Don’t worry about it until it happens…

Don’t worry about it until it happens.

I am frequently on the receiving end of this nugget of advice. Clearly it’s well-intended and generally comes from an oracle who is extremely blessed not to struggle with anxiety or, indeed, any form of mental health difficulty (my wife)! Maybe she’s right. There is little point in getting wound up about things that are completely beyond my control and worrying about an eventuality that may actually may never happen- but just going on my experience, quite a lot of what I worry about seems to end up happening somewhere down the line!

I saw this on Pinterest earlier:

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And whilst I completely get the sentiment, my reaction to it was, ‘well it always rains sooner or later so surely that’s just being prepared!’

I can’t tell you how much I’d love to be able to live in the moment and not have every one of my internal cogs working double time, under huge strain, formulating ‘what ifs’ but that’s just not how I am built. I stress about the past. I stress about the here and now. I stress (a lot) about the future.

Anxiety is exhausting.

I fret a lot. I know that I think about things too much. My sprouting grey hairs are telling me that if I needed evidence! I sometimes wonder if the saying ‘ignorance is bliss’ is really true. I never really switch off and find it almost impossible to relax… it’s hard work being me. That’s not a cry for sympathy, it’s just an acknowledgement that running on turbo charge takes its toll after a while. It’s not sustainable.

I keep myself very busy (avoidance tactics) and then periodically end up burning out and drowning in whatever it is I am running from. The problem with the ‘busy’ tactic is that the stuff that I am avoiding is still draining energy somewhere in the background. If I were a smart meter there’d be a level of energy drain that is persistent and continual. It’d be a really good idea to unplug those energy guzzling elements but I have no idea what is plugged in or where in the house those items are located (that’s what therapy is about). So instead of conserving energy, knowing that there is this continual drain, in my frustration I just overload the system and plug in some bigger items so that the underlying stuff is just a buzz in the background.

I’m not sure about that analogy. It made sense to me when I thought of it!

Over the years I have tried all sorts to switch off, calm down, relax…and not much has been effective. I can be in a really tranquil spot alone and still my brain whirrs. I have repeatedly tried guided meditations and my brain fights against it and starts compiling shopping lists or suchlike midway through. I’ve tried visualisations in therapy and whilst my brain can take me to snow capped mountains or gorgeous beaches my body has other ideas. It’s always on edge. I’ve tried body based therapies such as craniosacral therapy (love this but more the therapist than the process!) and reflexology. I’ve been for massages. Done deep breathing. I’ve exercised. You name it, over the years I have tried all sorts.

The hypervigilant, anxious, part of me so far has proven stronger than whatever I have thrown at it…. and I am beginning to wonder if it’s because somewhere deep down I know that those bits are still needed as somewhat unlikely protectors. If I dare to relax too much then when something bad happens I won’t cope because I won’t be ready for it.

Since my dad died I have been especially on guard and that was heightened even more after my cancer diagnosis. I’ve been stressing out for the last month (have you noticed?!) and whilst a lot of it is clearly based in the attachment stuff that gets thrown into sharper focus on therapy breaks (and subsequent ruptures with my therapist – sigh), none of this has been helped by the continual worry about hospital check ups and never being able to rest easy with my health.

I see my consultant every three months for a follow up to check I’m still in remission. For about half of that three months I feel passable, i.e I just about hang tight to the knowledge that my body is on my side at the moment – but as the appointment draws nearer the sense of panic sets in, sleep deteriorates, and I am cranky as hell. What if I’m not ok? What if my bloods show something? What the hell would I do if I get bad news? What about the kids?

It all starts to swirl in my head. The memories of undergoing treatment edge towards the front of my mind and I get increasingly worked up. Again, logically there’s no point in worrying about something that might not happen…but then at the same time I know there is a fairly strong possibility of things going wrong within the next few years for me. It’s just how it is. My original treatment was ‘kill or cure’ and because I know that, I am almost unbearable to live with the week leading into my appointment.

It’s been especially bad this time round because I have been ill with a cough/cold/flu thing on and off since September and I just can’t shift it. I have no energy at all. I wiped the kitchen surfaces down today and it totally wiped me out. I wish that was a joke. It makes me nervous because I was heavily radiated to my chest following chemo and I know that a potential problem in the future is lung damage and possible cancer. Great.

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Anyway, I went to hospital with my game face on and the appointment was ok. I got a really good prod and poke and there’s no need to worry right now. The doctor was satisfied with me…apart from my weight…but that’s nothing to do with cancer is it?

My wife was right (on this occasion). My bloods are as they were – no change. They’re still not perfect, i.e infection fighting capacity is rubbish, but there were no markers for cancer. Good. I went and had a chest x-ray done to check there’s nothing untoward going on in my chest and I’ll hear back about that next week.

So that’s all good. Last night I slept a little easier.

Perhaps that should be a lesson in not worrying. But I do worry. Because as I said, there usually is something lying in wait round the corner ready to shit on you. My friend getting myeloma and dying when her treatment failed was heart breaking. How is that even real???? And today, my wife has been fast-track referred on the two week cancer pathway to dermatology as she has several confirmed skin cancer lesions by the GP. So, there we go.

I was right to ‘worry’ about the ‘dry skin’ patches and nag and nag for her to go to the doctor after months of her saying it was fine. Fucking healthcare professionals are the absolute worst at looking after themselves.

She’ll be ok. She is brave. She might have to have her face dug out and/or radiated but she’ll be ok….won’t she? She has to be.

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So yeah, that’s some what’s going on here.

I’ve also got a therapy post to write at some point having seen both my therapist and the other one again last week – but right now I feel a bit overwhelmed and can’t even deal with thinking about what last week’s sessions were like or, indeed, what therapy will be like this coming Monday.

It’s unlikely to be anything near to what I need (holding, proximity, emotional attunement and containment) because I won’t tell my therapist what I need because my inner child is so scared right now since the rupture that it’s gone into hiding and I have quickly entered a dissociated state once I’m there… and so there’s a part of me that feels like cancelling….but another part that won’t because there’s that tiny flicker of hope that that 50 minute session will help turn off some of the plugs just for moment and help me recharge my batteries.

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I haven’t listened to Travis since I was about 17…and yet today this song came into my head. Says it all!

 

 

 

Solace.

What’s 2017 year been like for me? On balance, there’s been some good, some bad, and a lot of stuff in between. It hasn’t been all cupcakes and rainbows by any means, indeed, it’s been a lot of horseshit and heartache… but that’s life, I guess!

The death of a very close friend/mother figure has shaken me to the core; then there’s been reflecting on (and being overwhelmed by) the last few years since my cancer diagnosis and treatment; finally facing the reality of my childhood and the deficit in love and care from my mother in particular; oh and of course I’ve been steadily edging towards Christmas which basically means freaking out about the therapy break and attachment pain ramping up a notch or five!

It’s not been easy, but then I don’t think life is. The older I get the more I realise that for me, at least, life is about winging it. I might be a grown up now, and a parent, but actually the childhood concept of what an adult is (or should be) is completely unrealistic. I don’t know anyone with all their ducks perfectly lined up.

Perhaps it is just me and my immediate circle of friends but, honestly, it seems to be about making the rules up as I go and holding it together with rubber bands and chewing gum…which is why I chose this blog name!

I don’t really know where this post is going to go, I’m afraid. I have been so busy this last week that I really hadn’t had any time to think about myself until yesterday’s therapy session. So, whilst I know I have stuff to say, this is likely to be more of a stream of consciousness than some well-crafted post…yeah, right, same shit different day then! Business as usual.

Why have I had no time to breathe? Well I am a mum, of course. The run into Christmas with small children is like some kind of hideous military exercise testing endurance and memory set by sadistic teachers who want payback for having to cope with your kids for the last term. The two weeks leading into the holiday is basically designed to send any sane woman (and it is mainly women) over the edge.

In the last week I have been to two nativity plays and a Christingle service (wtf is that about anyway?!). I have sent my kids dressed in non-uniform, muddy winter walk gear, Christmas jumpers, and uniform (all on the right days- win!). I really felt for the poor mum who brought her son to school in uniform on wear what you like day…it was six minutes before the bell and she almost did a handbrake turn in the road to go rectify the wardrobe error: ‘was it in the newsletter?’

I have provided ‘bring and share’ party food for two separate class parties and sat through an hour and a half of mind-numbing (but not mind-numbing enough) children’s entertainment with a room of twenty kids under four before trying to feed them all party food. I was hanging on by a thread on Tuesday and all that got me through the preschool party was some choice WhatsApp messages to a friend!: ‘Shoot me now!’

I have bought and wrapped gifts for ALL the teachers and support staff at both my daughter’s school and son’s preschool. I have basically been some kind of mum robot/Stepford Wife and it is so not me! I really am not cut out for this. I am not PTA material…which is hilarious seeing as I have taken on the frigging Vice-Chair of the preschool committee. Ok, there’s a part of me that can do this stuff well but there is another part of me that wants to hang myself when in that ‘role’.

I’d go so far as to say that I have felt a little Grinch-like lately! And it’s not just because of what I’ve written above. I’ve almost hated the idea of Christmas this year for what it inevitably means for me: a lengthy disruption to my therapy and, therefore, the sense of connection with my therapist disintegrating again (oh the drama!).

I find Christmas stressful because not only is it a time where I am left without that much-needed support from my therapist, but the break in support coincides neatly with being faced with much of what has taken me into therapy in the first place! What a bloody irony!

I feel an immense pressure to play ‘happy families’ with my mother at this time of year. For the last decade she has come to us on Christmas day. These days my relationship with my mum is as good as it could possibly hope to be. Yeah sure, we don’t touch, and there is an awkwardness between us, but I don’t feel like she despises me these days which is how I felt for a really long time.

In fact I (adult) know that she loves me… The problem with this is that there are so many parts of me that are locked in pain from the past that I can’t seem to fully operate in 2017 and take in what’s in front of me now. There are so many desperately sad young parts that feel utterly abandoned that it just stresses me out being around my mum, especially at Christmas.

I know I shouldn’t, but I often find myself longing to be with my ‘therapy mother’ over Christmas and feeling disappointed with the biological version that is in front of me because I become someone else in her presence and it is not me…or the version of me that is emerging. I want to be with the person that makes me feel safe and the person that makes it feel ok to be me. I know that my idealised version of my therapist is not who she really is, but when things feel overwhelming my head and heart run and seek solace in the therapy mother.

I know my mum would be utterly devastated if she read my blog because I think in her eyes things are fine now. She tries really hard. I can’t really criticise the here and now. The thing is, I am not fine about the past yet. I haven’t worked out how to soothe all the hurting parts and until I do I don’t think Christmas will ever be easy.

The other thing that is really hard about Christmas is spending meaningful time with my children. That sounds totally bonkers doesn’t it? What I mean is I find it really difficult knowing how easy it is for me to love my children, to hold them, to tell them how special they are, and to be there for them that it is totally devastating knowing that there are child parts inside me that are still crying out to be loved and held because they never had this nurturing growing up.

It is not a chore for me to love my kids (sure the running around like a nutcase for school is). It is not a bind for me to snuggle them up in bed and read them a bedtime story. It is not a drain on me to listen to them tell me about their day. It is not an inconvenience to be their mummy so why was it so hard for my mum to love me?

Ouch. I can’t even go there right now. #motherwound

Anyway, maybe I have been a bit Grinchy lately but what I will say, is that perhaps my heart grew three sizes yesterday in therapy, or rather the tight tight squeeze on it released a little in session and I feel a bit happier, a bit more secure….or at least I feel that way in the therapeutic relationship which is really all I seem to write about here anyway!

So, yeah, I’ve now finished therapy for the year and am officially on break until the 8th January (Eeek!). Thankfully, yesterday’s session was a good one. I gave my therapist a popup card Christmas card with a snowflake on it that symbolised how our relationship is to me. I had been really torn about whether or not I should actually give it to her and struggled to find the words to put inside it.

The therapeutic relationship is so complex. Although it is a professional relationship it feels so much more than that. I know that for many of us there have been times when our therapists are probably our most trusted relationship and the person whom we feel closest to.

I didn’t sleep much on Wednesday night. I was anxious about handing over the card but I think I was also dreading the fact that it was the last session of the year. The previous session had seen me shut down and block my therapist out which is so often what happens when we approach breaks.

I know that I am not alone in the mental to-ing and fro-ing about gift giving or card giving at Christmas (as well as at other times). I had chosen the card specifically because it was meant to be a keepsake and yet was not obviously a ‘present’. I think my therapist would accept small gifts but from what I can gather she genuinely likes the more meaningful small gestures, i.e a carefully chosen card with thoughtful words.

It took some time to work out what I wanted to say but I ended up writing:

I saw this card and thought of you/therapy/the therapeutic relationship.

Sometimes I feel like being in therapy is a bit like the adventure in Michael Rosen’s ‘We’re Going On A Bear Hunt’:

‘We’re going on a bear hunt,

We’re going to catch a big one.

What a beautiful day!

We’re not scared!

Uh-Uh! A snowstorm!

A swirling whirling snowstorm.

We can’t go over it.

We can’t go under it.

Oh no!

We’ve got to go through it!’

It’s not always easy and I sometimes freeze when faced with  a ‘snowstorm’ or ‘thick oozy mud’. I am beginning to realise that these obstacles are all part of the journey and am hopeful that there will be plenty of beautiful days along the way. I am very grateful that you keep walking alongside me even when the terrain is pretty treacherous.

Keeping on with the snow theme, the snowflake serves as a great metaphor for how I feel in our relationship. The Inner Critic is always so ready to devalue and undermine what there is in the therapeutic relationship (especially when I can’t see you) because it knows that to you I am just one of many clients. I am forgettable just like a snowflake in a blizzard.

However, some people say that each individual snowflake is unique and special in its own way and so it is hard to compare one with another. So this Christmas I am trying hard to remember that actually no matter how many snowflakes there are, to me this one/relationship is special, it is valuable and really that’s all that really matters. 

I hope you have a lovely Christmas holiday and rest well- you surely deserve it just for listening to me.

With love,

There was so much I wanted to say when I was trying to find words for the card and somehow at the same time I was acutely aware of not ‘saying too much’ or ‘being too much’ or ‘overstepping a boundary’ or making her feel ‘awkward’. It’s so difficult knowing where that line is. Although, interestingly, my therapist said something that really stuck with me yesterday and that is:

‘boundaries are not barriers’

I am really going to try and keep that in mind because I have always felt that boundaries are designed to keep me out and stop me really getting close to her but perhaps that’s not the case?

She said something about working on the space between us and the relationship and so I’ll see if I can reframe my thinking about all this stuff over the holiday. I think it is something I want to come back to with her and ask her exactly what she meant.

It felt like we covered a lot of ground yesterday. I won’t go into it all here. I don’t have time and I need to sleep…but we talked about love A LOT. We haven’t done that before and it was really connecting.

Those of you that read this blog regularly know that I really love my therapist, and that’s not meant in some wishy washy ‘fond of’ or ‘warm feelings’ kind of way. I genuinely love her, and as much as it has filled me with intense feelings of shame and embarrassment (not sure that should be ‘has’ – we are certainly not in past tense with this yet!) there is also a bit of me that is beginning to see that it would be a bit bloody weird if I didn’t have feelings for my therapist after all these years!

I met her six years ago now, and although the was a break in the middle we have worked together for three years – nineteen months this time round! Don’t get me wrong. I have all kinds of feelings (positive and negative) about my therapist but yesterday I just really wanted to focus on the positives and the love rather than feelings of loss and abandonment about the break.

I wanted to talk about what there is rather than what I feel is lacking (hugs!). I really wanted to connect and get a sense of the relationship being real and not just something that is one sided and all in my head (which is how it sometimes feels)…and fortunately that’s exactly what happened.

When she read the card she started really talking to me about our relationship, about love, loving feelings, finding a way to make the space feel soothing, her choice to work with me, the fact that she isn’t going away, that the therapy will go on for as long as I need it….basically it was lots of the stuff I really needed to hear. Yay.

Of course, there’s a part of me that always wants more but under the circumstances, yesterday’s session left me feeling about as good as I could heading into a break. I’ve already had a wobble or two since yesterday. Can’t win! If I get the connection and sense of care I so desperately want in session, then moment I am away from her it feels like it disappears and suddenly I have all these little parts totally awake and screaming out for ‘mummy’. It’s really quite sad.

There are other times when feel like my therapist is so walled off from me and the blank screen thing is massively frustrating because I feel like she is holding me at arm’s length. How I perceive her has much more to do with me than how she actually is, though. She is incredibly consistent and warm. I just can’t always see, feel, or take in the care that she gives me. I don’t know what’s worse feeling the ache of the distance or managing the rage of being abandoned!

My own walls can be so thick and my heart so heavily guarded that there are times when there is nothing at all she could say to get through to me. My Inner Critic is massively powerful and persuasive and always ready to tell me that the relationship is worthless and that I am loser for even having feelings about a therapist. Thankfully, yesterday it didn’t come to therapy with me. I left it at home grumbling and bah humbugging!

I’m not sure where the Critic is at the moment, but I would really love for it to stay away over the break. I would like to think that I can just be here with the child parts and find a way to soothe them with gentle reminders that my therapist does care and that she will be back.

I’m not stupid, though. I know how this all works. I’ve been here enough times to know that there is always a calm before my inner storm. I know that the moment the little ones get really activated, really miss her and it is sustained for a few days that the nasty protector will step up. I know it will scare them into silence and make suggestions on how to get away from these feelings: cutting, burning, not eating, terminating therapy. It’s just shit.

Anyway, I’m going offline for a few days as of Christmas Eve. We always try and do a tech black out over Christmas: phones, laptops, and I-pads get put in a box for 48 hours. It’s both refreshing and terrifying disconnecting from the outside world. I think it’s important that we engage with what’s in the room in front of us rather than scrolling through and liking pictures of other people’s Christmases. I don’t want my kids to think that 6 inch screen is more interesting than they are.

This year, in particular, I think it’ll be me that will find this no phone zone thing a challenge whereas usually it’s my wife. The reason for this is because since I have started this blog I have made some really supportive friends. The idea of not being able to check in to ‘scream on screen’ or simply lament how tough it is at Christmas is going to be tricky.

Other than here, there is nowhere else that I let the attachment pain stuff out apart from in therapy (and let’s face it, I struggle to really say how it is there!). I know that this ache intensifies during breaks and so being unable to write about it or get some support from others who ‘get it’ is going to be a trial. I’ll probably binge read blogs on the 27th December! haha!

So as this will be my last blog before Christmas, I am going to sign off for now with this piece, ‘Solace’ by writer and poet David Whyte. It popped up on my Facebook feed the other day and I thought I’d share it because it really spoke to me, perhaps it will speak to you too.

I know I’m not the only one who finds the Christmas holiday difficult. I know there are a lot of you struggling with all kinds of issues right now: rifts with family members, feeling unsettled with therapists or simply just missing them, generally struggling to feel connected and safe with people whom you love and care for, missing lost loved ones. None of it is easy.

I really hope that whatever comes up for you over the next few weeks you can find some solace whether it be in nature, in a pet, in a loved one, art, music, anywhere. I hope that you might find it somewhere deep within yourself. Be safe in the knowledge that you are important and special and loved. You are as unique as a snowflake but like a snowflake, you do not fall down from the sky alone, you are surrounded by others, not the same as you, but not amazingly different to you either.

Merry Christmas x

From CONSOLATIONS: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of EverydayWords.
2015 © David Whyte: and Many Rivers Press

Solace is the art of asking the beautiful question, of ourselves, of our world or of one another, often in fiercely difficult and un-beautiful moments. Solace is what we must look for when the mind cannot bear the pain, the loss or the suffering that eventually touches every life and every endeavor; when longing does not come to fruition in a form we can recognize, when people we know and love disappear, when hope must take a different form than the one we have shaped for it.

Solace is the spacious, imaginative home we make where disappointment goes to be welcomed and rehabilitated. When life does not in any way add up, we must turn to the part of us that has never wanted a life of simple calculation.

Solace is found in allowing the body’s innate foundational wisdom to come to the fore, a part of us that already knows it is mortal and must take its leave like everything else, and leads us, when the mind cannot bear what it is seeing or hearing, to the birdsong in the tree above our heads, even as we are being told of a death, each note an essence of morning and of mourning; of the current of a life moving on, but somehow, also, and most beautifully, carrying, bearing, and even celebrating the life we have just lost. – A life we could not see or appreciate until it was taken from us –

To be consoled is to be invited onto the terrible ground of beauty upon which our inevitable disappearance stands, to a voice that does not soothe falsely, but touches the epicenter of our pain or articulates the essence of our loss, and then emancipates us into the privilege of both life and death as an equal birthright.

Solace is not an evasion, nor a cure for our suffering, nor a made up state of mind. Solace is a direct seeing and participation; a celebration of the beautiful coming and going, appearance and disappearance of which we have always been a part. Solace is not meant to be an answer, but an invitation, through the door of pain and difficulty, to the depth of suffering and simultaneous beauty in the world that the strategic mind by itself cannot grasp nor make sense of.

To look for solace is to learn to ask fiercer and more exquisitely pointed questions, questions that reshape our identities and our bodies and our relation to others. Standing in loss but not overwhelmed by it, we become useful and generous and compassionate and even more amusing companions for others. But solace also asks us very direct and forceful questions. Firstly, how will you bear the inevitable loss that will accompany you? And how will you endure it through the years? And above all, how will you shape a life equal to and as beautiful and as astonishing as a world that can birth you, bring you into the light and then just as you were beginning to understand it, take you away?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what am I saying?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I totally get how dramatic that seems.

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

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

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

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

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

Then I had an idea.

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

I know.

This is not one of my proudest moments.

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

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

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

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

 

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Grief.

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I woke up in the early hours of this morning sobbing violently, again. A dream. It wasn’t a bad one but it deeply touched on that vulnerable place that I have been desperately trying to guard, the place where feelings of loss and abandonment reside. I awoke to find myself physically shaking. I was stone cold. Tears flowed endlessly down onto my pillow in the pitch black. It was not gentle crying, it was full-body, snot-ridden, ugly crying. The physical embodiment of my grief is not in the least bit pretty, it is warts and all, let it all hang out, pain.

Since my friend died last month after battling Myeloma for two years, I have felt unbelievably sad, lost, and empty but have continued to function in my day-to-day. Externally it has been pretty much business as usual. This is partly because I’ve had to carry on, partly because I am in denial about it,  and partly because I know that’s what she’d have wanted me to do. She would have told me to hold my babies tightly, to find joy in the small things, and buy myself flowers (now that she can’t bring me home grown roses from her garden)….and that’s exactly what I have done or, at least, what I have tried to do.

From the mundane to the extraordinary and everything in between I’ve tried to be present and engaged in life because my friend can’t be in hers. She’s gone. Now, more than ever, I feel the pressure of needing to ‘live’ and not just live but live authentically and fully.  I won’t lie, though, truly there are days where even existing has been difficult. I know I put too much pressure on myself. I should give myself a break. I am grieving for goodness sake! And grief is not neat. There’s meant to be five stages I think, but in my experience is looks more like this:

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There is a part of me that longs to have what feels like the weight of the world lifted from my shoulders just for a minute or two. I know. I know. Get over myself. It could be so much worse…I do know that. It’s just for me, right now, it is bad. I am so tired of battling in one way or another – whether it be against myself or with my health. It’s just exhausting. I never ever seem to reach a point where I feel safe and balanced. If my head feels ok (ha, when was that again?) then invariably my body gives up on me. I’m still coughing and spluttering and heading towards the dread of the three monthly cancer check up.

There’s no wonder I am not full of joy or exuding Christmas spirit. How can I be when my friend isn’t here this year? How can I feel jolly when in a week’s time we would have been celebrating her sixtieth birthday over our annual Christmas crafting day (faffing about making pompoms, or jabbing stuff in oasis, or buggering about with PVA glue and tissue paper). It was always the perfect excuse to get together with my collection of older women/surrogate mothers and consume too much cake, too much chocolate, too much mulled wine. A day with giggles on tap.

I could really use a day like that right now. We had planned to do it this year anyway to celebrate our lovely friend but as it’s worked out no one is around because life is like that – people have children and grandchildren to look after etc. Life moves on and commitments come up. I’ve got so much on this next couple of weeks that even I am probably going to have to cancel the coffee and cake in town we had planned in for Wednesday instead of a full craft day. I have to be on an interview panel for preschool.

There’s a part of me that wishes the world would just stop turning for a little while. I want to pause and take time to reflect on what has happened to my friend, and to me. I want to mourn for what I have lost. And yet, somehow in my waking hours there just is no time to. Not only that, I am fearful of letting it out because I know the flow of pain and loss and grief can’t just be stemmed when the clock demands. And there is so much unprocessed grief – my dad’s death still haunts me.

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So because I don’t face it in the daylight, my grief seems to come out in my dreams and then the floods of tears wake me and they just will not stop.

Last night’s dream:

I called in to see my friend’s husband to deliver a Christmas card and see how he was holding up. I found him sitting in the living room, dishevelled and unwashed. He was a broken man. My heart ached for him.

It felt strange being in the house, as though my friend could walk in at any point, her things still dotted around the room, her presence still felt. We talked a little while  and I told him how much she had loved him and how that if there was such a thing as soul mates then they certainly were the closest example of it I have ever witnessed. He cried and left the room.

I sat in the chair that I have always sat in and closed me eyes. My friend’s voice came into my head, ‘darling girl, look after (husband) for me. It’s terrible for him and he’s so blinded by grief that he can’t feel me. I know you miss me but you know I am here. I am always with you’.

So again, it wasn’t a terrible dream. It just hurts. My soul aches. I know that sounds dramatic but that’s how it feels.

I can’t tell you how many times things have happened where I have thought, ‘I must text (friend) to tell her…’ and then it hits me that she’s not here. I can’t tell her that my daughter has lost her first tooth, or that my son did a good job as a king in his nativity, or simply that I feel a bit sad right now and would love to pop round for a cuppa.

The grief of no longer being able to share the everyday is hard to manage.

I know that this loss is also really hard right now because I am just about to start my Christmas therapy break. And so all my feelings about my friend dying are getting muddled up with my therapist disappearing for nearly a month.

I struggle enough feeling like my therapist is really gone (dead) on breaks or in between sessions and I know this comes from various events that have happened in my life: my mum consistently being away during the week when I was little, and then more recently my dad dying three days into his month long holiday in Thailand. So throw in this massive recent bereavement and it just feels incredibly difficult.

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Basically, it seems to work that if people are out of sight for me then I am shitting my pants. It is massively anxiety provoking being away from my therapist for any amount of time because I rely on her so heavily. The idea of her being actually gone (dead) is terrifying for me and that is exactly how it feels when I can’t see her. There’s none of this ‘holding in mind’ stuff, and being able to feel secure in the knowledge that she will be there at a fixed time on a fixed day. It really is just horrendous. I’ve tried to explain it to her but I not convinced she really understands.

This year is even worse than usual because obviously one of my mother figures has actually just died. The one other person (aside from my therapist) who I felt totally got me and accepted me just the way I am is not here anymore. It is devastating.

Tomorrow I am meant to go to my last therapy session of 2017 and somehow get something written on my pebbles to take away with me over the break. I know that in theory they should function as a transitional object and should be better than nothing. Having a tangible, physical reminder of my therapist on something concrete did ought soothe me when it feels bad. The thing is, I am so worried about her not writing something that is adequately holding or containing that I’ll just end up feeling rejected and abandoned by her at a time when I least need to feel that the connection is tenuous.

It’s really hard knowing how to handle it if she starts trying to bring in the adult in the message. Last week she acknowledged that my adult doesn’t need the pebbles and it’s the young ones that need something but I know that it doesn’t always follow that a message to the little ones materialises. In the summer we had a similar conversation before she wrote and sent me a holding text message. It fell so flat because it was worded so formally and didn’t talk to the parts that need her most.

I guess I’ll have to see how it goes. Part of me already feels like I am shutting down in preparation for the break. Part of me dreads going to session tomorrow because it signals the start of a period of time that I know is going to be challenging. There is  also another part of me that desperately needs to go and try and connect tomorrow -to try and charge up that felt sense of connection and holding.

I just wish I knew which part of me was going to show up and sit on the couch tomorrow. If it’s the silent and withholding one then I am screwed…thing is, if it’s the open and vulnerable one I fear that she is also screwed.

Either way, by midday tomorrow I can say that the grief I feel is going to be massive. I hate therapy breaks.

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Ouch.

Remain Sane This Christmas

So, it’s rapidly approaching the start of my Christmas therapy break. Eek! I have one more session on Monday and then that’s it for almost a month. As a therapy addict, the last thing I respond well to is a break in the supply of my drug/therapist (argh attachment issues!). As of Monday I’ll be going cold turkey (and it’s not even boxing day yet which is really the only acceptable time to be facing cold cuts) and that is actually pretty terrifying.

Despite there being a huge part of me that has been dreading the Christmas break since returning from the loooong summer break (I tend to do this – work on a cycle of dread counting down to each inevitable separation from my therapist) there has also been a part of me that has also tried to pretend that it isn’t going to happen, or that it will be fine, or that I don’t really mind that there is a break at all…denial, basically!

A couple of weeks ago I said to my therapist that ‘I think maybe the break will be a good thing as maybe a bit of distance might get me out of this rut of silence and being awkward with you’ and I meant it at the time…or, at least, whichever part of me was talking did.

Simultaneously there was a voice inside my head losing it, shouting, ‘What the fuck are you saying this for?! The break is not a good thing you stupid moron! Why would you say that to her?! Why can’t you tell her how bloody awful it is and how much it hurts just thinking about not seeing her? Why pretend that a month with no contact isn’t going to have you crying into your pillow every day?! You do my head in! FFS!’

I think, maybe, what was happening was that part of me, possibly the teen, was basically trying to tell my therapist, ‘I don’t need you, I don’t want you, and I can cope without you’. Breaks stir up a lot of feelings in me and really affect the therapy for quite some time both before and after a break. They really absolutely are the pits. I can’t help but feel abandoned and rejected.

I (adult) know that therapists need holidays just like the rest of the population but the child can’t really understand why her safe adult is fucking off for almost a month and leaving her to fend for herself when she is at her most vulnerable. It hurts a lot.

Every time there is a break and I can’t see my therapist it dredges up some really painful feelings from when I was little. My mum used to disappear from Sunday through to Friday. She was away at university studying, but as a four year old there is no rationalising that information when all you want is your mummy at bedtime….and this is what plays out time and again with breaks, and actually the time between weekly therapy sessions. When I want/need safety, nurturing, and care from my therapist and can’t access it, it feels utterly crushing. I have another ‘mummy’ that isn’t there when I need her and so I feel abandoned.

How I communicate how I feel about ‘being left’ to my therapist varies. Sometimes I am able to be vulnerable and open and tell her how I feel before a break.  More often than not, though, I shut down. I think my saying that the break was ‘a good thing’ to her was my way of shutting her out from my emotions. It was almost me saying, ‘I have to manage it regardless. I have no choice in this, so I am not going to let you see how much it bothers me’. 

The Teen part of me is so hurt, angry and rejected that it seems sensible that I stonewall her or say stuff that I don’t really mean. In some way if I don’t let her in then maybe it shows her how it feels to be excluded too. Yep, it’s not totally rational, but this is an emotional response and it’s just how it is sometimes.

Anyway, the following session my therapist asked me again how I was feeling about the break after her having read the 10 things I wish my therapist knew… post which clearly indicated that the break was a problem for me! She asked if I felt the same as I had suggested the previous week’s session. My simple answer: ‘No!’

The remainder of that session became a huge splurge about why Christmas break is so hard for me … but nothing about missing her or any of the therapeutic relationship stuff – just my life: my dysfunctional family; the weight of expectation to be someone who I am not anymore; missing my dear recently dead friend whose birthday falls a few days before Christmas; the anniversary of my spectacular mental health breakdown; two years since going through radiotherapy over the Christmas period; fear of spiralling down into self harm because things feel tricky….it went on and on and on but I kept tight lipped about the biggest issue: managing all that stuff without her support and the vulnerable parts of me struggling to maintain connection to her.

So then it got to Monday, and this week’s session. I’d been struggling all week with feeling lost and alone. Basically the attachment pain stuff had really kicked in massively. I’d shed the cloak of denial and was fully immersed in the reality of the feelings that go with a disruption to my weekly sessions. I knew that I couldn’t bury my head in the sand any longer, and I had a choice to make when I sat down: avoid or connect?

This week, I am delighted to report that I chose to connect. It mightn’t seem like a big deal but after months of being really closed off it was huge.

I’d had a quite disturbing dream earlier in the week where I had killed myself and so took that in to talk about. It was a good way into the session and stopped me just sitting there getting anxious and saying nothing! We did lots of unpicking and then once I thought we were done with it, she said, ‘I also wonder if this has anything to do with the break?’ I looked at her incredulously, ‘how?’ I asked. And she said something about how I have told her that I feel like she is dead when I can’t see her. I felt myself shut down and hide.

She noticed immediately and asked me what had changed? I explained that my body was really tense and she asked me when it had happened. I told her, ‘when you mentioned the break.’ She did one of those really warm and understanding ‘ahhhh‘ sounds and said, ‘breaks are massive and stir up loads. We need to pay attention to this so it doesn’t get ignored. We need to give it more attention than we have done in the past, I think. The break maybe feels different this time?’

Then she asked about the pebbles (honestly, those frigging pebbles will be the end of me!!) and we talked about how it’s been hard to get to it/them on both our parts. I think after the failed internalising visualisation that she sent me for the summer break that I had a had a meltdown over she’s probably worried about getting it wrong again.  She asked if I had any ideas about it and what kind of message she could write that would help and I said ‘I don’t know. I don’t know what you can write to make it feel any better’. She agreed and said she didn’t know either because it was complex.

She said that she was aware that the adult didn’t need these pebbles (transitional object) but the young ones who are more fragile really did, and maybe a few of those young parts, not just one, needed a particular kind of message. She asked me what it was that all of them respond to. I wanted to say ‘knowing you are here with me and aren’t going anywhere’ but sat still and said nothing (look, I can’t always say what’s on my mind!!). She said, ‘I think maybe they need to know they are kept in mind and are held, something along those lines?’

Basically from the moment she had mentioned the break when unpicking my dream my little ones inside lost it. It was tears and tantrums. I could feel at least three separate child voices inside me screaming. Usually I keep that kind of thing to myself and banish the inner child to the corner of the room or gag her, but seeing as my therapist seemed to be inviting a conversation about what the young parts needed and knowing the break was coming I said, ‘it’s really noisy in my head’ and somehow from that we got moving along a path that I have been wary of treading before now.

She asked if I recognised the voices of the children? Were they my children? I said ‘no’. She asked if it could be my inner child/ren in distress? And I said ‘yes’ (I am sure you are all marvelling at how eloquent I am in my therapy sessions!). She said that these types of conversations really stir up lots of difficult feelings and overwhelm me. I said it was ‘hell’. She asked me if the voices felt contained inside my head. I said ‘no’. She said ‘it’s huge, isn’t it?’ I nodded, ‘I hate it’. She looked right and me and gently said, ‘I know you hate it, but there’s a need, there’s someone inside that needs a lot of care. She is very distressed.’…and then the doorbell rang!

Embarrassed, she quickly answered it (the therapy room is right next to the door and she had obviously seen her neighbour coming up the driveway) and came back in. She asked if the crying noise was loud still in my head? And wondered if the disruption to my session had amplified the noise?: ‘The little one doesn’t understand why there has been a disruption, she just doesn’t like them and it mirrors what happens in the break.’ She said that I (adult) know what’s going on but the little one can’t understand why she is not there with me.

I felt really exposed but equally really held and contained and said, ‘I don’t know what to do with this’ and she said ‘I think this is where we often get to. It’s really hard to talk about it. It’s overwhelming. It’s hard to find the words to talk about it. But the need is huge. The little one inside you, however old she is, she needs something, and so if one of your children were telling you this, what would you give them?’

And then I replied (a bit – a lot- frustrated!) ‘I know what you are trying to get out of me but it’s not as easy as just giving myself a hug and holding myself. It doesn’t work! I’ve tried really hard. It’s great knowing that there is that need but what the hell am I supposed to do with that?’ and she was really understanding. It’s one of the things that I really struggle with, knowing there is a all this sadness and pain inside and yet not seemingly being able to do anything to make it feel any better. I just feel like a powerless spectator watching small children suffer.

I told her about how I had emailed my friend some activities for our child parts and said ‘as nice as all that is, and as aware as I am about needing to attend to the needs of those parts, it doesn’t hold them, it doesn’t contain them. I try really hard but it just doesn’t work. I can’t make it feel like there is holding’. She said she understood and suggested trying something different.

She said ‘these little ones need an adult to be with them and soothe them and settle them down emotionally. It might be you or another adult. The little ones need holding and probably so do the teenagers. Maybe that is something we could develop together. It’s not just about knowing about it (holding), it’s about feeling it bit by bit. Can you imagine how that would feel?- starting with the youngest, most needy one, because she needs it. The adult can kick in and organise everything but the little one needs to feel held and loved and emotionally there with someone’.

I said, ‘yes, I get that, but the little ones don’t even know I exist. The smallest one doesn’t want me!’ In my head I was willing myself to say, ‘she wants you!’ but didn’t. She said ‘they can meet you and we can work together to help introduce you to each other. We need to be able to soothe the little one, just a tiny bit to start off with’. She asked if I thought it was possible. I said ‘no‘ because I know that little me really only wants to be cared for and held by one person…and we all know that right now, that isn’t me!

We talked about what the little girl was feeling and how it would be if I tried to sit her on my knee and hold her. I said, ‘she doesn’t want me. She doesn’t trust me’. She asked who she trusted. I said ‘no one’…which is kind of true. I want to trust my therapist but since the no touch thing I don’t fully feel like I can say ‘my little one wants to sit in your lap and for you to soothe her and tell her that she is loved‘….because it just feels toooooo much. But that’s what I wanted to say.

She asked me if the ‘little one could imagine being cuddled?’. I said ‘no’…because I have no memory of it. Holding and touch have been so lacking in my upbringing that I honestly can’t tell you of a time when I remember being ‘held’ by mum. Of course we’ve had awkward hugs now and again when we say goodbye, but there’s never been any of that closeness that I crave. There has been no snuggling at bedtime after a story and softly saying ‘I love you more than anything’  or ‘you are the most special girl in the world and I love you’ which is what I say to my daughter every single day.

It’s a running joke. Each day when she comes home from school I say to my little girl, ‘guess what?’ and she laughs and rolls her eyes at me, ‘I know mummy- you love me- you say it all the time!’ And do you know what?-that fills me with utter joy because that is exactly how it should be. She is so secure in knowing that I love her that it is almost boring to her. Win!

After my therapist’s ‘cuddle’ question – big ouch – please, please cuddle me! I jumped out of the situation, detached from the young part and wondered aloud, ‘why can’t the little part of me trust?‘ and she said some affirming, validating stuff about how things have been and yet I had somehow survived it. She said, ‘this is the place where the change is going to come. it’s a lot of work and effort and it hurts but when you take your mind to this place this is where things change. the more you can be in touch with your need and your feelings, as hard as it feels, the more possible it feels for things to be less bad’ and she is right….because despite how tough it was it was a great session.

BUT. Oh and there always is a giant BUT isn’t there? Since having such a deeply connecting session I have been left with the most enormous therapy hangover. It’s Thursday now and I am still feeling it. I’ve been so sad all week. I can’t tell you how many times I have considered picking up my phone and sending a text to tell my therapist that I miss her, am struggling and try and get some kind of reassurance that things are ok.

I haven’t sent that message because I know that she doesn’t respond to texts that are about anything other than scheduling. I literally cannot bear the feeling of being so vulnerable, reaching out and then being ignored – it feels so rejecting. I’ve done it enough times to know that texting doesn’t end well but god, this place that I am in right now is hellish. I really cannot bear the thought of the break.

So in order to try and get some extra support and sense of holding during the break I have just signed up to Sane’s Text Care again:

http://www.sane.org.uk/what_we_do/support/textcare/?task=thankyou

It’s a really great service. Basically you fill out a really quick form online with some info about what you struggle with:

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and then they send a weekly support text message to you at a time of your choosing for five consecutive weeks.  I’ve done this over several of my therapy breaks now and I have to say it really helps:

With the Christmas break coming up I figure it’s worth doing everything possible to try and make the weeks without therapy a little more bearable. Having my feelings acknowledged in this way is really helpful because, like a lot of you, it’s not easy to share these feelings with family and it can feel incredibly isolating struggling in silence with attachment pain. Of course, you can get support with whatever your issue because all texts are tailored specifically to what you write in the text box on the request form.

Usually they only need 72 hours notice to begin the text messages but I noticed when I filled out the form earlier that the deadline for requesting Christmas messages is 10th December. So if you are thinking this might be something that’d help you over the festive period to stay sane then get online quick.

Anyway, that’s about all for now. School run calls! …

Flashback Friday: conversations we never had

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This healing is a slow process!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Spread a bit thin.

I’d be lying if I said that I resembled anything other than a sheet of uncooked, filo pastry at the moment (metaphorically, of course, although I do feel a bit transparent, pale, and pasty at the moment – gotta love the British climate!). What I mean is that I feel like I am spread a bit thin.

I know this is a bit of a weird analogy to use, but I am a GBBO fan/loser (decide for yourself). For those of you not in the UK, ‘The Great British Bake Off’ is a baking competition and week by week the contestants take on various baking challenges set around a theme: bread week, cake week, biscuit week, pudding week…

I often get the sense of being like an unskilled/unfortunate baker on pastry week. I try to get lovely thin sheets of filo (read as high functioning, optimum performance in life) and invariably just try that bit too hard, stretch the sheet a bit much and then a whacking great hole appears and the whole thing is totally fucked.

My filo pastry (life/self/who knows?- the metaphor has run its distance) has torn and split more times that I can count now. I try and patch it back up with a bit of egg wash (I need to get that bake in the oven!) but ultimately I am not going to be crowned ‘Star Baker’ any time soon.

So that’s exactly how I feel right now. I’m sure no one is any the wiser after that convoluted explanation.

Let’s start again.

Things in my life are ok, or as ok as they ever are. There hasn’t been any more significant trauma or upheaval in the last week or so, nothing has really changed, but I think the cumulative effect of the last few weeks and years (cancer, bereavement, and mental health struggles) combined with having zero time to myself is finally catching up with me.

I feel like I am spread a bit thin and the cracks are starting to show now. Those of you that follow this blog may well be thinking, “hang on a minute, love, the ‘cracks’ are more like ‘chasms’ and have been around for ages” and of course you’d be totally right. What I mean is the face I present outwardly in my day-to-day life is beginning to crack. The painted smile and the ‘can do’ attitude is faltering. I literally don’t think I can take on much more without things falling apart and so it is daft that I have been taking more and more things on…

It’s not totally desperate yet. I think I can pull this back from the brink by saying ‘no’ a bit more frequently and take some time out over Christmas. Right now I am just about functioning in my day-to-day and not spending hours lying in bed whenever the opportunity presents….which is probably because there have been no opportunities presenting for me to do that!! I am shattered and could do with a rest. I’m fighting my second chest infection in as many months and need to recharge my batteries.

I have been unusually busy this last week which is why I haven’t sat down to write anything, not because I don’t have things to say (I have two good – but tough- therapy sessions to talk about! – yay!), I just literally have not had the time or the space to really sit down and think or process much. I am always at the bottom of my ‘to do’ list and things keep cropping up that require my time and attention.

I wish I could say that the reason I haven’t been able to sit and write is because I have been undertaking highly stimulating activities (oh, god, I haven’t even had time for that in the last couple of weeks – no wonder I feel like a woman on the edge!…brb….!) but it’s not the case.

Actually this whole blog post is just me moaning. I’m really just complaining about niggly things that on top of the ‘big stuff’ that I am shackled to and drag along behind me are making me feel a bit shaky. There are too many plates spinning and it’s only a matter of time until one smashes on the floor. Or I breakdown.

The daily current ‘ugh’ is the school run stuff and ‘being a mum’ duties. I just want to make it absolutely clear here that although I excel at small talk and ‘mum’ things and being the organiser … I literally want to hang myself sometimes in the playground, or sitting at martial arts lessons, swimming lessons or blah blah blah. I sit there wondering where ‘I’ have gone. Who am I now?

I love that my kids do these things and are growing in competence and confidence but continually running about getting everyone to the right place, at the right time, with the right gear is a bit draining, frankly…. and that’s before you add in being an acceptable mother in conversation with people you have nothing in common with, whilst watching the kids do these things. I identify more with the women in ‘Bad Moms’…which means I don’t feel like I fit the mould!

Don’t get me wrong. I love my kids and would die for them but I could not give even the tiniest nugget of shit about either of their nativity plays (so shoot me already – it’s just a fucking hassle – where do I get a sodding horse outfit from anyway?!); how to organise the ‘bring and share’ Christmas lunch (title is self-evident is it not?); or ensuring that exactly 50% of the ‘mum’s Christmas night out’ meal (heaven help me!) is paid for by a certain date with pre-selected menu choice…… I mean really, I just want to die. I used to have a career and I was not completely intellectually dead.

I am aware that, to date, I have participated in the bare minimum of mum things, i.e PTA, fundraisers or whatever. I am more of a drop and run type mum at the gates: kiss, cuddle, ‘have a nice day’, and then get my head down and get the hell out of there. So of course, lately not wanting to be the mum that doesn’t do enough, (I tell you mums are a judging cliquey bunch) to show willing I recently attended a pre-school committee meeting…..FUCK ME!

If you don’t have kids then you can have no idea what level of torture something like this is to anyone with half a brain cell. Think bad, inefficient staff meeting and then add on an extra hour for good measure. I recommend one of two things to you, 1) don’t have kids, 2) take a leaf out of my book, learn from my error, and NEVER UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES GO TO ONE OF THESE MEETINGS.

A few weeks back it was that time of year where some members were standing down and others were required to fill the roles…you can see where this is going can’t you? They needed a chair and vice-chair among other roles. The vice-chair line manages the staff and is responsible for observing learning in the setting, ensuring quality, keeping the development plan up-to-date and accurate, and the person deals with Ofsted… basically it’s the bit that makes sure everything is good for inspection.

So there I was, there to make up the numbers when suddenly all eyes were on me.

I knew what they were thinking.

Had it not been the same day as my friend’s funeral I probably would have said ‘not a chance! Don’t you all look at me like that! It isn’t going to happen.’ but instead I said ‘Look, I’ve got to leave in a minute but I can see that my skill set does lend itself to this role, I’ve supervised and trained teachers and am used to dealing with Ofsted, so I’ll do it if you want’. I swear I had an out of body experience and watched myself from above as those words came out of my mouth. WTF?!

So of course, because I am actually pretty astute and capable I have gone into this stuff all guns blazing. There is a lot to do to and there was a meeting this week in which I proposed a strategy for meeting some of the Early Years criteria and how to staff it, then somehow offered to shortlist interviewees for a post in the setting and lead the interview in a couple of weeks. Again WTF? WTF am I doing?

I don’t know.

Ok, maybe if I am honest I do know what’s going here. I am aware that fairly imminently the emotional shit is going to hit the fan (cue Christmas therapy break) and so I am taking on commitments and distractions to keep busy in order to avoid the inevitable.

I am piling things into my calendar to keep busy and also in some weird way to make it so that I have to keep both emotionally and physically intact. Like today, for example, I invited my kids’ half-brother and mum (the kids have the same sperm donor) to visit for three days at the start of my therapy break…which will be lovely, but right now the last thing I need is to be running about after other people.

We all know that this strategy is going to be about as effective as a chocolate fireguard, don’t we?

I know all that will happen is that this feeling of being spread too thin is going to be exacerbated the moment the therapy break kicks in. I know this because since finding out the exact length of the therapy break in Monday’s session my appetite has gone right off, I’ve had to will myself to eat and feel very dissatisfied with my body….ah that wonderful coping mechanism. Suddenly all these niggly activities and drains on my energy feel unmanageable because as I am already starting to sink into the pits of attachment pain.

Basically what I’ve done in the last few weeks is go into denial. I am desperately  pretending to myself that my last therapy session is not actually on the 11th of December and that I do not have an almost four week break until the next session on the 8th of January.

The thing is….all the denial in the world isn’t going to change things at 11:20am on the 11th as I walk out of therapy for the last time this year is it?

Did I mention that I hate therapy breaks?

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The Mother Wound

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch’

(Romeo and Juliet Act 3:1)

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

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

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

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

ROMEO: Courage man, the hurt cannot be much,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, if only it were that simple!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘What have you got to be depressed about?’

‘You need to learn to let this go.’

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

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

‘Why am I not enough for you?

‘Why don’t you let me in?’

‘Your depression isn’t getting any better.’

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

How much therapy does one person need?’

‘Your relationship with your therapist is unhealthy.’

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

‘You need to try harder to be happy.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The mother wound is gaping today.

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Not waving but drowning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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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