10 things I wish my therapist knew…

I have had this title in mind for a while now and yet haven’t really known what to write because obviously my therapist ‘knows’ a lot about me already. It’s not as though I am new to therapy, sitting here with a locked box, holding onto secrets that I can’t share  with her.

Indeed, after all these years I know that she knows ‘me’ better than anyone. She’s seen it all. She knows my patterns. She’s repeatedly come up against my defences. She understands my coping strategies. She sees the vulnerable parts. She is a step ahead of me a lot of the time…which is a little frustrating for someone who likes to be in control!

As I say, there’s not much she doesn’t know.  So this post is not ‘I want my therapist to know about the time that x, y, z happened’ it’s more about what’s happening for me in the therapeutic relationship right now. It’s the things I sometimes find hard to articulate. Lately I’ve really struggled with feeling connected in sessions. I’ve struggled to say what I have felt and so it’s almost like I need to reiterate this stuff (to myself as well as her).

I was reading a letter that I wrote to her just before the summer and I cannot believe that I  was so open with her. It’s almost like I was a brave tortoise for a while, stuck my neck out for a bit and then something spooked me. (The therapy break is the tortoise’s predator and I’ve been languishing in my shell ever since).

All the momentum we built up between Easter and the summer break seems to slowed and I feel like I have steadily been grinding to a halt. Well, not quite that, it’s just that my confidence has sort of dried up and with that my barriers have gone back up. Of course there have been some good sessions, lots actually. I have shared some of these blog posts with her so it’s not like there hasn’t been work done. It’s just I don’t feel the same as I did. After Easter I felt motivated and like things were moving in the right direction. I felt like I could absolutely trust my therapist, but now I feel like I am treading water a bit, ok hiding, and am reluctant to let her in. I’m nervous again… Ugh.

I shone a light on the issue about containment and not feeling held between sessions and yet, even now, four months down the line, it still remains a huge stumbling block and it impacts massively on me from week to week both in therapy and out of it.

In some ways there is so so much I want my therapist to know and in other ways what it boils down to is very very simple. So, I’m going to avoid the usual 3000 word splurge and keep this short-ish.

Yesterday’s session was fine. I talked about a lot of things that are going on in my life but nothing about the therapeutic relationship. These things needed to be aired and worked through because they are impacting me so much right now. But every time I don’t face the therapeutic relationship stuff I really pay for it afterwards. It remains to be seen how this coming week will pan out but I’ll guess there’ll be a few upsetting dreams and a sense of feeling generally uneasy and on high-alert.

Here are some of the things that are huge for me right now and I wish my therapist knew:

  1. You are incredibly important to me and even when I am resisting in session or being flat out obstructive and saying ”I hate this’ – it’s not about you. I just can’t show you how I really feel because I am still so scared of you rejecting me. It’s easier for me to shut you out than let you in because you can’t hurt me that way.
  2. When I say ‘I don’t want to be here’ actually, I can tell you there’s no place I would rather be than in the room with you, but I just can’t handle how my brain shuts down and leaves me floundering like a fish out of water when I am with you. I don’t like not being in control. I feel so stuck.
  3. You feel so far away at the moment and so I keep retreating further and further into myself. Sometimes I don’t want to be seen, and having discussed this with you I know that’s why you don’t look directly at me a lot of the time because it has been a trigger. But actually, right now, I need you to see me, the little ones especially need to be seen. I need you to look at me, I need the direct eye contact. I need to feel connected to you.
  4. When I say ‘I don’t know’ when you ask me a sensitive question, I do know – often I just feel embarrassed and exposed and so hide behind that stock response! Please push me a bit harder.
  5. I really struggle between sessions and feel like you are gone or dead. We need to work out a way to make this feel better/less scary because it’s awful. Perhaps it is time for the pebbles? I know I have been resisting this because I feel like you don’t really get what I want/need but I think we need to have that conversation now, anyway.
  6. Last week’s conversation about physical holding and containment has really shaken me in a way I wasn’t prepared for. I have felt the little ones retreat and shut down. I know that this boundary is there for a reason and it isn’t going to change, so can we please actively work on the emotional containment and holding because right now I feel like I am totally unanchored and the Inner Critic is having a field day .
  7. I am already dreading the Christmas break – have been since September. I don’t feel like I have fully found my feet since the summer break and so the thought of the upcoming disruption fills me with dread. Last Christmas was really tough and so I think partly I am frightened of ending up back in that place where self-harm seems like a sensible option. I don’t want to go there.
  8. Despite my really hating therapy breaks I am worried that you aren’t taking enough breaks for yourself. You haven’t taken any time off since the summer and you don’t plan to until Christmas. You look tired to me and I hope that you are looking after yourself properly.
  9. I hate that I have so much to say to you during the week (but can’t), and yet when I finally see you it disappears or gets frozen. There’s still part of me that isn’t convinced that I am safe with you and I worry that you are fed up with me. It’s a negative cycle because when I feel like this I retreat into myself more and it perpetuates the cycle.

And lastly 10: Deep breath in…this is hard…because I know you know it…or at least I hope you do! (although clearly part of me doesn’t want to have any feelings at all!)

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Back to the therapy room

Tuesday evening marked the end of the 22 day therapy break – hooray! As first sessions after a lengthy disruption go, it wasn’t a complete disaster, but it wasn’t quite what I had hoped for, either. Damn it, there was no hot chocolate, nurturing hug, and a blanket to wrap around me! Seriously, though, I think it’s particularly difficult after a significant break to just launch back into the ‘deep’ stuff and pick up where we left off. I’m working on it, but I am just not there yet.

I wish I was one of those people that could just do life properly and not even need therapy, or at least be someone who can say ‘ah well, a three week break, it’s not a bother’ and not even notice the time passing. But I just can’t. Therapy is important to me. I’m now in that really crappy bit where I have finally allowed myself to attach and become dependent on my therapist and I have started to really unpick things, but it feels ridiculously scary and exposing.

I feel so vulnerable when I really open up and it feels as though it could all blow up in my face at any given moment. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before I am told I am ‘too much’ and she terminates me. Despite caring deeply about my therapist and having an element of trust in her and the relationship, there are definitely parts of me that haven’t quite managed to latch on to a feeling of safety and don’t feel that there is the secure base that they need. It all feels so high risk for them. My adult knows she’s safe but my child parts are uncertain about it all. They love her but they are also fearful of her and the relationship. It feels like she has the power to totally annihilate them and, therefore, me. It’s hard.

Like an unsettled small child I’m really sensitive to any kind of change or disruption to my (therapy) routine. I think developmental trauma and cumulative traumatic events does this to people. I also recently found out that I fit comfortably on the spectrum for being a ‘highly sensitive person’ or HSP. (It’s not as bad as it sounds – Google it and do the online test.) I’ve become so hypervigilant, even more so since going through cancer treatment, that the smallest thing such as a time or day change can send me off balance.

Right now a three week long break is not just an unfortunately placed puddle that I need to skip over, the break feels more like a vast choppy ocean and I’ve got to swim to the other shore, fully clothed and wearing lead boots in order to reconnect with my therapist, and to an extent, myself. Terrible metaphor, I know!

I have really missed therapy. I have really missed my therapist. I have missed being able to dedicate a block of proper time to myself each week (albeit only 50 minutes!), time that focuses on me and my needs which outside the therapy session take a backseat – which I guess is part and parcel of having two small children. Without my sessions it’s felt like things have steadily been getting on top of me. I haven’t really been able to exercise any decent self-care strategies and what my therapist and I tried to put in place before the break (an internalising visualisation) just didn’t work at all. More on that another time once I’ve talked it through with her.

The longer the break went on the worse the feeling of being ‘spread too thin’ got, but then things in my day-to-day have become quite hectic over the summer holiday which probably hasn’t helped. It’s just unfortunate timing, really. It’s felt as though I am spinning too many plates and it’s only a matter time of until there’s a thunderous crash of crockery on the floor.

It’s really important, then, now that I am back in therapy that I find a way of quickly rebuilding the sense of trust in my therapist, find the connection, and also the confidence to address the things about the relationship that are really hurting me at the minute. She says we need to find a way of getting over my sense of shame and embarrassment around my feelings about her. It’s not easy, though!

Yes, of course I know all these painful feelings are being transferred into the here and now from past relationships, but my littlest parts aren’t able differentiate where the pain is coming from. They see her as the attachment figure now, and so her distance and lack of availability feels abandoning and rejecting somehow. It’s replaying how my mother was and that is just hideous. I can’t help but feel distressed and angry about the situation.

My adult knows she’s actually just being a therapist, a professional, and I need her to be those things BUT the little ones don’t want a professional, they need a mother! I haven’t yet worked out how to hold those parts for myself and be the adult, parent, nurturing figure that I needed back then and can’t give those parts the care I know they need now. There are so many overwhelmingly wounded young parts of me that just ache to be held and soothed by her- and she can’t hold me or make up for what I missed out on as a child. Ouch. That is so painful. No amount of rationalising the situation makes it any better. It just fucking hurts like hell.

So, as much as I wanted to be able to go into the session, sit down, and talk freely and openly, and continue to build on what we’d spoken about in the last session it wasn’t ever truly on the cards. I need to be realistic about these situations. I need to learn to take it as a win if I get to session and don’t completely shut down and hide from her. If I manage to at least talk about something that is useful it should be seen as a positive because in reality I know everything goes to utter shit in my head with regards to trust and connection in the therapeutic relationship when I’m on a therapy break.

I know it can take a while to feel secure in the room with her again. I just so deeply wish that just for once I could walk into the therapy room and immediately feel properly safe with her rather than being on edge and then having to spend time working out how things are ‘today’. I honestly think that something must have gone wrong between sessions and despite leaving most sessions feeling connected and heard I am sure that a shit storm is about to erupt each week when I arrive. Disorganised attachment really is the pits!

So on Tuesday I sat down and the first thing I said was, ‘I’m alright, I think, just about’. She picked up on the ‘just about’ inviting me to think about it, but it felt far too exposing to say how the break really was. I couldn’t tell her how much I struggled with missing her or how there had been times when all I felt capable of was hiding under the duvet and crying (but not being able to cry). I couldn’t explain how there had been times when I felt like the break would never end and I’d felt sick, anxious, lost and so so little that I literally felt my two year old self crying, wondering ‘where’s mummy? Why has she gone?’

I couldn’t find the words to tell her how the sessions leading into the break were difficult and had left me feeling precarious before the break had even begun. I couldn’t tell her that I couldn’t picture her in the internalising visualisation she’d sent me via text and that the message she’d sent left me feeling cold. It was too formal (BEST WISHES! -argh!) and made me feel like she didn’t really care. I couldn’t tell her anything like that and I certainly couldn’t get back to talking about the huge letter I had given her in our last session outlining all the problems I was having in the therapeutic relationship and why I had essentially shut down for the 6 weeks leading into the break.

We had spoken about the content a but there hadn’t been much time left once she’d actually read it and then the break began. It’s not ideal timing by any means dropping the honesty bomb right before the break, but I had to get it out my system and I guess on some level I knew doing it before a break would give me time to recover from it!

So despite managing to talk a great deal about my dad and the grief I was feeling and about that as well as some of the issues that had cropped up during the break in my everyday life, I didn’t talk about the stuff that’s been really bothering me and I guess that’s why I left feeling like things weren’t great. That’s what happens when you don’t say what’s really on your mind and talk about other (still) important things.

I know that in today’s session I need to try and tackle what the break felt like for me and how I was affected by it, but I know by now that it’s much easier said than done. I can have so much swirling in my head to say and yet, sometimes, I arrive and it just won’t come out. I so desperately want to talk but there’s that niggling doubt that holds me back, the voice inside my head that says ‘if you tell her really how you feel she’ll see what a needy loser you really are and then she’ll be gone’. She says that won’t happen, but how can I be sure?

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Landslide

I woke up this morning with Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide playing in my head. I have always loved this song but haven’t heard it for a long time, years, maybe. I used to listen to Fleetwood Mac a lot with my dad, and went to see them live with him when I was studying at university. That is one of my happiest memories, being with the best man in the world listening to some of the best music in the world.

It feels like it was another lifetime, now. It breaks my heart knowing he isn’t here. The pain is still immense even 9 years down the line. I’m not sure that the pain of an unexpected loss ever really repairs, I think you just find ways of ‘sort of’ coping and learning to live with it.

Since he died I haven’t really been able to listen to anything I associate with him, or rather us and our relationship, because I just find it too painful. Music keys into a part of me that I struggle to reach at other times, the bits I have had to shut down for self-preservation, and the opening few seconds of a song can take me to a place of raw emotion that I simply can’t contain.

I really struggle with the long summer therapy break for lots of reasons. It plays straight into the childhood attachment trauma stuff (oh, but of course!). It activates all kinds of fears about being physically emotionally left and abandoned as a child by my mother; but it also taps into a whole load of unresolved grief surrounding my father’s death.

My dad was on a month long scuba diving holiday in Thailand in the summer of 2008. He regularly travelled out there to teach diving.  I knew the island intimately having travelled there twice to dive myself in the previous couple of years. When he was on these trips I would get almost daily calls telling me how great it all was. We were very close and talked on the phone all the time.

So when three days into his holiday I got a missed call at work on my phone from his mobile I didn’t think anything of it. I knew he’d call back later telling me that he’d finally arrived and was safe, like usual. When I got home from work and the phone rang again, I picked up expecting to have an update about the visibility, fish, weather, food etc – exactly what I needed after a day of teaching! Instead it was the voice of my dad’s best friend who was also a diving instructor on the island. I didn’t think anything of it until the words started coming out of his mouth, ‘errr, I don’t know how to tell you this…. But….your dad has died’.

I remember that day like it was yesterday. I remember the sudden wave of grief, the instant uncontrollable tears and screaming. I felt like I had been attacked. The pain was unbelievable. I handed the phone over to my partner and just fell apart, it was this event that triggered my breakdown. I have never known emotion like it. Even sitting here now typing this I can feel my body starting to shake.

So it’s little wonder that I don’t cope with the summer therapy break very well. There is a part of me that lives in fear when there is nearly a month’s break from my therapist. I have to trust that the person I now trust with my most fragile and broken parts is coming back. But it’s hard when experience suggests that this may not be the case. What happens if she doesn’t come back? I just wouldn’t cope. I can’t lose another person that I love.

I spend the whole break on edge, holding back the fear and anxiety because I know (kind of) it’s very unlikely that she’ll die on holiday… but then never in a million years did I expect for my fit and healthy, 47 year old, father to die in his sleep abroad, and have to face all that that entails at just 25 years old.

It’s interesting that today of all days, then, as I return to therapy that Landslide, a song that I so deeply associate with my dad, is my internal soundtrack. The song really resonates with me. There is something about the lyrics and the way Stevie Nicks ploughs emotion into them that gets me every time:

I took my love, I took it down
Climbed a mountain and I turned around
And I saw my reflection in the snow covered hills
‘Til the landslide brought it down
Oh, mirror in the sky
What is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changin’ ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
Well, I’ve been afraid of changin’
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I’m getting older, too

I have been trying to make friends with my inner child/ren lately to stop ignoring them and their pain and to listen to them, and so the lyrics feel particularly apt as I return to therapy today to my therapist. I have really missed my therapist, but perhaps I just really really miss my daddy, and grieve for the mummy I wish I had had.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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