to feel this desperate then no doubt I’ll be lacing my trainers and putting myself through my paces.

(I know that none of that is self-soothing btw!)

I literally don’t know what else to say. It’s all just a great big pile of crap. On the plus side I haven’t sent any desperate texts to Em (yet) which felt like a very real possibility this morning!

17 days to go.

It can only get better right?

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Unexpected And Unsettling Change

Honestly, sometimes I wonder if things are ever just going to settle down and get on an even keel here. I know life is never straightforward for anyone but I wish, even for just a couple of years, that it would just be stable and run of the mill for me. I don’t crave excitement. I don’t want anything grand. I simply want boring (but amazing) stability and safety.

My whole life seems to have been punctuated by bloody stresses and traumas and frankly I’m getting a bit fed up about it all as I find myself drowning in another unexpected sea of disaster and worry.

Don’t get me wrong. I know I am far from alone in life throwing shit at me but right now I am feeling a bit sorry for myself and sad and angry and … all sorts of feelings actually!

My therapist and I often joke (serious joke) about how hard I find change and uncertainty. Even this week, something as simple as her putting an I-pad on a tripod in the therapy room to do an EMDR type activity made waves inside me! The room was (slightly) different but we had discussed the change the session before and yet EEEK something was not the same – cue mild panic!…

I’m sure, based on this response you can imagine what happened the time she changed the client chair from an Ikea therapy chair to a pale blue sofa and put the sofa on the other side of the room from where I’d been used to sitting, as well as moving a bookcase, changing the curtains and the wall colour all in one week! The room looked so much better, but Gah! Change!! I need warning about these kind of things! haha.

I mean it’s funny tragic right?!

My childhood was a catalogue of uncertainty and instability and from the earliest times I lacked of a felt sense of safety and it’s carried on into my adult life, unfortunately. I really can’t remember a time when things felt ‘ok’ inside me or externally. I’ve always been on edge/high alert and there are so many factors involved in this.

I don’t suppose it helped that my mum had a terrible pregnancy and was hospitalised for the final two months because things were so crap for her with preeclampsia. I had to be induced in the end because I was in so much distress in the womb (!!) and after a two day labour where both mother and baby almost died I arrived 5 weeks ahead of schedule, tiny, and was put in an incubator for three days. My mum did not to recognise me as hers when they finally gave me to her.

Great start!

Things haven’t really ever improved from that point! I’m not really surprised given what she went through that my mum developed post-natal depression and struggled to be a mum to me. She’s always said she’s not maternal and has made a joke of it, but actually I think that’s a defence for knowing that things weren’t very good for either of us when I was small. It’s easier to joke than to acknowledge the varying degrees of failure that happened. I know what it’s like when your mental health is tanking and I know that looking after babies is no mean feat even when you’re on your A game and so I get that my early days weren’t exactly conducive to developing a sense of security. Bonding was never going to be straightforward.

Now I am on a roll with the moaning about instability I might as well let a bit more out and add that after the trauma of being born there multiple house moves growing up (16 ‘homes’ by the age of 16); several different schools; being ‘looked after’ by people that were not my parents (so many childminders!); being emotionally neglected and abused ‘I wish you’d never been born!’ by my mum when she was around but she wasn’t always around, in fact she was gone a lot!

From the age of four to eleven she was away five days/nights a week. I feel so sad for the little girl inside that just wanted to be loved, to be tucked up in bed at night and read a story by someone that loved her. The ache is huge. Every night when I put my children to bed and tell them stories, and remind them that I love them and tuck them in I feel that young part’s sadness and the little voice saying ‘why did no one love me enough to do this?’ 

I used to witness huge rows between my parents on the weekends when my mum was home before they finally separated when I was 11. You’d think things would have settled down somewhat after the separation but all that happened was an upscaling in the rage directed at me from my mum when there was no longer a husband to absorb it and that carried on til I left for university at 18. I’m not at all surprised that I turned all the hatred in on myself by self-harming, not eating, and generally neglecting and punishing myself.

If you are repeatedly undermined and attacked throughout your life by a caregiver it becomes your inner narrative. You are nothing. You don’t matter. It makes sense to deprive yourself because you are not worthy of anything good. I know my inner critical voice is modelled on my mother. I have left that childhood ‘home’ but that horrible, nasty, soul-destroying voice lives on in me. It’s painstaking work trying to free myself from it…or at least try and understand it better.

So basically because of this (and more…so much more!) I don’t feel safe in relationship but I also don’t feel safe in my wider environment.

I suspect the way I respond to change and upheaval isn’t exactly ‘normal’ (I mean come on, décor change in a therapy room freak out is not usual behaviour!!) because of my previous life experiences. It can feel like the end of the world when stressful stuff happens because I end up on my arse flailing about.

This feeling of doom and Armageddon gets worse with each new traumatic ‘event’. The sense that things are desperate and will never improve take root really quickly. It’s like the floor falls out from underneath me and I start plummeting into the abyss. To be fair to myself the more recent adult triggers haven’t been ‘light’. My dad dying abroad unexpectedly at 47 on a remote island wasn’t an easy thing to navigate even in a purely practical sense let alone emotionally and I am not surprised it still haunts me; getting a late stage cancer diagnosis six months after giving birth wasn’t ideal either and the treatment that followed was gruelling so my health anxieties are probably reasonable.

So, what’s the latest trigger for the zoom into doom? My wife lost her job out of nowhere two weeks ago. This has sent shock waves through my system. It’s not the end of the world. It’s not a death. It’s not cancer. It’s not childhood neglect and abuse. BUT it has sent me through a loop. I don’t like injustice. I feel angry when people treat others badly. I hate that people with power can abuse it. And whilst I (adult) know things will work out in the end I have felt awful and panicked. All the younger parts have been sent plummeting down into a deep deep hole. I have felt scared and paralysed.

Turns out that, as well as death and cancer, financial insecurity is something that terrifies me. I think we all like to think that money isn’t the be all and end all…but you know what? In the society that we live in it really is quite important. If you can’t pay your bills, well… what happens? You’re totally fucked.

As an adult I have tried really hard to create a stable environment for me and my family because I know how ‘unsafe’ I feel just being alive. There have been horrible things happen, losses that I still can’t get over, but until now I have at least felt like I have my home and so a degree of physical safety – somewhere I can escape to when the world feels all a bit too much. I know, that it won’t be long before my wife finds some kind of employment again but I also know that agency work will not pay anywhere like as well as what she has been doing in recent years…and so it’s going to be a struggle. Our life is going to have to change.

She’s already been off two weeks unpaid and that’s two weeks where the mortgage is still running, the bills keep coming in, the cars need fuel, the kids need stuff…….and then there’s that other big bill…therapy.

What do I do about that? I was convinced in week one that I would have to give up my sessions. I was ready to go in and have that conversation – and I cried about it the night before. I guess that’s one plus point…I located where the tears are kept! After all if you have no money coming in and kids to feed and a roof to keep over your head then how can you justify £450/month on therapy? It’s simply not viable.

I still don’t know what is going to happen with this but I have decided not to make any panic moves. I’ve told Em what has happened but I didn’t quit therapy there and then because we are just about ok for a month or two with bills.  If things haven’t resolved with my wife’s job by September then there will have to be some serious decisions to be made. The idea of not having therapy right now terrifies me but at the end of the day as much as we might like to pretend it’s a relationship that will be there no matter what… if you can’t pay for it you can’t have it. End of.

Ugh.

Em and I are approaching the summer therapy break. This year she’s taking two blocks of two weeks – one at the start of the school holidays and another at the end. I am dreading it. I am crap with therapy breaks and this summer is going to be the most disrupted time we’ve had in the last three years. I always struggle in the summer break. However, I am trying hard to hang onto a slight positive here. I am trying to see the summer break as a respite from having a therapy bill – there is no therapy but I have not quit therapy… and hopefully this time will allow me and my wife to settle on some kind of financial even keel.

So, yeah, that’s my life right now x

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A Mixed (Mental!) Month

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I realised earlier today that it has been almost a month since my last post here where I wrote about the knackered house and renovation project metaphor for me in therapy… and I know that I also never followed up on what happened after I threw all my toys out the pram and terminated therapy via text only to send a desperate message back to Em less than an hour later to undo it!!

I don’t think I have ever gone more than 10 or 11 days without blogging but lately I haven’t had much time or much to say, or perhaps I have had too much to say and don’t know where to begin because I have had so little time? I dunno.

I guess if I am being completely honest, every time I have thought about writing here there is a part of me that has felt huge resistance to doing so. This is a weird feeling for me because usually I find it really cathartic letting stuff out on the page. I think there’s a bit of embarrassment or shame about the mess I have got myself in over the last month and I feel a bit of a moron and don’t want to publish what’s happening?

There’s a lot of internal conflict going on right now. The Inner Critic has been running free lately. It’s been agony. I guess part of my inability to write boils down to a concern that I simply can’t be doing with any additional external criticism at the moment in addition to the shit I am piling on myself – not that that is what happens here, most people are unbelievably supportive,  but I really don’t need to be told right now that perhaps my therapist isn’t right for me when there are enough of my own doubting parts shouting that! I don’t feel particularly resilient and so I think I’ve buried myself in a pit – it’s meant to be protective but actually is bloody miserable down here!

This blog has always been about me tracking/logging what’s going on in my therapy so that maybe one day I can (hopefully) look and go ‘wow look how far I’ve come!’ I don’t write here to entertain people. My hope is, perhaps, by writing about and sharing my experiences that it might help a few people who are feeling similar feelings to feel less alone but essentially this is my space to rant and moan, be bonkers and try and process the tangled mess that is my inner world… and so that’s what I am going to try and do…

So, rewind to the beginning of May and the meltdown. Yep. I went back to therapy. I mean of course I did. I felt embarrassed about my outburst but the world didn’t end. Em is still there (sitting in that chair that feels a million miles away), I am still in one piece (ok, maybe more of a mosaic of fragmented parts, but you know what I mean!) and the therapy is still ongoing…albeit limping along in a rather painful fashion.

I have been really struggling in my sessions lately. Everything has just felt so difficult.  Honestly – I could run a master class in dissociation! The sessions have been largely excruciating as I have been unable to let Em in and I have been feeling utterly distraught both inside and outside of the therapy room. I’ve been doing  a lot of writing and drawing in my therapy notebook. I have religiously been taking the book to the session and LEAVING IT IN MY BAG!!!

FFS!

It’s not even funny.

During the week, outside the sessions, and as I travel to session I am determined that I will mention that I want to share my writing with her and yet the moment I walk in the room something happens, a part steps up and says, ‘no fucking way!’ and instead I sit struggling to talk, feeling sick, and unable to connect with Em feeling the fifty minutes ebb away and feeling increasingly panicked that I am losing vital time.

I can barely look at her most of the time let alone make eye contact and it feels massively awkward and frustrating. I want to connect but am also terrified of letting her see me. It’s like one part of me is desperate to move forward and has a foot hard on the accelerator and another part has its foot to the floor on the brake. It’s not a pleasant sensation I can tell you … and I don’t think it can be doing the car much good either!

Still, because there are so many parts floating about right now it means I am experiencing a really mixed bag of feelings and I can feel like a hologram flitting sometimes. I know that this is the work and I need to ride it out but blooming heck, it’s not easy!

Despite barely looking at Em or talking to her, a few weeks ago I noticed that she wasn’t quite herself, she had a slight cough and looked really tired. She has never been ill/off sick in all the time I have been seeing her so I noticed even this subtle unwellness. I guess we have been programmed as kids to notice everything, subtle changes have, in the past, signalled danger I suppose.

As much as parts of me have been keeping her at arm’s length (giant monkey arms – that are really long) there are other parts that still want to be close and care deeply about this woman that has been sitting in that chair trying to help me get my shit together for the last few years. Ha.

I love her.

That’s no secret right?

So, one day after yet another painful session where I had failed to tell her that I was freaking out about being too much and worrying that I am ‘bombarding’ her I was in town after teaching my tutees and went into a crystal shop. I am a big fan of gem stones. I like the fact that they are beautiful in their own right but I also like that some people believe that certain gems perform particular roles or have certain healing properties. So far as I can work out it can’t do any harm to carry a few beautiful things around with you and perhaps them do a bit of good too even if it is all just in all in the mind? – lord knows I can do with some assistance with anxiety and communication!

I had gone to the shop with the idea of buying Em something. Gifts in therapy can be a complete minefield can’t they? Actually in all the years I have been seeing Em I have only given her one thing (aside from cards at Christmas and the therapy anniversary). Last year I gave her a small marble with a heart on which cost next to nothing. Similarly, the gem stones are not high value but rather meant to be symbolic, kind of, ‘I know it’s been complete dog shit lately but I care about you and hope these make you feel a bit better’.

Whenever I buy crystals for myself or for other people I choose them based on the colours I associate with them rather than reading all the information about what they are ‘meant to do’. Because Em lives by the sea and generally wears blues and pastel colours I tend to associate her with pale blues and turquoises. I saw these two stones, blue lace agate and amazonite and was instantly drawn to them:

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When I got home I looked up the meanings and they are meant to be helpful for communication (which has been a fucking great problem in our relationship lately!) and soothing physical ailments and emotional issues as well as stresses in the workplace.

Bingo!

So, the next session I went with them in my bag….where they stayed!

The session after that I wore dungarees and put them in the chest pocket…where they stayed! I did make a bit of a move towards giving her them, ‘can I give you something’ with ten minutes to go and then completely dissociated and sat in silence for ten minutes completely gone and didn’t hand them over. I got completely overcome with fear. I was terrified that giving her the stones would let her know that I care about her (which duh was the point, right?!)…which feels scary because it could end up in her rejecting me in some way and quite frankly everything has been so fragile I just couldn’t risk it…even though clearly part of me wanted to.

By the third session Em was completely better and in no need of the crystals at all- ha! I sat pondering what to do. She obviously knew I had wanted to give her something in the last session but didn’t push me to talk about it. This session hadn’t been a complete disaster and with about 5 minutes to go we seemed to finally connect. Man that’d been a long time coming! I felt brave enough to ask her if I could give her the gift with two minutes remaining. She asked me what it was. I was like, ‘I’m not going to tell you what it is before I give it to you, that’s not really how it works!’

She took the gift, unwrapped it, and said she liked them very much. I explained the meaning behind them and she seemed genuinely surprised that I had noticed that she hadn’t been well. Then she did the therapisty bit about saying she thought it would be useful it we could have a conversation about them next time because she thought it would be helpful. I agreed…but before I left she just had enough time to put her foot in it:

‘When people give me gifts it can be really useful to talk about the meaning behind them. Then when the therapy is finishing I get the gift out again (because I don’t throw things away) and we discuss it again. Then people might take it back away with them as a symbol of the work we have done.’

Now. Perhaps it’s me…BUT… this made me bristle hugely for lots of reasons. To start, we had just gone through a month of hell in the therapy and this was, in part, me trying to get reconnected and show that whilst I might be resistant and difficult at times she does really matter to me and that I care about her and think about her when I am not with her. To be reminded at this point of ‘other people who give her gifts’ felt shit.

I mean I know I am ‘one of many’ but at the moment I didn’t need to be reminded of the clinical nature of the relationship. I’m under no illusions that this is a therapeutic alliance but it is our relationship – I don’t particularly want to hear about what she does with other people!

Then for her to say she doesn’t throw things away…I mean it hadn’t occurred to me that something I might give her would end up in the bin and whilst she was saying she doesn’t do that it seemed an odd thing to say.

Then finally, and this is the big one…I cannot imagine when my therapy comes to an end Em getting the things I have given her out, talking them through again and then saying I can take them all away with me would feel therapeutic AT ALL. In fact, right now, I think it would send me back into therapy!!

The idea that the things I would give her that have meaning could be given back so easily feels really rejecting. I can’t really explain what I mean but it’s something about me wanting her to have something that symbolises our relationship when I am gone and it feels like what she is saying is at the end she can wipe the slate clean ready for the next person to take the Monday 10:30 slot and the Friday 9:30 slot. Maybe I am just being oversensitive but it felt crap.

I went home and wrote in my book how I was feeling about what she had said and my feelings about it…and the words are still sitting on the page and she hasn’t seen them! By the time it was the next session and she brought up the gift again I had shut down and didn’t want to talk about it at all. She said something about them being about care or something but I can’t even remember now. I just felt angry and hurt. I dunno, something I wanted to be connecting just felt totally crap.

(Remember, I did say it’s been a really bad time lately!)

Then there were a few more hard sessions and then I had a holiday! Hurrah.

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Tbh I was glad to get away. I really needed a break. It was glorious and I wish I was still there! I have been working really hard lately. Teaching loads of sessions (the joy of exam season and teaching both English Literature and English Language GCSE and A Level) which has meant six days a week and lots of late nights. No wonder I have been strung out and useless in therapy!

I have realised that therapy cannot be done effectively when running on empty. It just becomes an exercise in firefighting crisis feelings because my piddly letterbox of tolerance is wedged shut. I am sure that things have felt as bad as they have because my day-to-day life has left me exhausted and overwrought. I just haven’t had capacity to hold all my pieces together properly and so when I have got to my sessions the wheels have fallen off because it’s been the only safe place in the week for that to happen. Pushing Em away has felt like the only thing I can do because if I really say how things are I might actually completely disintegrate.

Anyway, a week in the sun was just what the doctor ordered….actually this is true. At my last cancer follow up it was discovered I am deficient in vitamin D so a bit of sun was perfect (alongside my supplements!).

But of course the holiday also meant THERAPY BREAK – boo hiss – and do you know what made it even worse? She was not on holiday at the same time this year. So parts of me felt really sad that I was missing out on my sessions.

Honestly, this attachment stuff is kicking me in the ass right now!

Whilst the holiday was absolutely fantastic the return to therapy didn’t go brilliantly. What a surprise. The first session back, as I have said a million times before, is rarely easy and this last week was no different. Knowing I had a lot to say but also knowing that I have sat on stuff for six weeks I made the fatal error of sending a text on Sunday night asking Em to go through my writing in the notebooks with me and explaining that she has suggested that maybe I need to take a leap of faith in therapy and that this felt really risky but I was willing to try. I was so desperate to move things forward.

When I arrived Em immediately said that she’d seen I had sent her a text but that she hadn’t read it. FFS. I hate this. Straight away it set the protector parts on guard and I felt instantly like she simply doesn’t give a fuck about me so why on earth would I make a leap towards her when she simply isn’t in the least bit interested in me? Em tried to help me back into the room but I was upset and shut down. I asked her to read the text. She acknowledged how breaks stir things up but that also things had been really hard even before the break blah blah blah.

Then, whoop whoop, another great moment.

A lecture about communications outside the room and how she doesn’t want me to text or email her but wants to get to understand what makes me want to communicate with her when she is not available to me because I can’t seem to let her in when she is there. She used a feeding analogy. She’s done this before. She likens me to a hungry baby that for whatever reason cannot feed when mother is there and available to me and yet when she’s gone I realise just how starving I am and start desperately trying to feed and get increasingly upset. I know why this happens but trying to explain this feels too hard when my adult is unavailable because when the youngest parts are active the words aren’t.

I had been sitting swimming in the room, struggling to stay present, unable to really talk…I could see Em was frustrated and I said, ‘I feel like you are really frustrated with me’. She owned her frustration and said that she’s aware that it’s been awful for me lately and that she wonders if I think what we are doing is ‘good enough’ for me and if ‘she can help me’.

FUCK.

We all know what I heard at that point: she’s given up; my silences and dissociation have finally pushed her away; she doesn’t want to work with me.

She said that she wasn’t saying that the work was over or that she didn’t want to work with me but that she sees how painful it’s been for me. Try telling my brain that! It can’t hear you!!

Ugh.

I did manage to talk a bit and let some stuff out at this point. I think it was a panicked response to feeling like I might get terminated if I didn’t get my start talking soon. I can’t remember what I said now, though! But whatever it was it was vulnerable and open enough that Em said something about how the frustration had gone and that we can work through this together. She said that she thinks we need to work very explicitly with the parts, especially the ones that are resistant and gagging all the others.

This is good.

I think this is what I think needs to happen too.

She suggested maybe when things feel really blocked in session that perhaps I could write or draw…I like this idea but often when I am in a really bad spot there simply aren’t any words or pictures I’m just in a black pit of hell. However, there are times when I am not away in dissociative hell but struggling to speak that I think it might work really well.

Despite all the positives once we connected, I left Monday’s session feeling rock bottom. Everything felt wrong inside. I know I have a tendency to latch onto the one ‘bad thing’ I hear and then fixate on it rather than notice all the evidence of what is good in a session. I felt so far away from Em that my default coping mechanisms kicked in this week…or rather the Inner Critic stepped up to try and get some kind of control over the shit that was consuming me. Step one – incessant self-attacking voice:

‘You’re fucking pathetic. Look at you. Even your therapist can’t fucking stand you. She’s been so patient but you’ve managed to wear her out too. I don’t know why you would think she cares about you – she doesn’t…you’re wasting your time.’

It never takes very long for that incessant nagging to turn its attention to my body and eating. This week saw a rapid descent into being super critical of my figure. I felt like wanted to cut fat off my body. I started restricting what I was eating and got my trainers out after a year and went on a six mile run and then started on the outdoor gym across the road three days on the bounce…and between Tuesday and Saturday lost 3lb.

It’s not brilliant.

I can feel how things have switched in my head.

I knew, on Friday, that I had to tell Em what’s happening.

This, in itself, is a sign of progress, I think. The thing with my eating disorder is that I have always kept it secret when it is active. I have never talked about it in therapy (and it’s been there for twenty years soooo!) until last year when things got really bad and I was barely functioning. It started off ok, talking, and then it turned into nightmare and resulted in Em giving me an ultimatum after a few sessions. One session I came in and she was stony faced and serious. She told me that she wanted me to see my GP or we’d have to work towards an ending. In fairness to her I can see she was acting out of care and worry about my physical health, I had lost heaps of weight really radpidly and it was having an impact on my ability to function but it felt like I had been run over by a bus hearing her tell me that we would be done if things continued as they are.

That session was painful and we did manage to have a really productive conversation in the end and things got much better with me and I got a handle on my ED….however, that threat of an ending has stayed with me and fills me with fear when I think about what might happen in the future if things get bad.

On Friday, therefore I took a bravery pill and towards the end of the session told her things were sliding and that as a result I was worried about ‘losing her’. She responded really well. There was no time left but we have put this discussion on the table for today and I hope that it’ll go ok. I hope she will see that I have brought it into the room (even though it feels dangerous to do so) because that’s what I promised last year. I said to her that if things started to slip I would let her know before it had chance to become a big problem.

I can’t say I am not nervous. I am. But actually, at this point, there is so much work that I have been avoiding since Easter that I just need to dive in and see what happens….like my out of control octopus in my notebook!

bb111138-b4c9-49ae-be62-b2ba317459a1Throughout all this, Em has tried to reach me. Parts of me can hear it….it’s just there’s a couple of really noisy parts that are screaming right now about not trusting her and undermining the therapy. Basically, the house renovation has encountered a few snags lately! But I’m in this for the long haul so I will get things sorted…eventually!

So…that’s about it…up to speed in a very very long post! There’s obviously been a lot more said than all of that but after nearly 4000 words I think I’ll stop.