Pebbles: The Transitional Object

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‘Small round hard stones click

Under my heels’

This is the opening of Tatamkhulu Afrika’s poem Nothing’s Changed, a poem I used to teach my GCSE students back in the day. The lines came into my head just now as I was thinking about the title for this post. For the longest time, ok, since September the words ‘Nothing’s Changed’ could sum up my predicament with the pebbles (and that’s about as far as the link to the poem goes I’m afraid!).

For those of you who aren’t up to speed with the ‘pebbles saga’ I’ll recap a bit in this post. Apologies, but this is a real ramble but I feel like I need to get it down because this blog is really just my therapy diary and the pebbles have been a big thing… ugh!…

It’s no secret that that I really struggle with therapy breaks; they have long been a stumbling block for me. It’s hard enough maintaining a sense of connection to my therapist between sessions but anything longer than a week without contact and the wheels start to fall off in a big way; the child parts have an epic meltdown (attachment pain sets in and I feel abandoned and rejected – oh and desperately sad and alone). It’s not much fun at all. My adult self is left holding the baby in a completely clueless way! It’s not lost on me that I can love and nurture my own kids but when it comes to my inner child I am utterly useless.

Sigh.

Last summer break was a bit of a shambles (bit of an understatement). Before the break I had told my therapist how difficult disruptions to the therapy felt and how much I was dreading the holiday this time. I’d never let on before how terrible breaks have felt. I’d suffered my way through the previous summer break and a disastrous Christmas one but knew I couldn’t go into another one and be ‘fine’. I plucked up the courage to ask if she could maybe send me a text with a message to help me feel connected to her over the break. She did. Phew! I’d been sweating about asking her for something like this for months (overthinking it!) but when it came down to it, it was fine…like so many of these ‘things’ I am scared to talk about! – I will learn eventually!

Unfortunately, though, despite asking my therapist and her trying to meet the need, the message just didn’t work! She sent me a text with a visualisation to do. I was supposed to imagine us together in the room and my letting out whatever was bothering me and then picture her responding in an understanding and caring way. The visualisation didn’t work because the parts that need her reassurance and care when I can’t see her are very young and the wording, indeed, the exercise just wasn’t pitched to the parts that needed it…the parts that need her.

I’ve moaned/talked about this episode in detail in another blog post so won’t bang on about it again here!

I’ve noticed as time has gone on, that any time I am asked to ‘imagine’ something, like the young ones being held it puts my back up. I don’t want to have to ‘imagine’ anything. I want the reality. I don’t want to have to imagine my adult holding the distraught child (yes I know I’m going to have to accept this is how it’s going to be…eventually!) but right now I want my therapist to do it for me. Ugh! And so when she encourages me to hold things for myself it somehow feels rejecting and like she doesn’t care.

(Look I make no bones about the fact that my rational side is not in the driving seat so far as my therapy goes!…and that’s why I need the therapy.)

When push came to shove I was unable to picture my therapist in the visualisation she’d crafted (and man I really tried! I wanted to do the homework right and for the result to be that breaks would feel a little easier); all I could picture was me sitting in the room and staring at her empty chair (I literally cannot hold her in my mind at all).

The little ones’ anxiety ramped up day after day, week after week. I kept trying to zone my mind into the room and put my therapist there with me but it just didn’t work. The further break went on the more the horrid attachment pain activated in me, and the shit started to hit the fan. I felt so alone. I felt abandoned. I felt like the relationship was worthless and a sham. I didn’t want to believe any of those feelings but when I have no concrete evidence to prove otherwise it’s amazing what a good job the Critic can do of undermining the therapy and the therapeutic relationship.

It’s awful that holiday periods feel more about survival than rest and recharge for me – and for a lot of us who struggle with this developmental trauma stuff. When I was a teacher I really looked forward to the long breaks and now I absolutely dread holidays! I’m glad that my therapist is looking after herself (kind of ;-)) and I wish that in this time I could also take a break from the therapy and live normally without my issues dragging along with me. Sadly, it’s just not how it is. The moment my therapy is disrupted by a break it’s all about ‘digging deep’, ‘hanging on’ and ‘counting down’… only 21 more days to go now….AAAARRRRGGGGHHHHH!!!! Shoot me now!

Last year, I came back from the summer break feeling desperately sad and disconnected and a bit angry (hello teen!). When I finally built up the courage, three sessions in, and told my therapist how bad things had felt over the summer and how badly the visualisation had missed the mark, she suggested that perhaps it might help if, instead, she wrote something to me on a card so that I had something physical to take with me to remind me of the relationship and connection when I can’t see her – a transitional object of sorts.

Whilst the young parts of me longed for something to cuddle, like a teddy or something soft, adult me was happy enough with her idea because words are important to me and so I felt like this could be a good stepping stone to help me move forward. Having something personal from her, in her handwriting would surely help me to keep her in mind when everything was beginning to spiral. Ideally it’d also help me trust that she cared when the Critic goes all out to undermine the relationship. That was the idea anyway.

I left that session feeling positive and motivated that, perhaps, finally the time between sessions and, even more importantly, on breaks might start to feel a bit less awful. The next week I came to therapy armed with two pebbles (from the beach where my therapist lives) and a sharpie pen.

My idea was that she could write the message on a pebble; it’d last longer than a card and it would have an additional significance because I already collect pebbles. To have something in my collection from ‘her’ beach might feel even more connecting – or that’s what I thought! In addition to all this it would be something physical that I could hold in my hand. I thought it was a good idea. She seemed to think so too.

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It all seemed so simple…

Only this is where ‘simple’ ground to a resounding halt and everything suddenly grew very very complicated. It’s been a real fucking mess, actually. It’s been a nightmare of tangled, fraught, communication/miscommunication and has been the catalyst for a load of my issues about feeling unlovable and unworthy play out. It’s been horrid and has really upset me. I mean it’s literally sent me to attachment trauma hell and stirred up every bit of agony I’ve been in holding for years.

Ouch.

It’s certainly not been ideal these last six months! I can step back now (sort of) and say that what’s happened is all part of the process. I can see that we’ve done so much work as a result of the pebbles on our relationship and on my deep-rooted issues.

I won’t lie, though, there’s a part of me that just wishes it could have gone easier at the beginning. I was already hurting, feeling lost, alone, and unsure of the strength and quality therapeutic relationship before ‘Pebblegate’ but the experience of the last six months has made me feel like I had been completely cast adrift. I can’t count how many times I’ve sat and wondered if I would even be able to work with my therapist much longer or whether I needed to walk away…I did go and see another therapist after the rupture at Christmas.

Painful stuff.

Really excruciatingly painful stuff.

I am usually really good at looking at things objectively. I am the ‘go to’ person for my friends because I see things from different angles and can see the wood for the trees. Unfortunately, I don’t seem able to extend that skill and rationality to myself when looking at how things are in the therapeutic relationship. I frequently view everything through a lens that distorts what’s actually in front of me – or rather gives me only a single view when usually, in life, I can see a kaleidoscope of colours and images.

In the therapeutic relationship I come at things from a traumatised, emotionally neglected child’s perspective. It’s no wonder, really. There has been huge deficit in holding and containment as I’ve grown up. My mum has been both physically and emotionally absent for a lot of my life and then, in my teens, when I lived with her, she became emotionally abusive. I guess once she and my dad has separated the rage had to go somewhere. I can’t tell you the amount of times the words, ‘I wish you’d never been born!’ have been screamed at me.

So, when it comes to relating to my therapist things are tricky. A whole load of maternal transference has been thrown in the melting pot and whilst I desperately want to believe that she (my therapist) cares for me and is safe because I do absolutely love her and want her to be reliable and safe for me, there’s a huge damaged part, or should I say, lots of damaged younger parts that approach the relationship with a pre-existing narrative #MotherWound. They can’t simply trust that she has positive feelings towards me. They believe that she is going to follow the script that my mother wrote all those years ago. they think that my therapist is only ‘tolerating’ me because I am paying her to do so. I am a burden to her. I am too needy. The relationship isn’t genuine. And if she had her way I’d just disappear. I am not wanted and I am not worthy of her time and care. It’s only a matter of time until everything blows up in my face.

It’s going to be hard rewriting that script when it’s been practised so many times over the years. I am word perfect now and as much as I am sick of repeating the same lines over and over again, it is difficult to believe that there may be an alternative version that could be enacted now instead of this damaging play I am stuck in. It’s hard to see that the person opposite me is not, in fact, the person who I’ve been acting this stuff out with for the last 35 years. I have placed my therapist in the role of the understudy and we are continuing with this drama, but actually, maybe now is the time to write a whole new script, a whole new play, and give space to all the parts that need to be seen with my therapist playing herself rather than my ‘stand in’ mother.

I guess over time this will start to happen more and more because there is a lot of the time when I can see my therapist for who she is; the problems only arise when something vulnerable or triggering comes up and then I am thrown back into the trauma response.

Anyway, back to the pebbles!

It’s been challenging to say the least. In the last few weeks my therapist has been asking me about the pebbles in every session and what we are going to do. She told me that she was happy to write something about her caring about me on them but had wondered if that would feel genuine enough for me? I’ve been completely thrown through a loop with this word ‘genuine’ for the last few months since she said it. When she’d mentioned about the message needing to feel genuine, I’ve heard that as her not wanting to write something she didn’t feel to be genuine for her, and therefore she couldn’t/wouldn’t say she cared about me on them.

However, when we finally unpicked things after I sent my mammoth ‘let it all hang out’ email the other week, it turns out she meant she wanted things to feel right for me, and that whatever she wrote should feel believable to me because I have such a hard time accepting anything positive from her. I automatically disbelieve her kind words and caring words or assume there’s a price attached to them — enacting that old script again. She didn’t want what she wrote to feel like she was just doing it to appease me. Basically she wanted it to be right and was aware that there was a lot of emotion tied up in all this.

Hallelujah! That is exactly what the young ones needed to hear. She cares and she wants the transitional object to be right.

The thing is, we’ve kept dipping back into this topic for the last few sessions and sometimes there’s someone else engaged not just the parts that trust her! When she asked me about when we were going to do the pebbles in the Skype Session we had the other day and being conscious that the break was fast approaching, I was pissed off. Not at her. I was cross that I couldn’t see her in person due to being snowed in. I was angry that I didn’t have any real privacy. And I was frustrated that the young ones weren’t able to connect properly. In those situations the teen steps up. The teen doesn’t need pebbles. She doesn’t need anyone. She can see how sad the little ones have been through the whole sorry saga and she is fucked off about it.

So in response to my therapist’s question about the pebbles, I told her that part of me just wanted to throw them back in the sea and give it all up because it’s been a fucking nightmare! She said that she understood that there was a part who was frustrated and had given up hope but that there were others who maybe still wanted something good to come from them. I conceded that this was the case, and we agreed we’d sort things out in our last session – Monday.

Last Sunday my family and I went to the beach – not my therapist’s beach, but one a few miles down the coast – also a pebble beach. The kids were throwing pebbles into the water, we made some cairns, and I came across a lovely pebble. It was an usual stone with a band round the middle…perfect for a message. I decided at that point that I would find some words, write them on the pebble, and give it to my therapist on our last session. I sometimes get these impulses to give her things or write to her!…and then freak out when the time actually comes to hand stuff over. lol.

I spent a while searching the internet for ‘good’ words on Sunday night. And finally alighted on these (this is not the actual pebble):

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‘When my heart feels overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I.’

I instantly loved them. Some of you may recognise these words as a psalm. I am in no way religious, indeed, I struggle with the church and the idea that I am somehow not good enough to be part of the fold because of my sexuality. To many I am merely a sinner to be tolerated (oh and there’s a wonderful story about at trip to Tennessee in there but I’ll save all that for another time!!). Frankly the church can go do one if that’s the truth! But still, these words are exactly right for what I wanted to say and reflect what I need and how I feel. So I used them.

Fast forward to Monday…and my last session before the break…

I sat down and almost instantly got out the perfect pebble and explained how I had come to find it on the beach, why I had decided to give her it, and how I found the words. We spent some time talking about it and then she asked me if we should sort out my pebbles that have been sitting on that shelf for six long bastard months (not her words obviously! Lol!).

I agreed, and then, something strange happened, but then on reflection it wasn’t strange at all because it’s what I do…

I broke with the plan we have been coming up with for all this time and told her that I wanted her to write those same words, the psalm, on my rock. And I did want that. Sort of. But I didn’t too. It’s hard to explain what happened but I think part of it was this: she had responded so positively to the stone and the words that I had chosen for her that I didn’t want to lose that ‘nice’ feeling and vibe that was in the room – the feeling of connection.

I didn’t want to suddenly descend into the difficult stuff that has plagued these stones for so long. I didn’t want it to feel awkward. I didn’t want a disaster to come about from all this heading stuff into the break. I didn’t want to leave empty handed again. And I do like the words… a lot. They are meaningful. I felt that they were good enough…at the time.

Only now I feel like I have compromised on what I really wanted from these stones, from the transitional object, and that was something direct from my therapist about how she feels about our relationship and how she cares about me. I wanted something personal and ended up with something adequate but not quite right. She’ll have no idea that this has happened.

When she had finished writing on the pebble she said that we should come back to it after the break and talk about how it is for me – i.e whether it does or doesn’t work to make things feel better during the break. I know that I need to tell her what the process was like last week and how I ended up not asking for what I really wanted for fear of leaving feeling disconnected. I think it’s important to do that. But, now, I am worried that she might feel like she can’t get anything right and get frustrated with me (totally my projection).

You see ‘getting it wrong’ is becoming a bit of a pattern. I asked for a text last summer, she did what I asked, and then I threw it back at her as not being good enough – I couldn’t do the visualisation and picked her words apart one by one. Then I text her at Christmas in distress, she replied because she cared, and yet because her words didn’t give me exactly what I wanted we ended up having an almighty rupture. And now this. I told her I wanted particular words on the pebble, she wrote them for me, and now I have to go back and say it missed the mark. She keeps trying to meet my need and yet for whatever reason it’s not quite working for me. At what point will she say that she gives up?

Anyway, I feel like I have exhausted ‘Pebblegate’ for now!

I will say this, though, despite not quite getting the right words on the pebble it does still feel soothing (a bit) to finally have it with words in her handwriting. It does help me feel connected to her because I can remember being in that session with her and others recently where I have had a positive and connecting experience with her…and that in itself reminds me that there is a genuine and caring relationship between us.

It remains to be seen whether this memory bank will be accessible to me, if, when the little parts start really freaking out. I already had a bit of a wobble last night talking with a friend so I am very aware that the attachment stuff is not very far below the surface right now.

Still, for now I have a small round hard stone in my hand and some lovely words on it…I’ll take that as a win for now. Things are changing!

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Why do I always dream about my therapist when we are on a therapy break?

Just like clockwork, three days into the Christmas therapy break, my therapy/therapist dreams kicked in.  I wrote at length a while ago about dreams and how much dreams of my therapist can knock me for six.

I feel compelled to write on this topic again now because my sleep is filled with her again… I need to get this stuff out my system because it is still another 12 days until my next therapy session and part of me needs to process/let out what’s going on before I amass a catalogue of dreams and end up sitting down first session back and saying….‘So, err, I dreamt about you every night for two weeks…’ 

I wonder, is that more or less weird than sitting down after last year’s three week Christmas break and the first words out my mouth being, ‘Do you think I have BPD?’ I’m sure she’d sit there completely un-phased if I went in and told her she was repeatedly in my dreams during the break but there is a bit of me that always feels like it’s a bit creepy telling my therapist I have dreamt about her … and it’s even more cringeworthy if it’s happening night after night.

So often what comes up in dreams about my therapist are the anxieties I am feeling in the therapeutic relationship and so it is unsurprising that these dreams tend to increase in frequency during breaks when I can’t see her, or at times when I feel unsettled in the relationship, or there has been some kind of rupture.

These recent dreams seem, again, to be tapping into the underlying (ok surface level!) worries I am feeling about being on Christmas break and issues in the therapeutic relationship, mainly: feeling like I am unimportant to her and that the connection is broken; feeling angry about her not caring about me and that she’s abandoned/rejected me; and despite all this, still desperately craving closeness and proximity to her, wanting to repair the damage.

It’s all about conflicting feelings and emotions. What a surprise!

For the past three nights I have had incredibly detailed dreams about, and involving, my therapist.  There is a little part of me that is glad to ‘see her’ in my dreams because I find it so hard to hang onto any sense of her actually being out there in the real world during a break. I so easily lose my sense of her being safe and ‘there’ because on breaks she is not there. It’s long been one of my frustrations, being unable to reach out to her between sessions and check-in and try and maintain the sense of the relationship being sound.

Unfortunately, I start to emotionally wobble quite soon into any kind of disruption in therapy, and the dreams I have about my therapist aren’t usually massively warm and fuzzy. They don’t really involve lots of nurturing, love, and holding (which is what I would love my mind to serve me up in my sleep). It’s usually feelings of abandonment, rejection, and loss that come to the fore and leave me with a killer dream hangover for days (and sometimes weeks) afterwards. Sigh!

Mind you, having said all that, perhaps I should mention that I did have my first erotic dream about my therapist a couple of weeks ago (which after six years I think has been some time coming!) and that sent me through a completely different set of emotions – obviously. I won’t lie, it was a great/positive sexual experience (it wasn’t scary or threatening or pressured) but the moment I woke up I was flooded with shame and embarrassment, as well as confusion about it.

Although I am gay, and my therapist is a woman, I have never really thought of her ‘in that way’! She is attractive, definitely, and I have always had a thing for older women (oh but of course!), but for me, there’s been a shit tonne of maternal transference and so I have never consciously/unconsciously thought of her in a sexual way….until the other week!

My fantasies involving my therapist have always revolved strongly around being held/cuddled by her and her behaving in a very mothering way towards me. Basically I have wanted her to treat me in the way a mother would (should) treat a young child. (Isn’t it odd that I should feel less embarrassed writing that than saying I had a dream where I slept with her! ha!)

Thinking about it now, I realise the sex dream was really again about trying to get close to her (as so often happens in my dreams), only in a different way. The sexual element, I think, was about a part of me (maybe the adult) finally trusting her, being vulnerable, and allowing her to see part of me that I keep hidden which is kind of what’s been going on in therapy…I mean opening up to her and being vulnerable- not having sex! So although it was a bit ‘argh!’ at the time, in many ways I guess I should see that dream as a positive. I haven’t managed to tell her about that yet, and to be honest I am not sure that I ever will.

Still, back to the current batch of dreams… I know it’s not just me that is currently negotiating the therapy/therapist dreamscape during the Christmas break. Sleeptime for many a therapy client is firing out all kinds of anxiety-ridden dreams. Oh the joy and wonder of breaks eh? I’d be really interested to know just how many people are having therapy dreams right now and how many of those are positive, how many feel full of anxiety and if/how this reflects where people are at in their therapeutic journey.

Anyway, yesterday night’s dream stayed with me all day. I was a fucking pain in the arse all day as a result. Even this morning, I know that I am like a bear with a sore head. I have already been snappy and short. I can’t help it and I can’t blame it on being tired. I just feel so frustrated and sad and all kinds of emotions. The attachment pain stuff has kicked in massively and I feel really awful. It’s ridiculous, really. I should be enjoying the holidays but it is just so difficult when there are various parts of myself missing my therapist and feeling unanchored.

I know some of what I am feeling will be the Christmas hangover coming out. Christmas day was ‘fine’ on the surface, as I knew it would be, but inside I felt a little bit like I was dying. The little ones are always poised and waiting to see if Mummy will see them or acknowledge them. She never does. She never did. If she couldn’t do it when I was in my child’s body then I guess I am expecting too much for her to see beyond the body of a 34 year old woman.

The day wiped me out and I slept until 10:30 yesterday (which is unheard of – but then my wife got up with the kids and I think given the chance I could easily sleep like that everyday!). Christmas when it was just me, my wife, and my kids was lovely but when my mum arrived I could feel something shift inside me. It’s a subtle shift but I am very aware of it now. I become ever so slightly anxious and ever so slightly hopeful….which I know is what happens when I sit down in therapy. I hope that my therapist will ‘see me’ but also anxious that she won’t.

It was civil enough with mum but just not ‘warm’. We chatted for a long while, but not about anything in particular – other people mainly. It was small talk. The ‘real’ things seem to be off limits. Since she said ,‘therapy was for losers’ a couple of months ago (despite knowing I am in therapy and have been on an off for the last decade), I am not really feeling like my mental health is a topic to broach anyway! I mean I guess it’s not a Christmas day topic (why?!) but I don’t know when the, ‘Mum I am really struggling to cope with what it was like when I was younger and it’s really impacting on me even now’ will ever come up.

Anyway, as so often happens all my sadness and feelings of loss and abandonment which clearly originate in my childhood have been fully transferred onto my therapist and our relationship in 2017. I am not grieving my mother’s lack of connection and relationship with me. I don’t want her now. Of course I don’t. I want the person who has given me the closest thing to unconditional love that I have experienced. It is intoxicating to all the younger parts of me and the adult too….but of course that is just a fantasy that needs to be crushed and grieved for too….eventually. Not now, though! Give me time!

This dream is a long one, so feel free to skip:

I was walking alone along the coast path not far from my therapist’s house. A little further along the bay I could see the snowflake card that I had given for Christmas resting on a wall/gatepost. It was as though it had been displayed as an ornament but it was now falling apart and broken in places. It had been left outside, and because it had been raining it had started to disintegrate. Perhaps she hadn’t realised that the card was only made of paper and therefore fragile….or perhaps she didn’t care?

As I walked further up the path I became increasingly angry. I felt sad and disappointed that something I had put thought and effort into, and had bought to symbolise our relationship seemingly meant nothing to her. It was fine to leave it out in the rain.

When I reached where the card was it turned out to be the entrance to a pub but it was also where she lived (?). Part of me wanted to walk on by and ignore her but another part was drawn to see if I could find her. To get to her place I had to walk through the bar which was incredibly busy because it was Boxing Day and up some narrow steps to the door. The door wasn’t locked so I let myself in – there was no one there.

I wandered around the house knowing that I shouldn’t be there but at the same time desperately craving any kind of connection with my therapist in order to try and prove to myself that she did care, didn’t mean to hurt me, and wouldn’t deliberately disregard something that I had given her that demonstrated the feelings I have for her.

The house was really tidy and one of the windows had a window seat and lovely view out over the sea. It wasn’t raining at that point but I could see the snowflake card looking really sorry for itself on the wall below. I decided to lay down and wrapped myself in a blanket that was on the seat and try and take in the space, and by extension, my therapist, but I must’ve fallen asleep.

I woke up to find my therapist kneeling down beside me and gently saying my name. I woke up with a start. I was mortified! She didn’t seem angry that I was there, but feeling exposed  and off guard I immediately launched into an attack on her. I pretty much screamed at her that ‘she didn’t care about me’, that ‘I couldn’t believe that she would so easily disregard something I had given her, something that had taken me time and thought, but moreover something that really showed my feelings toward her’. I said ‘you told me that this card was about love. You know it is. Why would you treat my love like it doesn’t matter?’ I started crying.

She said, she was sorry and that she had put the card outside because it was beautiful so others could see it at Christmas but it had started raining when she was away. She was sorry that it had been damaged and was disappointed too. I petulantly (teen part) said ‘it didn’t matter’. I told her ‘I would never have left it outside’ and it just shows how I much I would value something from her if I had something and proves the lack of balance in the relationship.

I told her I still have every scrap of paper that’s she’s written holiday dates on for me. I said, ‘see how pathetic it is? – how pathetic I am? I hang onto the tiniest part of what you give me to try and sustain the connection. I have to try and make that enough and yet you couldn’t care less about things that clearly mean something, that are given with love’.

She said she understood how I was upset and wondered if there was anything we could do to fix the snowflake. I said ‘look at it, it’s falling apart, I don’t think it could be repaired and even if we could it’s not the fact the snowflake is broken that’s really the issue, it’s that you left it out in the first place, it doesn’t mean anything to you and it is not important to you’.

She told me that it was important to her and that’s why she had put it on display. She said she could see I was upset and asked what could make it better. I wanted to ask for hug. I so badly wanted to feel close to her. I knew that even though that was exactly what I needed I couldn’t ask for it because it was one of her ‘boundaries’. 

Having this thought come into my mind made everything feel even more awful because I felt abandoned and rejected and now couldn’t ask for connection because it was one of her ‘distancing rules’ (boundaries) that I have no say in and it made the anger rise up in me again.

I said ‘I don’t know why I am even here. I just keep hurting myself in one way or another with you. I love you so so much but to you I am completely insignificant. All that happens when I am with you is that I get reminded how unimportant I am to you, and that really hurts. I can’t keep putting myself through this. It physically hurts that you won’t let me close to you and I just can’t bear it anymore.’

Then she said perhaps we could take the card to a dry cleaners and see if it could be mended. I said that was a ridiculous idea, it wasn’t clothing and it couldn’t be mended. I said to stop going on about the card – that she was missing the point. I went outside and brought it in off the wall and put in on her table. All the words I had written had blurred into a watercolour of ink.

I said I needed to go. I didn’t want to go, though. I felt really hurt but I didn’t want to leave because I knew there was a long time until I would see her again and in that time I knew my upset and anger would increase and I may never return to therapy.

She suggested that we could go for a walk along by the sea together and talk things through. I said that I would love that (caving in)  and so we made our way downstairs through the pub which was now empty, and out for a walk.

We walked for a while but I said nothing. I didn’t know what to say. I still felt angry and upset and I was also aware that I was shutting down because I knew that I would have to leave her again soon. She looked at me and said ‘this has really upset you hasn’t it? You think I don’t care about you and that you don’t matter?’ I couldn’t look at her but nodded. She took hold of my hand and said ‘I am sorry. I really think there’s a lot to work through in this area’.

Then I woke up.

So yeah. Ugh! There we are another detailed version of the same old things. Whilst I know it is just a dream it taps so heavily into all the areas that bother me in the relationship. I have to remind myself when it feels this bad that what’s going on for me is not my therapist’s fault. The dream isn’t real. The issues are real but they aren’t of her making. I have deep-rooted attachment trauma and it’s playing out in this relationship now.

My adult knows (kind of!) that my therapist hasn’t just left me and stopped caring… but there are other parts who are not convinced that this hasn’t happened because this is their experience of what caregivers are like: they leave and they don’t care about me or my needs. I am not on the radar. I am not ‘kept in mind’.

I know my therapist is just a therapist (argh!) but there are parts of me that refuse to see her as anything other than the desperately longed for mother figure they need/ed. I know that the time for those young needs to be met has passed but the youngest parts of me don’t understand this at all because they are frozen back in time where it was possible. They are active in 2017 but they live back in the 80’s and early 90’s and to them there is still hope of things being ok, hope that whacking great mother wound can be filled with ‘her’ love.

Just writing this makes my stomach ache. It’s awful really. I have said this stuff so many times now. And, yet, whilst rationally I TOTALLY get it, I just cannot get accept it emotionally yet. I know that I shouldn’t ‘hope’ for the impossible but I would be lying if I said I didn’t.

I know this is why I am in therapy and why there is still a long way to run with my therapy…but right now, on Christmas break oh my god, it’s so hard! There was a period of time where I didn’t dream at all between 2013-16 (break in therapy) and I could go to bed to get away from things. Now I go to bed in the hope of escaping the emotional torment I feel and it chases me into my dreamworld and plays out there.

As I said a couple of months ago: ‘To sleep, perchance to dream’…but please, God, not about my therapist!

Sleep tight, everyone!

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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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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 and emotional holding. 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 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 the 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 or 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 or do drugs but this is largely because I think I have quite an addictive personality and would probably end up in real trouble if I did. 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. So much 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 crisis, the level-headed 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 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 get 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.

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 wereally 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 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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When therapy hurts: part 2

So, since my last post When therapy hurts: part 1 my week has been a bit up and down but I’m in a significantly better place than I was on Monday evening, thank god! I think I might rename myself ‘Flux’! Perhaps it could be my online name. It’s got a good ring to it, don’t you think? -and slightly less of a mouthful than rubberbandsandchewinggum!

I’ve been meaning to get on and write this post all week but just haven’t been able to for some reason. I’ve not been very busy, I just can’t really think of anything to say. I’m not very motivated to write. I can’t really be bothered with it. I know there’s no one forcing me to do it. There’s no pressure. It’s daft really. I am procrastinating. It almost feels like this is a piece of ‘homework’ I have to do but am resisting doing it. I think there’s a lesson for me there, don’t put ‘parts’ to posts. Last time I did it I had exactly the same predicament and got blocked.

I think maybe there’s another element in play too: ‘What’s the point in writing about it? Saying how bad I feel about things in the therapeutic relationship isn’t going to change anything, so fuck it all’. This attitude and reluctance to write makes a lot of sense to me, now, because I have finally identified the part that has been so dominant lately both in sessions and out of them. It’s an older teen part. She’s broken and pissed off.

I guess I feel about 17 years old which was a really tricky (also read ‘fucking horrendous’) time in my life: home was hideous, my mum was incredibly abusive ALL THE TIME, my anorexia was in full swing, self-harm was the norm, and I was in so much emotional pain that I could barely function.

I know it’s a huge cliché, but I had fallen in love with an older woman (a student teacher in my school -oh but of course I had!- huge huge eye roll!) and couldn’t tell her, or anyone for that matter, about how I felt. She’d moved away when I was 15 but we were very very close for a couple of years, speaking every night on the phone but as ‘friends’. I’d visited her a few times up country, being very intimate but not in a sexual way, and then the shit hit the fan when I became so ‘intense’ and needy that she basically cut off all contact with me.

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At the time it was meant to be a ‘three month break’ from contact but it devastated me like a breakup and once I’d been hurt I couldn’t go back to that relationship in the same way. I came out the day after the ‘let’s have a break from each other’ phonecall because I literally couldn’t stop crying and was beside myself. It didn’t get much better when I did come out, though, as a large chunk of my social group stopped talking to me and silence used to fall whenever I walked into a room…. So yeah, all in all it was a fairly traumatic time in 2000!

So when I am in that teen state I trust no one and shut down but am also hugely on guard, devastated, hurt and angry inside. I won’t let anyone in because I will not be hurt again like I was back then. I won’t express my feelings, in fact I’ll try not to feel anything at all, because I don’t want to be abandoned and rejected again by someone I love.

My therapist doesn’t stand a chance when I am in this state because the parallels of the relationship I had back then and have now with her are all too clear to me. She’s another woman, ten or so years older than me, who I talk to a lot but don’t get to see in person outside of the focused time,  someone whom I am very attached to but the power in the relationship is unbalanced. I don’t want to ever feel like I did at 17 again and so I won’t make the mistake of telling my Em how I feel her when I feel like this.

Fortunately, I am not physically attracted to my therapist, I absolutely see her as a mother figure (which isn’t easy either is it?!), but it’s also more than that. It’s quite hard to define exactly what she is to me. Of course, she’s my therapist, but I’m sure you know what I mean, it’s kind of the mother/big sister/best friend/fairy godmother idealised sort of thing and sometimes it’s none of those things. It’s a strange relationship, for sure!

I always really worry that my therapist will read my feelings and behaviour from the perspective of me having erotic transference because I am gay. She may not, I don’t know. I guess it is a sensitive issue for me. I have been rejected on the basis of my sexuality so many times. I worry that she only tolerates me because she has to. Unconditional positive regard is a cornerstone of therapy and yet part of me wonders if she is repulsed by me and just can’t show it?

It’s horrible to always be doubting the quality and authenticity of the therapeutic relationship. I know it shouldn’t matter even if I did feel attracted to her and that it would form part of the work but I just feel so fragile about this, even having come out 17 years ago, I still feel really vulnerable talking about my sexuality with her and I have only once brought up that massive heartbreak I had in my teens in all the time we’ve been working together.

I appreciate that I am rambling here and not really saying anything about ‘when therapy hurts’. I think this is what happens when I am fairly buoyant or in denial or both. I’m not really sure how I feel today – disconnected from myself is probably a good way of describing it. I know all those horrible feelings are inside and that the little ones are struggling but somehow they feel completely detached from where I am right now, they’re not front and centre.

It’s not a bad thing. I am functioning and frankly there have been too many days lately where I have struggled to. The teen part doesn’t need to be on guard and ready to fight because she doesn’t need to protect the little ones quite so much.

Since Monday I’ve been yo-yoing which totally follows my usual pattern of emotion after a session. I am always distressed, doubting, and devastated the day after the session. I feel abandoned, rejected, and hopeless. Ugh. It’s crap. I feel generally pretty rubbish until Thursday. By Friday daytime I feel as though I have survived the bulk of the week and can count down to the session on Monday. Friday evenings can be tricky, though, and so can Sundays. It’s almost like hope in the relationship and its potential is rekindled towards the end of the week, but then because I feel open and hopeful doubt can creep in again because she could hurt me.

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Another blogger, who I’d like to think I can call my friend now (you know who you are), has been really helpful in giving me another perspective on things and challenging how I have perceived what’s happening in my therapy this week. She’s annoyingly perceptive and her input has certainly helped me get my head together a bit.

I complained to her on Monday about how I’d felt my session had gone. I’d basically not been able to talk for the first 15 minutes and then handed over my laptop and asked my therapist to read the blog post I’d written. I sat there crying behind my hands as she read it and yet when she’d finished we didn’t really talk about any of it. I felt frustrated that I had shared all that content and yet we weren’t talking. Or that’s how it felt at the time.

However, on reflection it is clear that I was dissociated. My therapist asked again which part had come to session. And she very gently talked with me. She commented on lots of areas but it was me that couldn’t/wouldn’t engage and she didn’t push me. We just sat with how things were. She actually did a good job. I just couldn’t see it at the time because I wanted more. When I feel like that and am pushing her away it’s almost as though I am testing her to see if she’ll stay with me.

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She can’t win, though. She cannot communicate effectively with all my parts in a session because they all need such different things and approaches. What is right for one is completely wrong for another. It’s a minefield. The little ones need holding and soothing with that soft, warm voice that feels like a virtual cuddle; the teen needs reassurance and care and to be listened to and for her feelings to be validated; the adult needs to be told everything is ok and that there’s no need to be embarrassed or ashamed about the feelings that are coming up; the critic needs to be heard and wondered at. It’s not easy for her and I know she is doing her best although sometimes doesn’t get it quite right…

Shortly after she’d read my blog post she brought up something about payment – it was crap timing but I suppose there’s never a good or easy time to talk about money in therapy. I’ve been really poorly for a few weeks and on one of the session days I had done a Skype session because my son was ill, I ended up getting sick that day too.

I have basically been floating around on autopilot with no voice and propped up on pain killers and antibiotics for the best part of three weeks. Anyway, apparently for that Skype session and the one following it ,she hadn’t received my payments and yet last week did (but for just one session not the three I’d had) so she brought it up. I had been sitting in silence,not really, and I think the conversation was meant to engage my adult but also open up a conversation about resistance in the therapy.

The thing is, I hadn’t not paid her to send her a message. Hand on heart it was just a complete accident. I know what had happened because I’ve done it before making online transfers. I hadn’t confirmed the final page of the online transaction. I always go online shortly after the session and pay but obviously on these two occasions my brain was not fully in the game. I’d gone through the process, got all the details up on screen and just not scrolled down to confirm.

My therapist commented that I always pay promptly and suggested that maybe it was some unconscious communication about not really wanting to be there with her or something. I’ve said it enough lately that I haven’t wanted to be there (teen part can be quite dismissive of her) but that wasn’t what had happened in this instance. It was just a cock up and my autopilot had malfunctioned. It kind of threw me off balance a bit.

It made me think about a recent post by Life In A Bind – BPD And Me:  How do you pay your therapist? The answer could be part of your therapeutic work.  about payments and what they can reveal about the therapeutic relationship. I honestly don’t think I was unconsciously trying to send her a message by messing up the payments. I think, no , I know I was ill and just not functioning very well. In fact I am usually so quick in making payment to her when I get home or sometimes even before a session, despite the fact that she says she is happy to bill me monthly, because I value her so much. So meh, it was a bit of a weird conversation to have in the middle of the session.

What else has happened this week? Well another ‘interesting’ thing I’ve done is started looking around and researching other therapists. Uh huh. Yes. I know!

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Of course it’s all a reaction to feeling so completely lost in the relationship and like things are disintegrating between us. Googling therapists came from a place of sheer desperation. That was Wednesday. After a bit of research and contacting a therapist I realised that I really don’t want to work with anyone else. I don’t want to chuck three years of therapy away. I just want to get things sorted in the relationship I have….if I can. I just don’t know if it’s possible.

I certainly know what it is that I need to feel more secure between sessions and in the relationship more generally. Essentially, I need to ask for some boundaried contact outside the sessions, whether it be a midweek text just to ‘check in’, or a quick phonecall later in the week just to maintain the connection. Basically I need some form of confirmation that we are still connected in the relationship so that the sessions don’t bomb on a Monday because I have lost all sense of her in the week and don’t trust her to be there and not abandon me.

Monday is going to be hard because I am completely rubbish at expressing my needs. I don’t like feeling so dependent and needy. But mostly I am massively fearful of her refusing to do either of those things when it will take a serious amount courage to ask in the first place. I asked for a double session just after Christmas and she said no and I basically ended up self-harming because I feel so stupid for expressing a need and not getting it met. I know that I will feel so rejected and uncared for again even if there is a good reason for not engaging in either of those activities, from her perspective.

I guess looking for another therapist was about rejecting my therapist before she has chance to reject me. This therapy business really isn’t easy is it?…particularly when your attachment style is disorganised and your cumulative life experiences/relationships have only heightened your fear of abandonment and rejection. Looking back over some of my close relationships, it’s almost as though my attachment style acts as a map to create these issues time and again. I either push people away, shutting them out so they end up leaving or I cling on so tightly that they feel smothered, or yo-yo back and forth between the two. I hope my therapist can handle my volatility. I think she can.

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So back to the title, which I really haven’t stuck to at all – therapy hurts sometimes, a lot of the time actually, and sometimes it doesn’t. Right now I feel ok about how things are, like I might have turned a bit of a corner as I head into the weekend. I really hope that I am able to go to session and talk it out with her on Monday. The problem is, I have no idea who will arrive in session, how long they’ll stay for, or who else may show up along the way.

I guess we’ll wait and see!

 

 

Why does physical illness always go hand in hand with a mental health crash?

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Look, I apologise in advance for this. It’s basically an, ‘I’m really poorly, am feeling sorry for myself, and I really miss my therapist’ ramble written from under the duvet, on a Friday night, whilst my wife is out at a gig that I am too ill to go to.

My immune system is beyond crap. My blood levels have never fully recovered despite it being nearly two years since I completed my last round of chemo. As a result of depleted lymphocytes, my infection fighting capacity is pretty non-existent. The doctors had hoped that things would’ve improved by now, but unfortunately my body is stubborn and has decided it would rather pick up and fight every bug that is going! I’ve been ill for almost two weeks now with the exhausting cold, cough, chest infection, no voice thing that’s doing the rounds. I’m so so bored of it. I just don’t have capacity in my life to be ill and still.

I thought I was getting better at the start of the week, hence the fact that I managed to drag myself to therapy on Monday albeit sounding pretty husky. By Tuesday, though, the dry, croupy sounding cough headed south and turned one of my lungs into some kind of gurgling swamp and I suddenly felt like I’d had all my energy burgled from my body during the night.

I finally made it to the doctors on Wednesday. By which time both my lungs sounded like crackling Autumn leaves being trodden on every time I tried to breathe. I’d spent the whole night trying to sleep propped on the sofa in between coughing fits but it was all a disaster. I know that I need to get better at seeking help before I am completely on my knees but I always worry about people thinking I’m some kind of malingerer or hypochondriac….which is I guess a hangover from all the doctor visits when I was misdiagnosed with my cancer where I was repeatedly sent away (fobbed off!).

I didn’t see my GP (apparently she’s retired) instead I saw a stony-faced misery guts with GP qualifications. I was really only there about the chest infection so it didn’t really matter that she had the bedside manner of a cadaver. The annoying thing is, though, that I could’ve been there about anything: my mental health, or illness, depending on which way you look at it has been pretty bad for the last six months or so.

Realistically after the huge anxiety attack I had a few weeks ago, coupled with the negative feelings I’ve been having about my body and the urge to self-harm it would have been good to air some of those concerns and discuss the possibility of medication for the times when things get out of control. Of course I didn’t say anything, I just took my prescription for antibiotics and went home. I didn’t feel comfortable telling her anything about my emotional state. I wonder how many people feel like this about their doctors?

By the time it got to yesterday I couldn’t even get out of bed. I was absolutely knackered and felt like my body was made of lead. My wife had to take the day off work to look after our son as I just couldn’t move or function in any meaningful way.

I’m not really here to moan about how ill I feel, what I wanted to talk about is how I’ve noticed that when I am poorly my ability to function effectively in a mental/emotional sense is seriously compromised. I wondered if any else has noticed this in themselves?

I’ve said before that I struggle to maintain the connection with my therapist between sessions and that I hate midweek especially. It’s so tough. It’s essentially when the little parts of me are most active and start to overwhelm me. It’s the time when I most feel like I need to check in with Em, to ask whether she’s still there, that things are still ok, and that something hasn’t happened that has changed the relationship.

It’s a really tricky position to be in because that tiny, screaming, terrified bit of me that is totally uncontained is desperate to reach out to her and seek reassurance but the thing is, when I do that, she doesn’t respond and so that desperate little girl feels completely abandoned and then can’t trust her when we go to therapy.

So this week has been hideous. Because I have been so poorly it’s felt as though my adult has jumped ship or died. I haven’t had the physical or emotional strength to hold it all together and my little ones have had free run of my mind. I’ve felt like I am completely emotionally unanchored. I feel like I need grounding and holding tightly. I have been so ill that I’ve stayed in bed and hugged pillows to try and settle and soothe those little parts, but it hasn’t helped and I just feel lost. This small inner child is desperate to be held close and I don’t know how to do that for myself so it’s become overwhelming. I really could use a transitional object – not that I’ve said this before!

I always miss my therapist between sessions but this week it all feels unmanageable, like a life and death situation. I feel like my filter is down and I desperately want to tell her how I feel and how much I miss her. I want to tell her how scared and vulnerable I feel. I basically want some kind of reassurance from her that things are safe still. Rationally I know that everything is fine and that we can work through some of this stuff on Monday but the child parts don’t get any of it. They just want to be cuddled…by her…NOW!

It’s tragic really and I know it’s basically my wonderful friend ‘maternal transference’ doing the rounds. I know that this desire to be taken care of and nurtured back to health comes from my childhood where I was never cared for or fussed over when I was sick. More often than not I was packed off to school because my parents were busy, or sent down to a relative because, ha, my parents were busy. Always too busy.

When I was a bit older and my parents had split up I was left at home in bed when I felt unwell. My day would be spent drinking Lucozade, making toast, and watching Supermarket Sweep and the lunchtime episode of Neighbours….and then watching the repeat again at 5:40pm. There was no one there to take my temperature, hold me close, bring me treats etc. There was never anyone there.

I think so much of how I feel when I am ill (or well for that matter) stems from this feeling of my not being important or worthy of care and affection. I always felt like an inconvenience, something to be managed (when ill) and so now, it’s little wonder that when I feel like there is someone who maybe does demonstrate some care and compassion (Em) I want to latch onto it and hold it greedily against my chest, or place it inside myself. I want that person to be there when I am sick.

I feel like a whiny kid writing this, but actually that’s exactly what it is, I currently have a bunch of whiny kids loose inside that want to be held and contained and my adult who is really just a crap babysitter isn’t even available to try and do the job.

I hope I am well enough to go to session next on Monday – pray to the antiobiotic gods! – as I don’t think I can cope with a missed session right now. As the title of my blog suggests, I’m ‘holding it together with rubber bands and chewing gum’ – it’s fairly precarious.

The one positive from being this poorly is that I haven’t got the energy to think about physical self-harm and I am not eating much because I feel rough and so that in itself is enough to take care of the anorexic voice for now. It’s a sad day when you feel lucky that you’re only dealing with illness and attachment issues!

I literally just want to be held. I know it can’t happen. I want to cry.

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I wrote this poem over the Easter break and gave it to my therapist (must’ve been having a brave day!).  It still feels really relevant today:

Not here

I am not in your presence

but, oh

how painfully aware of your absence I have become.

 

Time and distance

stretch

out

endlessly

between us…

 

You are so far away.

 

The holding place in my mind

struggles hard to keep you whole

 

Are you merely a figment of my imagination?

A hologram, perhaps?

 

*

 

Even when within my reach

you always feel so very far away

 

I can see you,

feel you, but

I cannot touch you.

 

That small space

opens up like a vast ocean

I stand on one shore

you on the other

 

You beckon for me to join you

promise to be my guide

and to witness the lessons of the Self

that only I can teach

myself.

 

For the longest time I have waited

warily watching

assessing the dangers that might lurk hidden

in the deep.

 

I believe I will reach you –

eventually

(is it misplaced confidence or simply wishful thinking?)

and so I begin the swim.

 

My muscles relax into a familiar rhythm.

The hardest, aching parts of me begin to soften

as the distance between us lessens.

 

It’s farther than I thought, though, and

sometimes cold

sometimes silent

sometimes strange –

The horizon keeps shifting.

 

I tread water a while

rest and catch my breath.

I look up and discover that

I can no longer see you.

 

Panic.

 

a sudden shiver

a lightning bolt

 

Both sea and sky shift rapidly

calm blues now rage-filled greys

Angry, turbulent clouds roll heavily in

raining hot tears down like shiny silvery bullets.

My fear rises alongside the storm-whipped waves

 

I am exposed

I am scared

 

Is there still safety on your shore?

I can’t be sure.

But it’s swim or drown

and so I keep moving.

 

There’s no going back.

I must have faith in what I feel

And trust in what cannot be seen.

 

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BPD, or not BPD: that is the question?

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BPD isn’t a new ‘thing’ on my radar, it’s something that’s been circling in the background of my mind (where the cobwebs and half-eaten biscuits are) for about four years now. When I read the descriptors for BPD all that time ago, I was like, ‘Omg that’s so me!’ Rather inconveniently I made this discovery once I had actually finished my period of therapy with Em and so never really thought much about it. But it’s back in my mind, front and centre, at the miniute and so I wanted to have a waffle about it, a bit, before I go to therapy on Monday – stinking cold permitting, of course (thanks kids!).

*

Christmas break 2016 was an emotional disaster zone for me. Oh but what did you expect?! ha! ‘Tis the season to be jolly’, or rather I feel, more accurately ‘Tis the season for pretending that we all like each other and actually want to spend time with one another whilst re-enacting outdated and weird family dynamics’. But maybe that’s just my family!

I largely survived Christmas day by spending a great deal of time in the kitchen cooking dinner! Don’t get me wrong, the time before my mum and husband arrived was completely wonderful and relaxed. My wife and I were happy despite the 5am wake up call. Our little family unit was full of joy as we slobbed in our onesies.

Christmas morning was all that it should be with small children: smiles, laughter, ripping off wrapping paper fast enough to set a world record.  They had no idea that this one day had resulted in Santa maxing out his credit card and that January would now mean lots of pasta meals!

By Christmas night I felt like I was going to have a breakdown and took myself off to bed to hide, cry, shake, get swallowed up in unexplained misery. I suppose it’s not really surprising that things felt difficult having spent the majority day with my mum playing ‘happy families’ and yet feeling emotionally cut off from her, not getting a hug (not that I want one anymore), and feeling like there is a huge distance between us.

I know I need to let it go and move on but there’s just so much unprocessed hurt in me still and it’s only really coming to light now. My adult gets on well with my mum and can see her for the flawed human she is, but my little ones feel unseen and abandoned just in the way they were 30 years ago by someone they idolise.

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Just to be clear, one of may favourite places to be is my bed but it’s also where I seek refuge. I like sleep and am currently working on about a three year sleep defecit since having my children. I see way too much of 6am and cannot believe that 7am feels like a lie in! As a result of ALWAYS feeling tired and/or emotional I take to my bed like a neurotic heroine from a Victorian novel whenever the opportunity arises, i.e the kids are at school or are in bed.

Suddenly, that evening, as I lay curled up in a ball under the duvet, in a way that hadn’t really happened before, all the little parts made themselves known and caused complete havoc. I was all over the place. I felt so lost, lonely, and uncontained. I was scared. In that moment of abject misery my thoughts went to one place. I wasn’t sad about my mum, instead I was distressed about not having my therapist nearby. Yay. Lovely maternal transference my old pal! ha!

I absolutely longed to see Em and yet at the same time I wanted nothing to do with her. I missed her so much that it physically hurt and yet part of me was raging and hated her. I desperately wanted the break to end and yet part of me couldn’t care less about seeing her again. I needed her but I didn’t want to need her. I craved closeness and proximity but needed to isolate myself and protect myself. I wanted to let her in and yet I didn’t want her to have the power to hurt me. It was an exhausting emotional dance, two partners pushing and pulling against each other rather than working together. I really struggle with this inner conflict and often feel like I am tearing myself in two.

*

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Towards the end of the therapy in 2013 my therapist told me that I struggled with emotional intimacy. Which I thought was funny because I had never really noticed. I think because I feel things so intensely I kind of assumed that emotional intimacy must be part and parcel of that. It wasn’t until I really thought about it that I knew she was completely right. I feel things, I ache, I have huge emotional dialogues…with myself. It all takes place internally.

I care a great deal about people, when I love someone I really love them, but I don’t necessarily show it or really let anyone in. On the outside I can appear cold and stand-offish, particularly if I care about how someone views me. Even my wife says there is a part of me that she just cannot get to, that there’s a part of me that is so heavily defended that she has no idea how to reach it.

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I know that my struggle with emotional intimacy stems from being hurt and childhood trauma.  The feeling I have about needing to protect myself and being wary of trusting people hasn’t ever been on a conscious level, I don’t think, it’s my innate survival relational pattern. It’s only now I am able to understand why I am the way I am. I still don’t fully know how to change it but what I do know is that much of it will come from repeatedly playing out things in the therapeutic relationship, until I reach a point where I realise and trust that she isn’t going to deliberately hurt me, abandon me, or make me feel like I am too much.

*

After the Christmas break, I returned to therapy and the first thing I said as I sat down was, ‘do you think I have BPD?’. I mean seriously, most people would surely have asked, ‘so how was your Christmas?’ or perhaps said something along the lines of ‘it’s really nice to see you again. Christmas was tricky and I have loads I want to talk about’. Yeah, that’s just not me!! I can talk around the edges for ages and then every now and then I just launch straight at it – picture a running dive bomb!

So, my therapist sat for a moment, and then said, ‘Not necessarily. What makes you think that?’ Hmm is that a cop out of not? I don’t know. I talked a lot about how I operate in my relationships and this push/pull thing that goes on in my head, but she never said what she thought when I had finished. I still don’t know what she thinks because I haven’t returned to that question since.

She often says things about how she doesn’t want to pathologise me and that given what’s happened to me how I behave is understandable.  We’ve spoken a lot about my being a ‘highly sensitive person’ and I certainly more than fit the criteria for that: http://hsperson.com/  but I think my behaviour since Christmas would indicate that there’s a strong case to be made for a BPD diagnosis but hey, who knows, I’m a mixed bag of nuts!

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Actually, this whole post has come about because I’ve just seen a video on my Facebook feed (see below) and I wonder if the reason my therapist didn’t say ‘yes’ when I asked her about BPD is not because I don’t fit the criteria but rather the label is not always helpful. At the core of it all are significant issues with attachment and trauma. Diagnosis or not it wouldn’t change the therapy and perhaps it is easier to view things from a perspective of having a difficult childhood rather than labelling. I don’t know.

I thought it was an interesting perspective. What do you think?