holding it together as I journey through therapy – a personal account of what it's like to be in long-term psychotherapy navigating the healing of C-PTSD, childhood trauma and neglect, an eating disorder, self-harming behaviours, as well as giving grief and cancer an occasional nod.
Sooooo I have made it – just about – through the therapy break and bloody hell…what a ride it’s been! This last week has been a real emotional rollercoaster.
Adult Me has been completely fine.
I’ve got on with work, been reasonably productive and ok…but the parts inside… CRIKEY! Talk about internal push and pull. One minute the protectors are certain that we need a break from therapy because this attachment work stuff is just too painful and exhausting,
the next the young parts are counting down the sleeps until Monday when they can see Anita.
I get that that was GIF overload but it kind of demonstrates how much varying stuff is going on – it’s not consistent at all!!
Last week when I wrote here, I was saying how disconnected I felt from Anita – and how the level of interaction we’d had (minimal) had felt really upsetting for the young parts who struggle so much with object constancy… and fearing she’s died. It had totally set the Teen off! Whilst it wasn’t ‘zero contact’ the GIF Anita has sent the day after I messaged her felt really empty – and impersonal (it wasn’t!).
I guess it’s because I am used to ‘more’ and usually if she sends a GIF there’s some kind of personal message written around it. I think, too, it felt a bit jarring because last year A was more communicative on her holiday. Anyway, it just felt bleurgh and by the time it got to writing last week I just felt off.
I just want to say before anyone starts getting their knickers in knots – that I do get that Anita needs her breaks and doesn’t need to contact me at all when she’s on holiday. If she does contact me there’s no ‘rules’ to how many or few messages she sends. Adult Me is absolutely fine with this and am just grateful that she even considers taking time to contact me at all and allows me to contact her if I want. BUT this blog isn’t just about Adult Me. Adult Me is capable and copes…this is about all of my parts and how they/I experience this stuff.
Of course, I’m not going to go in tomorrow and moan that she ‘didn’t message me enough’ or anything like that. I’ll certainly tell her I missed her (a lot) and that the first week felt unbearable, but it won’t be a ‘grrr you didn’t do this…’. It’s not going to be a rupture…
And this is partly because after I posted up the last blog, I got a massive, long string of photos that Anita had taken of where she was, telling me where she’d been and saying she was looking forward to seeing me when she got back. Then this last week she’s sent me a couple of GIFS, a few more pictures and last night some video clips. And it’s felt really nice – although some parts have had a trouble ‘trusting it’ because they’re wondering what happened in week one…?
Nothing. There was nothing wrong… but I felt like there was.
I just need to chill the fuck out, don’t I?!
This is my stuff to work through, though. It’s my process and it is how it is right now. Anita and I will work through it bit by bit. This embarrassing stuff is the experience. And sure, I could keep quiet about it here, or maybe I could drown in shame about being so needy and pathetic – but I’m not going to because I know that it’s not just me that feels like this. The one thing I have learnt through writing this blog over the years and the emails I get from readers, is there’s more people in therapy experiencing this kind of toe-curlingly mortifying stuff but not finding the words for it than you’d imagine.
So…I’ll keep telling it like it is…warts and all.
The photos definitely helped some parts this week, but I think, generally, the first part of breaks is the hardest anyway, as the time seems to stretch out endlessly ahead of us. Once I reach the half-way point of the holiday it becomes slightly more bearable (pictures or not). I think this is for a few reasons. First, the beginning part of the break feels like a huge shock to the system and the youngest parts really suffer and are really activated, “Where did A go?”
After about a week, the pain and distress experienced by the small ones eventually triggers the teen and other protectors come online and their protective anger (RAGE!) at the little ones being left kind of gets me through. “Fuck it! Fuck her! Fuck it all! I’m done” sort of thing. And so, the second half of break is always a bit easier because I am more disconnected.
Well, kind of.
Like I say though, it’s like a bloody rollercoaster. It’s up and down and round and round…and push and pull… and I can cycle through so many feelings in next to no time. It’s often not just one part feeling something at one time – it’s like layers – all the parts are there feeling and saying conflicting things. It’s a nightmare!
Last night I felt really sorry for myself, though. Anger was gone and vulnerable sadness washed over me in waves. The young parts got so activated and I had a little cry in bed. Every night before sleep I either do a guided meditation or listen to a story on the Insight Timer. Last night my wife suggested we find a new story. I scrolled down and picked a long one as we were fairly early to bed.
Only what I picked turned out to be a paraphrased rework of ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’. The characters were given names and it was modernised but lot of it was exactly the same and ugh…all the stuff with Em came flooding back. I wrote that blog post last year about how I had given her the book for Christmas and then how she’d rejected it and how I felt like it was a good analogy for therapy. And ugh…wonderful timing RB! Just what you need to be reminded of when you are on a therapy break and feel disconnected from A and anxious about going back to the room.
I finally fell asleep and went on to have graphic nightmares: one with a teenage girl drowning and I couldn’t save her, and then another one in the early hours of the morning where I (seven year old part) was looking for Anita, “I can’t find her anywhere”, I said. And someone told me she had gone away for good and I needed to go away.
So yeah. It’s felt a bit shite really.
This morning I woke up and was really battling with myself. Part of me wanted to just text Anita and tell her I didn’t want to go tomorrow. But then of course lots of parts do want to be there. The overriding fear I have about tomorrow is not that things will have changed but rather I will go and not connect because I am in self-protect mode. I also know that after breaks I can go in and do the False Adult thing where I will talk and talk about stuff that appears like priority stress: finding out my friend has weeks, maybe months to live; having to contact my oncologist because things don’t feel quite right in my throat; shit with my wife’s ongoing health that’s really not good; work stuff…there’s enough to be going on with.
And yet, while of course ALL THOSE THINGS ARE BAD AND STRESSFUL AND NEED TALKING ABOUT Adult Me can handle it for now. What Adult Me can’t handle is the fucking mess that’s happened internally because my attachment figure went away on a holiday.
I really need to go in tomorrow and reconnect. I need to be close to A. I need hugs and reassurance. But there’s a very real possibility that I might go in and glide through the session and then land with a thud about ten minutes from the end, dissociate and then leave feeling even more disconnected.
PLEASE DON’T LET THAT HAPPEN!
I decided to text Anita this evening to tell her that I feel unsettled, that things felt off and my system was in meltdown. I told her that parts of me really want to see her but the protectors think it’s stupid. I said that I have been having nightmares all break where she’s either left or died. I finished up with, “It’s too hard. I missed you.”
Anita responded with a really warm message, saying she understood, telling me she was very much alive, home safe and sorting out washing in the rain. She asked me if I wanted to start 15 minutes sooner in the morning so we could have a longer session. She told me everything will be ok and that she promised nothing has changed and then signed off with a heart and some kisses.
That message has done a lot to settle the parts that were freaking out. I feel like she’s home. I feel like tomorrow it’ll be ok. I know, too, that there is enough time to land in the room after the break and reconnect.
Wish me luck and I promise I’ll come up with some sane posts again soon!
I am finding this therapy break really, really hard. We’re only 9 days in, still 8 days to go…and it’s like my brain has chosen this holiday to have a complete processing malfunction and fall to pieces. I’ve been having several nightmares each night: graphic stuff around my dad dying, my grandad dying, my estranged relationship with my grandmother, childhood trauma memories coming up, health anxiety stuff, and of course rejections/abandonments by Anita…it goes on and on. I am thoroughly exhausted now, and that’s just the stuff when I am asleep!
Shoot me now!
Waking up with either a jolt and my heart racing or crying in desperate sobs multiple times through the night is just fucking hideous. I mean it really is just bloody awful. My whole system is in chaos and disarray. This weekend I have been getting up when I wake up at dawn and the light is just creeping over the horizon because I can’t bear to be asleep any longer and don’t want to chance another nightmare. To be honest, I would rather have the very scary haunted house nightmares I was complaining about in my last post, than these ‘real life relationship’ horror interactions.
The more exhausted I get and the further into the break it is, the more my system is freaking out. It’s really bad. I feel so unbelievably disconnected from A that I genuinely feel like I won’t go back next week. Or at least that’s how it’s feeling for the teen part that feels like the system has been abandoned and so she just feels like setting everything on fire, running away and then having an enormous rage at Anita via text (so mature…so teen!).
For the youngest parts, it feels Anita has completely disappeared, and it’s really rattled and sent shockwaves through my system. I don’t understand what’s going on – or if there is something wrong. When Anita told me about her holiday weeks ago, she said she had been looking for the right time to tell me about knowing how difficult things were at the time and how hard I find breaks (but acknowledged there’s never really a good time). She told me it would be ok and that we could still have contact and text whilst she was gone. The idea of her going away wasn’t great but the reassurance that it wouldn’t be zero contact and radio silence helped ease things a bit.
Last year when A was on holiday, she texted me several times and sent some photographs of where she had been staying. This really helped to maintain the sense of connection and the photos especially helped me see that whilst she wasn’t ‘here’, she was still ‘somewhere’ and not dead which is what part of me panics about having had my dad die whilst away on holiday (anniversary of that is a few weeks away).
I wasn’t so upset or unsettled by the break last year – we’d literally just returned to the room and had two face-to-face sessions after the loooooooong first lockdown, so I was used to her ‘not being here’ and I was nowhere near as attached to her as I am now. The contact over the break, then, was a real bonus and just steadied everything and so I got on with what I was doing…painting my house! And whilst I missed seeing her, I just looked forward to being back in the room after the holiday. It wasn’t a distressing experience for the parts like this one has been.
Sometimes in the week between sessions or on weekends Anita will send me pictures of where she’s been on her walks, or something in the garden, and even though they aren’t pictures of her (it’s usually the dog or some beautiful scenery or something she’s been making) if feels like she’s letting me into part of her world and it feels like she actually gets how hard it is for the young parts who struggle so much with objects constancy and gives them just enough to hold onto.
On Tuesday evening I sent Anita a GIF which had two clocks on it. One that was standing still and one that was moving at speed. Basically, it said the one that stands still is what happens when we are apart and the one that accelerates is when we are together. Underneath I said, ‘I miss you’. And that was that. I could have written an essay about how shit it’s all felt (but that’s what this blog is for!) but I also really aware that A is on holiday and so there’s no point in burdening her – she needs space and time to rest and recharge.
The next evening A replied with a GIF that had a bear on it gesturing a hug that said ‘sending you a big hug because you are beary special to me!’. I replied with ‘thank you, I really needed that.’
And that’s great, isn’t it?
Well, yes and no…
Like I know loads of you will read this who suffer with the same attachment problems as me and will work with therapists like Em who don’t allow outside contact or whose messages are very clinical/sterile and would love to receive a message like that…but over the course of 9 days separation, that just is not enough for the parts that are struggling so much especially an entire day later.
It’s so hard!! FFS. I can hear how bratty and ungrateful I sound – but it is how the young parts and teen are experiencing things right now and that’s what I am chronicling here today.
I’ve spoken about this stuff (breaks/outside contact) over the years with various friends who have therapy and I think what therapists often don’t get is that for those of us with complex trauma, children who have grown up not knowing whether they are coming or going and never feeling safe, is how important consistency is and how hard change is for us. I’m sure many people (people who don’t experience the issues we do) would think that a two-week holiday is no big deal – but like I said, it’s not actually two weeks.
The therapist might be taking two weeks leave, but the time between sessions our is longer. In my case this time, it’s 17 days between my sessions. When I worked with Em and we were seeing each other once a week it would actually end up being three weeks if she had a two week break. And that is a long time for people like us…or people like me, at least!
The problem is not just about the length of time of breaks, though. It’s about the change in routine. Sure, 17 days isn’t all that long in the big scheme of things (I really get that!), but it equates to four missed therapy sessions and a lot of outside contact that won’t happen. So, if you view breaks through that lens rather than days, it’s a significant amount of lost contact time and that invariably shocks the system.
Let’s be clear, there is a reason I have two sessions a week and have a therapist that allows between session contact…I don’t have this intensity of therapy because I have nothing else to do and love losing two whole mornings a week travelling to and from the sessions. I do it because without that level of intervention I really struggle…so of course breaks are hard for me.
Don’t get me wrong. Anita more than deserves and needs her holiday. BUT I can’t lie. It is very hard when therapy stops and contact becomes minimal because my system is always so alert anyway, looking for signs of change or readying itself for abandonment and rejection. Breaks do feel like an abandonment and lack of contact feels rejecting – even though they are neither abandoning or rejecting it is how my system experiences it.
I get that this is my issue to work through – THIS IS THE WORK!!! It’s all about attachment – GROAN! I understand I have to do the best I can to hold and contain the young parts over breaks. BUT my system is how it is and that’s not easy. I have ‘insight’ into why I am the way I am and why I react the way I do but that’s not always a whole lot of help when my teen is running rampage and is ready to quit because these last few days is evidence that as she sees it,
Anita only really cares when she’s in the room. She’s spent ages trying to get me and the young ones to trust her, coaxing them out, saying she won’t leave or abandon us. And when, finally, we let the most vulnerable self/selves out and attach to her the reality is the relationship is only ‘real’ (not real!) in that room at a specific time each week.
When it comes down to it, we are just clients. We are disposable. RB doesn’t matter and neither do the rest of us. Anita can just disappear – switch her ‘work brain’ off and leave us behind until she’s ready to become her therapist self again. Meanwhile we’re all left hanging – because this relationship doesn’t have an ON/OFF switch for us.
It’s all great when life is going as it should and the ‘therapy play’ can run as it’s mean to, but throw in an unanticipated lockdown and promises about staying because we ‘need to be face-to-face’ become meaningless. If something happens her end, a session can be cancelled outright despite the fact the she is still working online that day (still not over that one!)…basically – the reality is we don’t matter ‘that much’ and we are just her ‘job’. To think that there’s anything more is completely delusional.
It’s so hard because we are just one of her many ‘clients’ and yet to us her presence in our life is essential. Actually, no – fuck that – the little ones need the therapy and the holding. Adult thinks she needs the therapy. I don’t need anyone and am sick of the others putting me through hell! Why don’t they understand that people are unreliable, and their word means shit?
It’s better being alone. If you don’t let anyone in no one can hurt you. It’s easier that way.
Soooo….the teen part is in a really good place right now – ha. It’s not funny, though. It’s painful.
I’m going to leave that here because bleurgh… I don’t want to bring the rest of you down with me and I’m sick of my own whining and sadness.
Raise your hand if you’re dreading the holiday season and the mass exodus of your therapist/s over the summer months?!
So, the summer therapy break has gone live, now…it’s two weeks…and, ugh, I think I’m going to be in for quite a rough ride!
Earlier this week I went to see K as my nervous system was already in tatters just anticipating Anita’s holiday. Before I got on the table for craniosacral, K asked me what I was feeling in my body. My False Adult had done quite a good job of sitting on the sofa chattering away for the preceding half an hour generally just catching up with her about ‘light’ stuff, but I was avoiding the thing that was really on my mind for fear of breaking down either then, or later on. When I tuned into my body, I could feel the somatic experience of what I was running from: the break with Anita.
There’s no point in pretending to be ok with K. I can paste a brave face on all I like but she knows, and the moment her hands touch my body she can absolutely feel things are amiss and where in my body I’m holding stuff. Sometimes she’ll say things like, “I can feel a real tightness on the back left side of your head” (when her hands are on my feet!) and it blows me away. So, I told her what was going on.
“Anita is going away for two weeks from Monday” I sighed and broke eye contact whilst sinking down into the couch and then drawing my knees up into my chest. I felt so exposed and vulnerable. I tried to describe the body sensations and told K that it felt like I had a huge watery sink hole inside my chest (like a big hole plunging down into the ocean floor) and that it was sucking all my parts into it.
I explained that the feeling of trying to stop myself getting pulled into that dark endless pit of doom was exhausting and the young parts of me were terrified. I said it felt like there was an inevitability about ending up in that horrible dark scary place and that I was doing everything I could do avoid it…which up until that point was literally avoiding talking about it or acknowledging it!
K really empathised and put her hand to her chest and let out a sort of pained exhale and said she could feel how painful and frightening it was for the little ones inside. She and I speak the same kind of emotional language, so I never feel weird going into huge winding metaphors about my inner experience or body sensations or simply telling her the baby or other young part is in distress.
I’m sure most people must say that a particular place aches or is buzzing when she asks how they feel in their body…but not me! K says it’s one of the things she loves about working with me, my authenticity and ability to tune into my feelings and body – which is so funny as years ago I felt so numb.
K says my images make total sense to her. I know, now, from the years of working with her and the friendship that has developed over the last 12 years that she has experienced a similar wounding – she knows the mother wound intimately. She’s done her work, though, (she’s now in her sixties) and I love working with her because she ‘knows’ what I mean because she’s been there and felt it. It is so great to be in the presence of one of those amazing, grounded matriarchal women and it gives me hope that one day I too might be in the place that she is. I mean that’s the goal, right?!
Like Anita she is really good at ‘unconditional positive regard’ – she never looks at me like I am a crazed lunatic when I tell her stuff. She mirrors me so well and it’s been working with her over the years that has really made me see how bad things have been. To see her moved and saddened by my story and express care for my young parts made me see that it was as bad, if not worse, than I thought. This was especially the case in 2019 when I started seeing her again properly after a break of several years. Going each week in a terrible state, my nervous system in survival and telling her what was going on with Em made me realise that it really wasn’t ok.
Having someone genuinely express care and acceptance was everything I needed at that time (and now! – thank god for A and K!). I learnt with K that it is ok to have feelings and express them. It is human to care about people and feel love. K is always so expressive towards me and has modelled how to say what you feel. It’s so funny, she always shouts down the street as I leave, “I love you RB!” I can’t help but smile when she does this, given Em never even said goodbye when I would leave hers, often distressed or dissociated.
Anyway, where am I going with this? Body sensations and the pain of the mother wound…
Not long ago I was on the table and all sorts of intense stuff was making its way up and out. I think my body had stored a lot over the lockdown and it’d been such a long time since I had seen K to do actual body work and not just pop over for a cup of tea. It was around the time that Anita had cancelled my session when she thought her daughter might have had covid and I was in a right state about it. K completely got it which made me feel less embarrassed and ashamed about my HUGE reaction and EPIC meltdown.
She told me how she could feel how painful it was for my inner child to be left and have her need overlooked, and how abandoning it must feel when the young parts are trying so hard to trust A. She could see how it taps so readily back into my experience with my mum as a child.
However, it wasn’t just a pile on. K also said that she can see such a massive change in me since I have been working with Anita. She says I am so much more resourced and embodied DESPITE the huge amounts of shit that I have had to field in my life in the past year. She told me that A would not have wanted to hurt me and that hopefully I could see that, too, because she can see what an amazing connection we have from what I have told her. She often tells me how glad she is that I finally have a therapist who can do the work with me having seen first-hand how damaging it was with Em. That always feels nice to hear. Sometimes I wonder if it’s all just in my head (the closeness between A and I) but I suppose having seen me recount my experiences with Em it would be hard not to see the difference!
Anyway, this particular day I could feel that ‘hole in my chest’ so painfully – it was excruciating. It’s where the mother wound and the grief of my dad dying and my family cutting me off so many other losses are. The blackness was powerful that day that I felt like I was going to fall headfirst into it. Only on this day I could also feel its edges – sore and molten hot.
It’s horrible feeling like there’s an enormous void where your heart is. The endless black is awful, but the edges of this hole feel like a combination of a huge mouth ulcer – the stinging, searing pain is unbelievable. And then there are some areas that are sort of crusted over – like when a volcano has been spewing lava and the top layer starts to cool and goes black, but the cracks show that it’s still molten red hot a few centimetres down…
I don’t know what’s worse really, being sucked into the abyss or the searing pain of the edge.
So anyway, that’s what it’s been like these last couple of weeks on a physical level…it’s really nuts how somatised the trauma is and when the attachment stuff is triggered how agonising it feels.
I seem to have rattled on loads about that when actually I wanted to talk about how therapy with Anita has been. It’s been largely fine. I’ve disappeared or come close to disappearing a few times but that’s not surprising given we were so close the therapy break.
We were talking about the black hole/inner void the other day and Anita asked if she might hold my hand to stop me falling in. I was quite shut down at that point and refused. It’s that horrible situation where I’m so desperately in need of a hand or a hug and Anita will offer it, but it feels impossible for me to accept it in the moment. I feel so far away and disconnected that I can’t reach out. It’s almost like Anita isn’t there…or I am not there.
Parts of me are screaming and yet I am frozen. The protective part has total control over the rest of the parts- when it’s bad like this it feels like a prison guard, really.
And the prison is fucking horrible, too. Cold, metal, damp…soooooo lonely.
It’s terrible for those parts locked inside, too:
The baby: is screaming on the floor on a blanket, hungry, cold, and in desperate need of holding and soothing. The distress is palpable.
The toddler: is standing still, facing away from me. She doesn’t make a sound. She already knows there’s no point in crying because no one comes. She looks so neglected and so lacking in love. She’s another little one who really needs a cuddle from A.
The four-year-old: is sad and is trying to seek comfort from the older teen but she’s ignored and pushed away and doesn’t understand why no one wants to look after her. She wants A but has no idea where she is.
The seven-year-old and eleven-year-old: are sitting in the corner playing ‘rock paper scissors’. They don’t make a fuss and are used to making the best of a bad situation. Eleven is pretty self-sufficient and although she’d love the attention of a caring adult like A she knows when there are so many other younger, needy parts she goes unnoticed.
The younger teen: is fed up. She doesn’t know what to do to make things better for herself. She looks at eleven and sees what a good girl she is and wonders what chance she has of someone loving and noticing her if even the ‘perfect’ girl is neglected and abandoned.
The older teen: has her headphones in her ears listening to her soundtrack of angst and is staring blankly at the wall. She’s chronically depressed. Thoughts of self-harm and anorexia run on loop in her head, and she wants to die and escape the pain of never being good enough and no one caring.
So…yeah…that’s fucking fun!
Fortunately, Anita is solid and present and persists with me and eventually things feel safe enough to come closer. The other day she said, “I feel like I want to give you hug and ground you again. I can feel you are going further away. Would that be ok?” And the protector opened the gate and let all the needy parts out. Well some of them, anyway!
I don’t know why I can’t just get the memo that Anita is safe from the start. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I can sit down and ask for what I need almost immediately but then I guess the closer the break has got, the harder it has felt because those parts that fear abandonment were fast approaching an abandonment (even though that isn’t really what it is).
I think part of it is also that my mum used to disappear and was never the same when she returned. There was no solid base to land on or build on. Who knew what kind of mood she’d be in on a Friday? – and so this is the legacy playing out with A. I have to be careful and check that things are ok and safe…because they haven’t always been (growing up). It’s like starting from scratch over and over again.
A says that, “it doesn’t have to be scary anymore” but it’s so hard when the reality is it is scary for those parts when she goes away…because what happens if she doesn’t come back?…What happens if she goes away and realises how easy it is without me bothering her?…What happens if she comes back and has finally reached her limit?
There’s been a lot of reassurance going on in recent sessions and outside them. She tells me I am not too much and that she is not fed up with me. She’s assured me (repeatedly) that “nothing is going to change” whilst she’s gone. She says, “I will be back. And I won’t have changed. We won’t have changed. It’ll still be exactly the same” on a loop!
And it really does help. Although listening to me rattle on here I’m guessing it’s hard to see evidence of that!
On Friday, just gone, I had horrible headache. It was definitely tension and anxiety about the break causing it. I so badly wanted the final session to feel connected and holding. I had read a chunk of our WhatsApp thread of messages the night before the session, and I really wanted to go in and tell Anita how thankful I am to her for being so consistent and caring even when I have been throwing everything at her. Seeing message after message demonstrating her care even when I was being a pain in the arse really hit home. The testing that went on during the lockdown in November was really something else and the scale of the meltdowns were – yikes!
How she didn’t just turn round and say, “FFS RB what more do you want from me? In how many ways and how many times do I have to prove that I care about you to you? Are you stupid or something? – just look at the evidence!” But she never has. She never makes me feel like I am a burden or annoying for it taking my parts so long to get on board and trust. She doesn’t get frustrated treading the same ground over and over week in week out and it really has made a massive difference to how I feel.
I wanted to go in, sit down and tell her all of that but I just couldn’t look at her. She obviously knows that this break is proving hard (before it’s even begun), but I didn’t want her to look at me and see it in my eyes. I didn’t want to be so exposed. The sadness about her going away overshadowed my ability to tell her how grateful I am to her for being awesome.
Even though I couldn’t say what I had planned, I managed to ask if I could hold her hand and reached out across the sofa. It wasn’t long until I was cuddled into her, and she pretty much held me for the entire session as I cycled through all the feelings. It felt really healing at times just being quiet together and then it’d flip into being really painful. The young parts could feel time ticking away and it felt horrid knowing that she’d be gone really soon.
I felt like I was trying to absorb every second of the time with her. It was like I was trying to pour the feeling of being safe and held into a container inside me so I would have it when she wasn’t there anymore. I really wish it were possible to do that! So often it feels like this lovely connected, safe feeling just slips like sand, or water, through my fingers and is gone.
Knowing she would be gone on holiday also tapped into all the fear about her maybe going away and dying just like my dad did. It’s creeping towards the anniversary of that trauma, too, so I always find the summer breaks most difficult of all the therapy breaks.
K noted, last week, that there’ve been so many different disruptions over the last year (not just usual run of the mill therapy breaks which we all are used to). It’s been so on and off with lockdowns – moving back and forth from online to face-to-face back to online etc. And for some people I know that has been totally fine, they even report preferring remote therapy…but I am not one of those people! I hate it (*sidenote – I don’t hate it as much as no session/contact at all and sometimes a check in online is really helpful!). So, it’s not surprising that breaks might feel a bit harder this year because it’s an additional disruption after having had so many already.
Don’t get me wrong, Anita needs her break and she more than deserves it, but I am not going to beat myself up about feeling sad and lost over this because whilst she hasn’t had many ‘holiday breaks’ in the time we’ve worked together (not enough by any stretch of the imagination), there has been an unusual level of disruption and interruption to the therapy because of the pandemic. So, I think I can extend myself a bit of compassion and say it’s ok to feel off when my attachment figure is gone – even if it is only for two weeks.
Towards the end of Friday’s session, I asked if we could read stories together as I thought this might help the youngest parts before the holiday. It was so lovely listening to Anita read the books and looking at the pictures together and being close. The young parts really enjoyed it. No one ever read to me as a child, and I feel like I really missed out – I feel like bedtime story time is probably the most important time of the day with my kids (and not because there’ll be peace in half an hour once it’s over!).
Anyway, the session was soon over, and I felt that sadness land heavy back in my stomach which had been gurgling noisily all session! When it was time to leave Anita reminded me to take Elephant with me. It was sitting on the side waiting for me when I walked in the room, and I couldn’t help but smile inside when I saw it. At the end of Monday’s session, I had asked A if she might wash it for me before she went away and she said, “Of course” as if it was a completely normal and reasonable request.
It felt like quite a big thing to ask for – vulnerability overload – and I can only imagine the look of horror and disgust on Em’s face had I ever had taken a soft toy to a session or, God forbid, ask her to do that for me and then braced for the “No” and the “I don’t work in that way” speech. But as usual Anita wasn’t fazed by my request at all. I guess she knows why I wanted her to do it. I always say to her how I like how she smells and the steady beat of her heart … well, a little part of me does, anyway!
I’ve said, here, before how when she cuddles me that one of the things I find really soothing is how she smells – it’s fresh laundry and clean hair…it’s Anita…and now I associate that smell with being safe and feeling at ‘home’. I knew this break was going to be super hard for the smallest parts of me and so I thought that if she washed the elephant, it would smell familiar and safe – comforting – when things felt overwhelming.
It does really work, too. I’ve had a fucking nightmare of a weekend –I’ve been hugely unsettled during the day and had absolutely terrifying nightmares. I always have bad dreams/nightmares anyway, but they’ve not been as bad as this since I stopped therapy with Em (the first time) in 2013 on the NHS (too soon – but time limited therapy is like this!) and had six solid weeks of night terrors. I’m back in the realms of the decaying dead bodies of children, life-threatening illness, and being destroyed by people exerting power over me in spooky, haunted houses in the dark again now – but at least Anita hasn’t featured in them just yet.
I woke up at 2am this morning, my heart was racing, I was physically shaking, and I was utterly terrified. I felt so scared and upset when I woke up from the nightmare that I reached for my elephant and cuddled it tight. It instantly started to ground those parts who were so frightened because it makes it feel like A is actually real, still. I can almost imagine that I am safe cuddled into her – and really that’s what those young parts need.
I know that must all sound pretty bonkers but meh, fuck it, do you know what? I don’t even care anymore – I’ve been through the emotional wringer for years feeling so lost and abandoned during breaks so seeing as it works for me, I’m taking it as a win!
Don’t get me wrong. The elephant isn’t going to solve everything. I know I am in for a rough ride over the next couple of weeks and I guess I’ll just have to be curious and conscious of what’s going on. Not going to lie… kind of willing time forward to June 21st and trying, at the same time, to not panic and freak out about how I will see Anita over the school summer holidays when my kids are off.
I know the longer the break goes on the harder it is going to be. When Anita told me about her holiday weeks ago she said we could text when she was away, but then she didn’t say anything about it on Friday so I’m feeling like perhaps I shouldn’t…
It’s been an ‘interesting’ couple of weeks in therapy, but I can’t tell you much about any of it because there are huge voids where the memories should be, still. I don’t know what’s going on, really. Everything is just a bit of a blur and whilst I am aware that I have had quite difficult emotional periods over the last week I am not entirely sure what’s triggering it – other than the upcoming break.
I suppose it’s not just ‘other than the upcoming break’ because the reality is that breaks are a BIG DEAL to the young parts, especially as those little ones haven’t experienced a two-week therapy break since last summer. At that point they weren’t as ‘in the relationship’ with A as they are now because the therapy was still quite new. I wasn’t so attached back then, and we were working online in that first (endless) lockdown, so the absence wasn’t quite as striking as it is when there is a disruption to my face-to-face therapy now.
We all know that I’ve been crap and grumpy when Anita and I have had to revert back to online therapy for some bits of the more recent lockdowns. I can’t help it, I miss the physical contact and the energy in the room…I miss Anita…and the cuddles! The lockdowns weren’t great (understatement) but I didn’t even cope especially well recently even with that one missed/cancelled session when A’s daughter might have had covid…so imagine how it’s going to be with four missed sessions!
Although, to be fair, if you dig beneath all these disruptions to my therapy and the resulting meltdowns there’s more to them than meets the eye. It’s not just because I can’t see A. I freaked out in lockdown two because Anita had promised she’d see me and then ended up going away to bubble with her partner – it felt like she’d lied to me and it felt so abandoning. The mess up with the recent covid cancellation hurt because Anita was actually still working but just didn’t think I’d want to work online…and that stung because it felt like she didn’t see my need.
Shoot me now!
Anyway, it’s bank-holiday this weekend and even though Anita and I have scheduled a session for Tuesday that wasn’t without its stresses/miscommunication either.
Weeks ago, A and I arranged via a text that we would do 10am on Tuesday instead of our regular Monday time. That felt fine…until Friday, last week, when Anita text me after our session and said, ‘I hope your day is improving. I have just realised we haven’t talked about another day for BH Monday. Can you do Tuesday 1st at 11:15?’
This text immediately set the cat amongst the pigeons internally. She’d obviously forgotten we’d made the plan and whilst the 11:15 was no big deal – the time was fine – to parts inside it felt massive. She’d obviously now booked the 10 o clock session with someone else…and that felt…like… I had been replaced I guess….but also forgotten about and not kept in mind. I dunno. I know it’s not actually a big deal really and so I replied and said that yes, that was fine and that we had had the conversation but 11:15 was fine too. Anita apologised and that was that.
She has no idea how much this tiny thing actually affected or how much it’s been niggling away at me since but really, I can’t even be bothered to go into it with her. She’s so great so much of the time that surely, I can cope with the physical reminder that there are (of course) other people that Anita sees. LOL.
I can’t lie, though. I was disappointed. I guess it’s because I already worry about being forgotten about anyway, and this message seems to confirm that Anita had forgotten me (or at least believed she had).
Also, I quite like the fact that I am the first client of the day. I guess I feel like Anita is fresh/ready for the day ahead and not already on the treadmill of work counting down the hours/clients (not that she probably does this anyway, but…). I also don’t get any sense of anyone else having been there in the room – no perfume, warm chairs or anything like that (which would send me off my rocker – remember the box the other week?!). I guess, also, if I am honest, I know that she hasn’t touched or cuddled anyone else yet that day. The idea of cuddling into her after someone else might have been crying on her just feels…ugh…I dunno…
I am basically just a spoilt brat with massive sibling jealousy. Can you tell I am an only child?! Lol.
So, anyway, because of this timetabling mix up I have been pretty discombobulated this week. On Monday I think (having had a conversation about it on Friday with Anita because I couldn’t remember anything that happened – it was just a black hole) it was False Adult that was fronting for a long time in my session, and it wasn’t until about fifteen minutes before the end that I felt like I connected to A and let my vulnerable self come out. I obviously didn’t tell her about the upset about the session for Tuesday … and now I wonder if that’s what was stopping me connecting. Probably. Ugh, maybe I should bring it up…but…oh the SHAME!!!
The way the session went left me feeling quite out of sorts for the whole of Monday. I am so conscious of the fact that everything is getting unsettled, and the break is coming and I really want to feel safe and connected before Anita goes away and not disconnected and far away.
For most of Monday after the session I could feel that angry part who wants to cut and run fronting. Maybe it was the teen? Even though the young parts were in meltdown this protective part was determined not to reach out to Anita or give her any indication that things felt off between us…or at least with me. ‘What’s the point? She’s leaving soon, right?’ –
Ugh. That voice!
When will she give up?!
Anyway, by about 9 o clock I was in bed. I was so so tired. I had my salt lamp on (birthday present from A) and I was cuddling into my big dog. The critic and teen or whoever it was had powered down and all I was left with were those little ones who felt desperately sad that they had not been able to get enough of what they needed in the session that morning. Without even thinking I text Anita. I didn’t expect her to respond but I felt better for having let those young parts let something out.
This is the exchange:
It felt so settling and I went to sleep with no bother at all… and no bad dreams for the first time in ages! Win! I know that this is a million miles away from most therapies. I mean I did years with Em stone cold in that room with no contact outside contact at all and I can imagine that this probably feels to some people like there are no boundaries in this relationship. But there are and I am really clear on what they are. Boundaries don’t have to be barriers and the key thing for me doing this work is authenticity. For those of us with complex trauma I think it’s really helpful when we get to see a bit of a real person with feelings and emotions.
You’d think that exchange would have been enough for the week to run smoothly.
Because we are right in the thick of my wounding now and the messy attachment stuff. It’s basically developmental trauma #101!!
As the week went on, I felt increasingly disconnected from Anita again. The woeful Wednesday separation anxiety kicked my arse and the young parts were freaking out. Honestly, the anxiety about this summer break is so bad for them but I am not surprised as we have been looking a lot at my early years and how it was with my mum lately so that stuff feels really live. On Thursday night I actually felt like cancelling my Friday session. Things felt that bad.
I text Anita a GIF of a character having a meltdown with their face under a pillow…basically me. And a photo of something I had just let the young parts express:
I had tuned into what was going on and wrote it out. I can’t believe I sent it but hey, there we are – these things happen now and it’s ok. There’s no boundary talk, instead there’s engagement about what it is I am trying to say.
Anita saw the message and told me she was sending me a ‘big hug filled with love’ and a really reassuring message that said we could start earlier on Friday if I wanted as she thought it would be a good idea. There was still so much conflict going on inside that I didn’t actually respond to the message until Friday morning but when I woke up, I was feeling so much better and so relieved that A had suggested we could do a longer session.
Anita says it’s important that we pay attention to all the parts of me and listen to what they are trying to say. She’s sure that at the moment my protectors are doing their best to sabotage the relationship because they think it’s better to leave than get left…and that’s really how it is…EVEN THOUGH IT’S JUST A HOLIDAY AND NOT A FUCKING ENDING!
Sometimes I feel like my protective parts are just arseholes but, I do know they are trying to do their job. It’s just a bit mortifying when this stuff is playing out in your late thirties and not your mid-teens. Although those parts don’t know I am here and are locked back in 1998!
Anyway, I am meandering slowly toward the point here… there’ve been a couple of sessions lately where I have been really unsettled and no matter what we do I just feel like I am cycling through heaps of uncomfortable states. It’s like I’m trying to land myself in my ‘letterbox’ of tolerance but it’s windy and stormy and so the plane keeps missing the spot and instead lands in hypo or hyper arousal. I feel like I am not in the room. Like Anita is not there. My body hurts. I feel sick. I feel dizzy. I go numb. It’s dark. I feel shaky. The parts inside are screaming. You name it and I’ve probably been there in those sessions.
So. Friday was ugh. Not because Anita was distant, or I was a million miles from her – that wasn’t how it was. I hugged her the moment she opened the front door and snuggled into her within a minute of getting in the room. There was nothing at all wrong in that regard and yet still I couldn’t properly settle. We spoke about it. Tried to pinpoint what was going on. Dipped in and out of a lot of different conversations. We laughed. I cried. But despite all this I felt really really agitated and disconnected – or at least a key part did. It was as if I couldn’t relax into this calm, nurturing space properly……………… WHY?? ….. well, probably because that calm nurturing space isn’t there on Monday and then won’t be there for two weeks soon.
Anita wondered if I felt frustrated that I couldn’t connect in the way I wanted and I said that was the case. She asked me if I wanted to do some drawing because we had spoken about how maybe doing something creative might help when it feels like this. I said I didn’t want to. Basically the idea of being even slightly separated from her in the room felt awful…again right now it’s the really young stuff being triggered.
A couple of weeks ago when I was in a similar state Anita read me a story I had brought in called, ‘Barbara Throws A Wobbler’ by Nadia Shireen and it really settled those child parts.
Listening to a story read by A, written in language that was accessible to them and with pictures to look at grounded those parts and I felt way more connected and present in the room.
I sometimes feel like my young parts are just outside the door or are suspended just out of reach looking in and it’s horrible until they can get inside and close to A.
I had seen the book not long after having a massive wobbler in a session earlier that week and it really captures just how awful it feels when that angry tantruming part takes over and freaks out over really small things. In the end, the main character realises that this big scary Wobbler is actually a part of her, and she has the power to shrink it rather than be taken over by it. She knows it will come back but she isn’t frightened of it anymore.
At the end of the book there are pictures of a bunch of other characters (that don’t have their own story) and I asked if maybe we could draw our own versions of these character soon. I had said my Wobbler wasn’t a red angry jelly and was more like a black smoky Dementor out of Harry Potter but I thought there was probably some good work to be done here.
So, on Friday when I was struggling to connect despite the closeness A wondered if maybe it’d help if she read me another story rather than drawing? I bought her ‘The Rabbit Listened’ on the first therapy anniversary and we haven’t looked at it together yet, and at Christmas I gave her ‘The Hug’. I joked that one day I would stop giving her kids’ books. Although probably not just yet!
Whilst I really did want a story the idea of Anita getting up and moving even to the other side of the room felt unbearable. I said to A, “I don’t want to let go.” A wondered whether I thought that if I let go I might disappear and I nodded into her chest and murmured – “or you might.” A held me close for a while and I settle more and eventually I said that I would like a story. She asked which I’d prefer. The Hug was already in the room on the shelf and the other books were in another room. I opted for The Hug – less far to go.
Anita sat back down on the sofa and I cuddled back into her and she read the story to me. Her voice was so soothing, and she did the voices of the characters and everything. No joke, all that agitated shit I’d been battling just disappeared and I landed in the room and into the moment with a gentle thud. It was so nice to feel the tension leave my body and feel fully present (all the parts).
Up until that point I felt like even though I had been cuddling A, listening to her heartbeat, talking, laughing etc there had been a part of me holding myself so tightly inside. It’s almost like being in a full body shackle – it protects that most vulnerable bit of me but it’s hideous. But the story did something and all that just fell away. I really enjoyed looking at the pictures and felt so held and contained.
I haven’t read the story before but have seen snippets of it online and knew enough about it to want to send it to Anita at Christmas. It’s really lovely and simple. It’s about a hedgehog and a tortoise who are both desperate for a hug but all the animals they meet won’t give them one. They’re too busy for a hug, but also, as it turns out people are put off by the hedgehog’s spikes and the tortoise’s hard shell. The book runs half-way on the hedgehog’s story then you flip it over and read the tortoise’s story from the back to the middle. In the centre pages of the book the two characters meet and get to hug each other because they are perfect for each other. The book says ‘there is someone for everyone’.
Anita finished the book and said, “hugs are really really important, aren’t they?” I didn’t say anything but seeing as I was cuddled into her body and had been for the entire session I wasn’t about to disagree!
After the story the young parts told Anita about my tortoise that I had been looking after for someone, but they have given him to me. It was small talk, but it felt really connecting. I guess because I felt so much more present and connected.
I left feeling so much better than I had done when I arrived and throughout the week. I feel settled even though it’s a BH weekend. I’ve been productive in my garden – turning the meadow back into a lawn! Can I get a shout out for the sunshine? After a month of solid rain and cloud here I hardly know myself now there is blue sky and wall to wall sunshine.
I hope you guys are all making the most of it too (UK readers obvs as no idea what it’s like elsewhere on the planet!)x
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”.
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!
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 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.
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!
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.
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!
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!’
holding it together as I journey through therapy - a personal account of what it's like to be in long-term psychotherapy navigating the healing of C-PTSD, childhood trauma and neglect, an eating disorder, self-harming behaviours, as well as giving grief and cancer an occasional nod.