What I hear vs What is said: Communication in therapy.

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I’ve been in therapy with my therapist a good long while now; in fact it’s been six years since I first wandered into the rather cold and depressingly decorated consulting room in my local NHS Mental Health Hospital (after a three year wait no less!) to begin a year of psychodynamic psychotherapy…at least I think that’s what we were doing!

Picture a small room with a tiny window at one end, two not particularly comfortable brown chairs (the kind where the back isn’t high enough to lean back comfortably and the sides are so tight that you are forced to keep your feet on the floor – no curling legs up underneath yourself!), a fluorescent strip light in the ceiling a la Girl Interrupted, woodchip wallpaper and durable office-style carpet (again brown) and you’d be in the room.

It was a consulting room like many others in the NHS I guess, nothing homely or that in any way reflects the therapist that works inside it – because many therapists use the room. It was as blank a space as the blank screen that my therapist was to me at that time. I’m not really moaning, though. I will always look back fondly on my Wednesdays in that cold little room in the grey stone building because it was there that I met my  therapist by complete chance.

I could’ve been allocated to anyone in the Psychotherapy Department as a space became available on their caseload but somehow fate decided that she would be my therapist and I am so glad it was her because when I had had a couple of assessment sessions in order to go on the waiting list I hadn’t warmed to the therapist AT ALL. I really didn’t like her and dreaded the thought of having to possibly work with her.

The moment I met my therapist I liked her. In fact looking back over my diary after the first session I wrote ‘Uh oh, I really like this one. She seems really nice’… ha!…wakey wakey attachment issues I knew nothing about at that point!!

Little did I know when we met back in 2012 that (after a too lengthy break – damn Cancer!) I’d now be seeing her privately in her home, in her very lovely consulting room by the sea. It’s a medium sized room but feels homely, with neutral – but not bland- soft furnishings, cream carpet (she must be mad!), a pale blue leather sofa and her IKEA therapist chair (you know the one!), chunky style natural/driftwood wooden furniture, several completely filled bookcases (and not just therapy books), art work and a wooden Buddha watching over proceedings. It’s lovely.

It’s amazing how a nice environment can help make things feel more relaxed. Ok, perhaps ‘relaxed’ isn’t the right word here but I do find that the familiar environment is a place I (mostly!) look forward to spending time each week; it’s a little oasis of calm where I can bring my storm and try and get settled and grounded before venturing back out into the real world. Of course that space, just like the little room in the hospital, would be nothing without the person that sits opposite me from week to week trying to help me navigate my way through my almighty mess.

Yes. I can see how this is getting a bit gushing…but that’s because tonight I am feeling nothing but love for my therapist. I would not, however, have been writing in this way on Wednesday about the therapeutic relationship! I haven’t seen her or communicated with her since our session on Monday and yet how I feel about her, and where the therapy is going, is a world apart from earlier on in the week when I was hurt and raging and devastated and considering terminating… and that is why I have chosen to write this particular post about what I hear in therapy sessions.

I trust my therapist (well the adult part of me does), and for the most part our in session communication goes ok – good even. Of course sometimes she says things that immediately hit a nerve or piss me off, but more often than not sessions go fine. I can see and feel that she is making an effort with me – and frankly I am not easy to work with. My window (letterbox!) of tolerance is minute and I can swing into a dissociation with no warning whatsoever. All through that she is with me and as steady and patient as a….what? Can’t think of a decent simile. She is patient!

Generally I leave therapy feeling ok and sometimes I feel very connected. And yet I keep stumbling over the same issue again and again and that is, as if by clockwork, the moment I leave the room and start driving home, things start to shift and morph into something else – something negative. What was a good session suddenly becomes terrible and I feel like she doesn’t care about me and before too long I’ve had enough of therapy, am angry and want to terminate.

I really feel for a couple of my friends who week-in week-out listen to me rant on about how ‘terrible everything is’ and how ‘I am done with this’ and how ‘unfair it all seems and why can’t she just give me what I need?’ and ‘why doesn’t she show me she cares?’ and they patiently coach me through my fluctuating emotions. It’s hard work being in my head on Tuesday and Wednesday and they must feel so bored by now!

The problem I, like so many of you, have is that is what my therapist says to me in session hits so many different trauma parts: Little Me, Four, Seven, Eleven, The Teen and not just my adult self. Communication, therefore, is really complicated between me and my therapist. She has frequently commented that it is hard to say something that is adequately soothing and talks to all the different parts of me. What the little ones need is very different to the teen and sometimes it is hard for her to know exactly who she should be talking to because I give very little away at times. And we all know that the littlest ones don’t really want to be talked to at all and nothing but physical holding will feel enough for them.

I can hide behind my adult self and she’d be none the wiser that the tiny two year old girl is crying inside. I actually think the coping adult front I bring to session is more damaging than when I shut down in a dissociated silence or the protector parts put things on lockdown. At least when I am like that she knows something is up and can try and connect to whatever part is having a hard time. When I (adult) go in, am articulate and talk about things (but not necessarily the things I really need to talk about) she has no clue that I am not telling her what I need to or that I will leave feeling uncontained and spiral in the week.

I am getting better at telling her how things feel but sometimes it doesn’t go well or sometimes, like last week, I leave what I really need to say to the last minute and we don’t have adequate time to discuss it and then I feel like I am left with loose ends and not quite clear communications. Ugh. Must do better at this.

I doubt you’ll be surprised to hear that I didn’t ask her to sit closer to me or tell her how much her moving closer to me the other week had impacted me – AAAARRRRGGGH! I can’t remember what we actually spoke about during the session, now! It was ‘stuff I needed to talk about’ but it wasn’t #1 on the list stuff that eats away at me!

With ten minutes to go I decided I needed to ask her about wtf was going on with the pebbles:

Why, when we came back from Christmas break, did you say that you felt like I was trying to script what you needed to say in the text messages and yet for such a long time you’ve been asking me what I want you to write on the pebbles? It doesn’t make any sense.’

I mean launching into a discussion about the text communications that caused the rupture and the failing effort at a transitional object with only ten minutes remaining wasn’t exactly a genius plan was it? The thing is, sometimes it takes me that long to build up the courage or feel safe enough to bring these things up – so in some ways it’s better with ten to go than not at all…

We talked a surprising amount and whilst she didn’t say anything explicitly hurtful or unempathic (adult knows this to be the case and can hear it on the recording that that’s not how she is EVER) once I had asked that question I felt a shift in myself. Adult may have appeared to be fronting the show but actually all of a sudden the most vulnerable traumatised parts switched their ears on and were listening intently to everything that was said, analysing every word and subtle nuance, projecting a narrative onto the conversation. Inside was a running monologue: ‘What is she saying? What does she really mean? Does she like me? Does she care? This feels rejecting. No she doesn’t like me. I hate that I need her and love her when she clearly feels nothing…’

I’m struggling to articulate clearly what I want here, but basically the moment I asked the question there was a part of me, if not several, that was automatically searching for confirmation of my deep held belief: she doesn’t care and no one loves me because there is something inherently wrong with me. To be honest no matter what she had have said I doubt I would have heard anything vaguely positive because I am so conditioned to hearing this negative narrative – even when it is nowhere near the case.

My therapist said that she often feels that whilst a part of me wants to be told affirming things and to be loved there is another part that is absolutely terrified of that and wants to run away from it or rubbish and reject it as not being genuine.

Every time she says that it drives me mad inside. Whilst she is right (I recognise this more and more now) it feels really rejecting to the part that does want the affirmation and clear displays of love and care. It feels like she is saying ‘you can’t handle what you want and so I won’t give it to you’. I feel like shouting at her ‘I’m not going to die if you give me more warmth or clear demonstrations of care and maybe if you do it enough I’ll stop doubting you and attacking myself for needing you and convincing myself that you clearly don’t care about me’.

It feels really like a Catch 22 situation. I feel like I need her to be more demonstrative in how she feels towards me and yet she feels like it would send me over the edge if she did. It sends me over the edge as things are so what’s the answer?

We left it that we would work more actively with the pebbles especially as there is the Easter therapy break coming up shortly – nooooooooooo!!!!!!! And so that is a good thing, I guess. I am a bit reluctant about how it’s all going to go. It feels like something simple has become unnecessarily complicated. My therapist said she felt that perhaps I thought she had been too pedantic or pernickety about it but that she wanted it to feel right and genuine. I, of course, heard that as ‘I don’t want to write lies on the stones and therefore have not done it because I don’t want to say anything positive about this relationship when I don’t feel it’.

Anyway, yet again I have navigated my way through the emotional rollercoaster that is the week between sessions. It is Saturday night and I feel quite stable and content in the fact that my therapist is out there, cares about me, and that she will be there on Monday and we can talk – who knows I might tell her all the angst I’ve felt this week about the conversation we had and about the one we didn’t have (proximity).

It’s strange. I always feel quite motivated and able to take these things to session at this point in the week. Monday morning at 10:30….a whole other story!

Ugh!

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Skype Session #2

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I wonder if I am just really rubbish at managing my time or if life is just taking the piss out of me right now? Finding time in my week to write is proving really difficult and so I’m not doing very well with keeping up to date with my blog at the moment. I know it’s not exactly a priority task, it can wait (of course it can), but actually this page has proven a very useful outlet and so I resent not being able to write. I have loads I want to say – but who knows when I will actually get round to writing it all down?

More often than not, I don’t even get to the ‘sitting down to write’ stage. This week has just been unrelenting. The level of stress and anxiety I have been under has been hideous and whilst I have longed for an hour to myself to be able to sit, splurge, and get it all out (the therapy stuff), the opportunity hasn’t presented itself until now.  Having said that, I am glad that I spent a bit of time writing to my teen midweek as things were/are pretty dire inside.

Frankly, it’ll be some kind of miracle if this post gets finished before I leave for my session tomorrow. I am so tired and overwrought that my brain just won’t work quite as it usually does.

Tomorrow is Monday and whilst I don’t necessarily want to write a blog post about every session I have – frankly that’d be dull as shit most of the time:

It started off fine; something happened and I got upset; my body reacted –numb/shaking; I dissociated; I couldn’t talk; child/teen felt distressed, critic dropped by; managed to talk a bit in last ten minutes; did/did not feel connected at end of session! Went home and brooded all week…attachment pain hell.

(Honestly, I really don’t need to any write new posts after that, do I? I can just keep posting that paragraph over and over! Time problems and blog writing issue solved – yay!)

Seriously though, I do want to keep myself in some kind of sensible chronology with these posts. i.e if there’s a session I want to talk about then I did ought to try and write about it before the next session comes along and shunts it into the half-remembered place in my brain where everything gets even more scrambled.

Right so, onwards to the ‘post’ – 400 words in and I’ve not said a thing yet. Is this procrastination or just an over-tired semi-manic state? Both probably.

This time last week I was stuck here writing about what to do about my session, knowing I couldn’t make it in person because my kids had been sick. In fact I was still stuck at 8:30am on Monday morning – the last moment I had to cancel or ask for a Skype session. The internal conflict was still going strong but in the end I did ask to do a session by Skype because I felt that I’d probably have a meltdown midweek if I passed up the opportunity to talk….turns out I had a spectacular meltdown even with the session, though. Ugh!

Once I decided that Skype was what I wanted to do I ….prepared for my session by thinking about what I wanted to say cleaned the house! (I’m not sure strike through always shows up on the WordPress reader so for those of you who are on it I DID NOT SPEND TIME thinking about my session until two minutes before I dialled in but blitzed my house instead!)

So yeah, by 10:28am the house was lovely and tidy: I’d hoovered, steam mopped the floors, cleaned the kitchen and bathrooms, dusted, cleaned mirrors, watered the plants, etc. I know. That’s fucking mental isn’t it?! Like seriously, the camera on the laptop probably gives a square metre of visibility and the place that I sat on the sofa in my dining room had received no special attention at all- but for some reason it seemed completely sensible to run round the house like a headless chicken/possessed domestic goddess/Cinderella creature and clean, clean, clean!

I don’t know if it was avoidance or what. I left myself just enough time to get showered and dressed before plonking myself on the couch and scribbling some very last minute prompts on some post it notes…something I had been meaning to all week (the notes, not the shower!)

Things have been a bit (a lot) difficult since coming back after the Christmas therapy break. The rupture that happened over the exchange of a couple of texts which led to me feel even more abandoned and rejected than usual hasn’t been repaired yet. We’ve made inroads into discussing what happened and, had I have had a face-to-face session last Monday, I knew there were things I absolutely needed to bring up and work though – even though it would be excruciating.

Sitting staring at the screen I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to bring those things up via Skype. Part of me thought that knowing that I tend to remain in a more adult headspace via Skype might allow me to speak more freely and tackle the difficult stuff because it would be unlikely that I’d switch into a young trauma part. On the other hand, not being in the room with my therapist might make it feel even more difficult to bring up some of the stuff that was hurting me still because the sense of connection would feel more stretched.

With a couple of minutes remaining before the session I wrote some questions/prompts (I’ve since tidied them up as the initial ones were barely legible and non-sensical) and stuck them round the edge of my laptop screen:

  • Last week I started crying when you moved and sat closer to me to do the migraine exercise. Can we talk about what happened and think about our proximity to one another?
  • You said in the first session back that you felt that my texts at Christmas were me trying to script you to say something, and that you wouldn’t do that because it wouldn’t have helped if you’d have said exactly what I’d have wanted – why then have you asked me so many times about what I might want you to write on the pebbles?
  • In September it was you that suggested writing me a note for on breaks. It/the pebbles haven’t happened and the break was dire. Can we work on this please?
  • You said something about not colluding with the child part that wants to be held because we can’t recreate what that part needs and the time has passed for that. I understand that but it felt like you were saying that working with the child parts explicitly is a no go – is this what you were saying?
  • When I dissociate I often end up stuck in a very young child part and it is really traumatised. When you sit and wait for me to say something I can’t, the adult part is offline, but your stillness makes it feel like the still face exercise* and it is agony. How can we work round this?

Anyway, I was all prepped and ready to go… and those post-it notes did not get a look in! Sigh! It’s almost comical isn’t it?!

Actually, the session was good despite my not bring up ANY of that stuff. To be honest just talking about how ill my kids and I had been; how exhausted and drained I have felt; how worried I am about my wife’s skin cancer; and a bunch of other things about my mum was what I needed. I just needed someone to listen to me about my life in the here and now – the hard stuff that is going on for me the adult and how some of it is triggering stuff for the young parts.

My therapist asked how I felt about Skype. I said that it felt different and like the session was really bad timing given where we were at right now, and that I felt like all the stuff that was bothering me was on hold. She acknowledged that it felt different, that there had been a lot that had come up recently in the therapy, how difficult breaks are, and that she hoped we could come back to that material and work through it together when I am ready.

So yeah, it wasn’t like we completely ignored the ‘therapeutic relationship’ stuff. We just didn’t dive right in. My therapist said she thought that given everything that was going on in my life right now it might be a good thing to have the lighter sort of session. I agree.

I spoke a lot about my mum – which actually doesn’t happen all that often. She’d gone off on holiday and hadn’t told me when she was going or where she was going. This is unusual. I usually get some kind of text as they are in the airport departure lounge and so it stuck me a couple of weeks ago that perhaps she was gone but hadn’t contacted me to let me know. This triggered all sorts of panic in me. No joke.

Firstly, I like to know when she is gone/due back and a brief itinerary of her whereabouts, travel insurance details because my dad died abroad whilst on holiday and it fell to me to liaise with the travel insurance company to get his body moved from a remote Thai island to Bangkok, to arrange his cremation, and then for his ashes and belongings to be flown home to the UK. I literally have panic attacks thinking about that month in 2008 and whilst I doubt very much my mum is going to die abroad, I’d at least like to know where she was if that did happen.

Anyway, then I started to get into an anxious spiral. Why did she leave without telling me? Had something happened and she’s in a mood with me? Cue all the young parts in terror. ‘What could I have done to annoy her? Why is she mad? Why is she withholding? What if she’s stumbled across this blog?’ And other totally irrational thoughts. The parallels between this and how things have been in therapy with my therapist are not lost on me!

I sent a couple of emails to my mum but knew she wouldn’t have her phone set up where she was going. Eventually on Wednesday she text me and then we spoke on the phone. NOTHING WRONG AT ALL. She’d had a great holiday and had been back a few days…

Panic over.

The thing is, she has no idea that a change in the pattern of our communications basically sent me over the edge into full blown anxiety. Whilst I clearly am not massively close to my mum our relationship has come on a very long way since my teens. I am processing a lot in therapy. I am both angry and disappointed that what I had growing up was lacking and has, in part, caused me such relational difficulties.

I wish I felt loved by mum, or the little girl part longs for that still – hence the mess in therapy with my therapist. That part so desperately wants to feel loved and is attached to my therapist now. My adult understands that my mum did her best, it just wasn’t quite enough. I understand that how she demonstrates care and love is not through the more regular channels of affirmations and holding.

The thought of what we have built up now being eroded because of her finding this blog was horrendous. I don’t want to hurt her. It’s not like anything I write isn’t true. It’s just that the adult part of me is learning to settle for what I do have now, and I appreciate the relationship that I have with her as her adult child. This blog, and my therapy, are about processing the pain of my childhood. So it’s tricky. I couldn’t bear to lose what I have now even though it is not quite enough for the young parts.

Anyway, I’ve gone off on tangent there. What a surprise! Ha.

So, yeah, the therapy session via Skype was good. It felt connecting. I think, in part, this is also down to the sense of proximity. That might sounds bonkers given that we were clearly 30 miles apart and communicating through a screen. But what is different in Skype is how much closer to me my therapist feels – i.e her face is closer to the screen and so she appears closer to me than when she is in her chair.

This is what I had sort of discovered with her moving closer to me in the previous session and why I really want to work on getting the chairs right now. It seems like such a small thing, but I think it could make a huge difference. I just need to pluck up the courage to talk about it ‘please sit closer to me!’ Knowing me I’ll just hand over the post-its and go from there! Lol.

Just before the end of the session I took my laptop into my living room and showed my therapist my, now, nearly six year old daughter and they had a little chat together. It was lovely. The last time my therapist saw my daughter she was 15 months old. She used to come to my therapy sessions as I started psychotherapy on the NHS when she was a month old and I was breastfeeding and didn’t have childcare.

My therapist said some lovely things about my daughter and how I was doing a really good job with her (of course I rebuffed that with a sarcastic comment – but I did feel happy inside!) then it was time to go.

It was a good session.

Sadly the rest of the week since then has been complete shit. I won’t go into it now…it’s a whole other post….when I get round to it! Just suffice to say, I thought I was at bottom a couple of weeks ago. Turns out there was a trap door. Ffs.

Anyway, that’s that. Wish me luck tomorrow!

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Grief.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last night’s dream:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ouch.

What happens when you’re no longer here?

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I said to my therapist on Monday that I felt like the house in The Wizard of Oz when the tornado hits. I feel so up in the air and out of control. It’s as though I am perpetually spiralling all over the place, being battered by high winds and debris… it’s not good and it feels dangerous. I know the house survives the journey to Oz but it’s a bit touch and go whilst it’s being whipped up in a whirlwind isn’t it?

She probably thought I was specifically referring to how I felt about my friend dying on Sunday but I wasn’t. Yes, of course, this recent bereavement has knocked me off my feet to an even greater extent than before but if you read this blog you’ll know that I have been stumbling, tripping and then sliding along on my arse for a good while now. In any case, the ‘being caught in a storm’ metaphor is not new.

Everything has been a mess for a really long time. And yet, I doubt up until the point when I made that analogy she’d have had any idea that that is how I have been feeling more recently.

Since Christmas I’d say that my therapy sessions usually follow one of a few patterns: I fluctuate between speaking round the edges and not hitting the main point, trying to clue her in but feeling too exposed and vulnerable to really spell out how I feel – my body language and facial expressions make it pretty clear that stuff is bothering me, though; sometimes I am so overwhelmed by my feelings that I become quiet and withholding and it’s like we’re swimming through treacle; sometimes I dump my writing on her (letter/blog post/poem) and then retreat into myself as I watch her read my thoughts and feelings and then we try and unpick it all; and sometimes I get so frustrated, raging and upset that my silence is less benign and I wonder what the hell I am doing in a room with someone who simply couldn’t care less about me.

My fear of rejection and/or abandonment makes therapy a really difficult place to be.

But none of that is how I have been presenting over the last few sessions we’ve had. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t enjoy any of those ways of being I’ve listed above, but I do feel like when I am in those states I am in the moment and connected with some difficult emotions even if I can’t necessarily articulate how I am feeling in words. I do get the sense that I am there with my therapist and we can hopefully peel back the layers to get to what’s underneath.

When I am like that I feel like I at least trust her enough to show her in a non-verbal way that things are hard. So I am a bit cross with myself at the moment because I feel like I’ve almost gone back in time to the very early days of therapy- you know, the bit where you meet them for the first time and then steadily try and suss them out over a few months, behave yourself, and don’t show them too much of the crazy!

She commented in session last week that I have been different in the two sessions we’d just had (Monday/Friday). That’s true. I hadn’t taken the vulnerable bits with me to talk because I couldn’t. I had retreated into myself and was trying to go it alone, to an extent. I’ve been sitting neatly in my adult, chatting away like you would to anyone. There haven’t been many long, awkward pauses or any really difficult emotions spilling out. In fact I’d go so far as to say there has been no emotion at all. It’s all been very matter of fact. I’ve been speaking from the rational side of my brain and have been totally disconnected from the emotional part. And yet when I am not in that room it feels like I am drowning inside…

Only the other day I was blogging about how big a deal it would be for me to potentially move away from my therapist and I wrote that highly emotive piece about how it was feeling for me. SHE HAS NO IDEA ABOUT THOSE FEELINGS because I haven’t told her about them! She has no reason to suspect that actually things are no different than they have been in the more gruelling sessions because I’m not showing her any of that. It must look as though the anxiety and depression have magically evaporated. They haven’t. It’s all still there. It hasn’t gone away. It’s just buried. I’ve put my mask back on. For some reason I am not comfortable showing her anything other than my game face at the moment – the one I wear in the outside world.

Despite having been a complete emotional wreck since Friday when I learned my friend was receiving end of life/palliative care and then completely crumbling when I received the news of Sunday that she had died, for some reason I couldn’t stay with those overwhelming feelings and bring that desperately sad and vulnerable part of me into session on Monday. The bit that is devastated and needs support and holding was left in the car. I had been crying the entire journey driving to therapy but my tears promptly dried up as I headed up the driveway to my session. Why is that? Why can’t I let her see that part of me?

The other week my therapist told me that she had an image of an iceberg with lots of bits broken off it come into her mind – that I’m really fragile and precarious. I’ve been thinking a lot about that, and wondering if that is how I am? Isolated, icy cold and unreachable? There’s an irony in this because whilst I don’t at all doubt that’s how I come across, at times, it is the complete opposite of what’s going on underneath ….or maybe it’s that thing, we can see what’s on the surface but about 90% of an iceberg is beneath the surface of the water. I guess we need a submersible or some extreme dive gear!

I also wonder if part of me has been shutting down/backing away from her in the last few weeks because I knew that someone I really love, who I was very emotionally close to, was dying in hospital. Maybe, in some way, I was trying to protect myself from loss. I’ve told her before how there has always been a huge part of me that panics and worries that she is going to disappear. Sometimes it’s a fear of her leaving/abandoning me because I am too much and sometimes I worry that she is actually going to die. It seems ridiculous doesn’t it? But it is how it feels.

The long summer break is always really bad for this as it mirrors what happened with my dad: he was on a month long summer holiday and never came back. It’s awful. I genuinely feel sick the entire summer. Part of it is about her and obviously part of it is about my dad. My therapist has repeatedly told me that she isn’t going to give up on me or leave and that only an event beyond her control would mean our therapy would end. The thing is, death is beyond her control isn’t it? My dad had no control over his death and neither did my friend…and that’s terrifying for me.

And this is why, in part, I have been wittering on about the need for a holding message or a transitional object for such a long time. I am not exaggerating when I say that I operate from a place of high-anxiety in the week wondering if something has changed in the therapeutic relationship or if something bad is about to happen. As far as my brain is concerned, if I haven’t been abandoned yet, then it is only a matter of time. It is thoroughly exhausting.

I guess I should have got my act together and done something with the pebbles I collected from the beach. It’s not as though they haven’t been sitting in the room waiting from week to week. The thing is, I kind of don’t want to do anything with them now. It’s not because I don’t need something to hold on to. I totally do. This week, in particular, has been really difficult and I am struggling to hard to hang on to any positive sense of the relationship right now.

So what’s the issue? Why not spend some time working on and writing on the stones? Well, I don’t want to because I don’t want to have to write them myself. My therapist keeps encouraging me to think about what I want her to write on them,  and whilst I have an idea of the kind of thing I would like her to say, if I have to generate the content then it kind of negates the whole thing for me. It’s like buying and then dictating the message in your own birthday card – whilst the handwriting is someone else’s the feeling and the message is not theirs. They are not in it. What’s the point in that?

The whole idea was to try and create something that makes me feel as though there is something real and genuine between us, that therapy is not just some clinical exercise I put myself through each week, and that maybe she does care about me…because I really have no idea. So I just can’t be bothered with it right now. I feel terrible but this is not making it better, it’s actually highlighting the feelings I have about not being worthy of care and generally being unimportant. The idea of having a transitional object was to try and alleviate these feeling but even getting round to creating it has just reinforced them. I give up.

Maybe subconsciously I have also been withdrawing because I have realised just how caught up in needing my therapist I have become. I’ve said many times now that I feel like I need her just to survive at the moment and that the time between sessions feels like everything is falling apart. It’s not good. I don’t like feeling dependent on someone else because when I am it means that what they do, and how they are, impacts on me emotionally. If I need her then what happens when she isn’t there anymore?

Rather than allowing myself to get closer to her and seek comfort and support in her, perhaps I have been retreating because I can’t cope with the idea of her not being there anymore. And one day that is going to be the case isn’t it? The therapy bubble is going to burst somewhere down the road and I will be on my own again. A pebble isn’t going to change that! Isn’t it stupid, therefore, to get attached to someone that you can’t actually maintain a lifelong attachment to? Isn’t is just ultimately seeking out another heartbreak? Why am I doing that to myself? Why deliberately set myself up for an emotional loss?

I truly hope nothing happens to her and she lives a really full and long life but actually one day she will not be there for me any more just like my dad and my friend are no longer there for me. She may as well be dead when I walk out of therapy for the last time. I know technically I can always go back if necessary, but essentially the idea is that once it’s finished and terminated that is that. End of. Bye bye.

Right now I cannot imagine, or bear to think about, that day….because I am not ready and therapy has a long way to run yet….but it’s almost impossible for me to imagine a day where I will be ok with the idea of not seeing her, not being with her, having no contact.

It makes me feel ill.

It feels like the equivalent of a bereavement and that’s all too present in my mind at the moment. I am keenly aware of how it feels to lose someone. I am in complete denial that my friend is gone, that I have to attend her funeral next week, that I will never hug her or speak to her again. How will I never get a text message ping on my phone? How on earth can that be?

Of course I understand that by the time I get to the end of therapy I should feel differently and by the time we terminate I shouldn’t need my therapist or be impacted by her in the way that I am now. BUT right now I struggle to see how I will ever tolerate not having her in my life. I still can’t accept that my dad is gone. I still need him. It’s nine years down the line. I’m a ‘proper’ grown up with children of my own I shouldn’t ‘need’ my daddy… but I do. And now my friend is gone, and I have plenty of friends, but I need her. I want her.

So tell me please how I will be ok the day my therapist and I are no longer working together…

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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‘To sleep, perchance to dream’…but please, God, not about my therapist!

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I don’t know about you, but I bloody hate it when I have therapy dreams. This is because the dreams that feature my therapist are rarely positive for me and almost always leave me reeling and doubting the therapeutic relationship.

More often than not these dreams are incredibly detailed, emotionally intense, and feel real – so much so that I struggle to snap out of them and move back into reality when I wake up. There have been times when I have woken up from one of these dreams and have literally sobbed into my pillow because the pain of my therapist rejecting me (in the dream) has been so overwhelming.

It gets worse, though! Sometimes I am so affected by a dream that I then go and sabotage my ‘real life’ therapy sessions. If, in my dream, I’ve been really badly hurt by my therapist, it can feel as though all my trust in her and the relationship has eroded and needs building from scratch. I struggle to maintain connection with her from week to week anyway, but a bad dream can totally derail our sessions. Despite the fact that nothing has happened in reality, when I see her in person the hangover from the dream just kills me and I retreat into myself.

I wish I was joking, but sometimes I will have a great session, will talk and process loads, and leave on a real positive; then I’ll have a dream; the next week I go in and literally shut down on her for weeks on end because of something she hasn’t even done!

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Recently, I didn’t talk to her properly for a month because of a dream where she basically annihilated me emotionally. It was total agony in the dream and then excruciating being with her in session feeling on guard and alert to any potential replay of that situation. Part of me knew that none of it had happened but the residual feelings that were left over were just horrific. Once I finally settled down and built up trust in her again, I could tell her about the content of my dream but until that happened she got stonewalled.

(Just to be clear. If you haven’t worked it out by now, I really am just a catastrophic mental mess!… which is why I am in therapy 😉 )

I dream a lot and take a lot of dream content into my sessions but I really struggle with talking about therapy dreams. I feel reluctant to tell her how much she features in my waking thoughts and my dreams. I know that dreams are all about processing both conscious and unconscious material but I can’t help but feel like it’s a bit creepy. I mean it must just seem like I am obsessed with her.

I am so aware of not wanting to come over as ridiculously needy but it seems to me that this is what attachment trauma does to you when you finally find a new attachment figure. All the repressed feelings and needs come flooding out and it’s all-consuming.

Generally my therapy dreams mirror how a session would usually go. However in these dreams my defences are down, I am always really vulnerable with her, pour my heart out, get really upset, cry, and let everything out that I usually hold in in my actual sessions. In these dreams she is always kind, caring, understanding, and empathic – she is everything I would want her to be in real life- and because of this I take a risk and decide to reach out to her for a hug or some kind of physical holding and containment.

That’s where it all goes to shit. Apart from once (and that was literally the happiest dream I have ever had) she always violently physically pushes me away or jumps back from me. She suddenly goes cold, formal and stiff and tells me to leave, that she can’t see me anymore and literally turns her back on me. It is totally devastating.

The fact that I absolutely, more than anything else, want to be able to hug my therapist when things feel awful (which is clearly why it features in my dreams so regularly) makes these dreams incredibly painful. It also makes me absolutely sure that ‘the hug’ conversation will never happen in real life. The feeling of intense hurt from being rejected for asking for this in a dream shows me just how much I can’t cope with a real life refusal.

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I suspect some of you are thinking, ‘how do you know you’ll be refused, if you don’t ask?’ Let’s be clear here, after 31 months in therapy with her I know the score. There have been enough times where a hug would have been appropriate but it’s never happened. All the hoping and wishing in the world is not going to make touch happen in my therapeutic relationship. I’ll win the lottery before I even get a gentle pat on the shoulder as I leave after a hard session. And so what’s the point in even bringing it up? I don’t need to hear ‘it’s not you, it’s just one of my boundaries’ – I can’t even bear the thought of that conversation.

I applaud and admire those of you that have had the courage to ask for physical holding and then have somehow managed to cope with how it’s felt to get a ‘no’ and work through it in your sessions. I can’t even begin to imagine how I would cope with that. It’s hard enough knowing it’s not going to happen when I want and need it so badly but to ask and then be told ‘no’. OUCH! I’m brave but not that brave.

I guess right now I am so caught up in the feelings of abandonment and attachment trauma that I can’t ever envisage not being in this painful place. Maybe one day things will change and I’ll be strong enough to have that conversation and process the feelings. I understand that at some point this stuff actually needs to come out and be dealt with….just not yet! I’m still so caught up in the feelings of shame and embarrassment about wanting this from her that I can’t rationally talk about it.

So yeah, ummm this is meant to be about dreams but we’ve moved into ‘my therapist doesn’t hug me and I feel rubbish about it’. Sorry! I guess it’s just on my mind a lot at the moment. My little ones are so active at the minute and they are fixated on this issue. They can’t work out what is wrong with them to make them so unlovable, so untouchable, so forgettable? It makes me want to cry.

Having said all that, I think I am slowly getting flickers of how it could be in my head in the future. Yesterday another blogger commented on one of my posts and said something about listening to the critical voice and working out and asking it why it is so present rather than running from it and trying to shut it out. It made me realise that I need to be kinder to myself and accept that although my needs for physical contact with my therapist and her boundaries don’t align that doesn’t automatically mean that I am somehow wrong or disgusting or pathetic for having those needs or wanting that kind of comfort. That’s a huge leap forward in thinking for me.

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So much of this anxiety stems from the fact that my real-life mum has never hugged me or shown any sort of physical (or verbal for that matter) affection and it sucks for it to feel like this is repeating in this therapeutic relationship. I get that my therapist is not my mother but the transferred feelings make it feel like that’s how I am relating to her. She is the idealised replacement, and yet this mother is also withholding.

I suppose I’m meant to mourn for the biological mother I have that doesn’t hold me but sheesh, sometimes I just want a bit of nurturing in amongst all the pain that therapy is uncovering from the stand in mother.

Anyway, those ‘not getting a hug’ dreams are bad but lately I’ve had a couple of nasties which, in some ways, are worse. There’s a lot coming out about fear of the mental health system and being too much as well as abandonment. I woke up in the early hours from a dream that has shaken me. I had it last week too. Yuck.

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DREAM:

I was standing at the door of my old therapist N’s building but was there to see my current therapist Em (let’s call her that for now). I rang the doorbell and she opened the door. She was with someone else, a colleague, and seemed surprised to see me. I was a bit early and she was obviously leaving the building. At the time it didn’t seem strange that she should be leaving when I had a session imminently. The exchange we had was a bit awkward in the way that seeing someone slightly out of context can be – i.e she wasn’t inside the building in the therapy room. Em didn’t make eye contact but told me to go and wait in the therapy room and left with the other person.

I went in and the room was set up with a large conference style table and chairs round the edge. I sat down in front of the window. I couldn’t understand why the room was different. It felt a bit like an interview room for a teaching job I had years ago. I wasn’t especially bothered by the room being different because all that was important, that day, was actually being with and talking to Em. It felt like I had lots I wanted to say. I felt vulnerable but like I could talk and was ready to get deep into the therapy.

Suddenly three people came in holding clipboards and introduced themselves. I asked where Em was. No one wouldn’t look at me but one of them said she might come back in later, although not at all convincingly. They said that they wanted to ask me some questions. I got really agitated and felt myself shut down. I said I didn’t want to talk to them, that I needed to talk to Em. They said they needed to do some assessments.

I could feel my child parts getting really scared. I just wanted Em. ‘Where is she? I need her. Please tell her to come now. What’s going on? Why isn’t she here? Who are you? Please get Em.’ They ignored me and kept pushing with questions: ‘So, what would you describe as the main issues that affect your mental health day to day?’ I felt myself switch into my Teen state. 

I felt incredibly protective of the little ones that were so terrified, and just rattled off a sarcastic list: ‘Oh you know: depression, anxiety, eating disorder, self-harm, feeling like I don’t fit in, a dysfunctional relationship with my mother, childhood trauma, cancer, bereavement and complicated unprocessed grief, not feeling like I am worthy of being cared for, oh, and I guess the bit where I keep dissociating and switching into parts of different ages, you know? That kind of thing … can I leave now? Where is Em? This is a fucking joke. I need to get out of here.

They said I couldn’t see her, that she was busy now, and that based on what I had just said it would be unlikely that I’d be seeing her again. I got up to leave the room, but they said I couldn’t go yet and they had to do some more tests. I begged for them to let me see Em. They said she didn’t want to see me anymore. I started crying and jumped up and over the table and ran out the room before they could stop me. I had to see her.

There was another room on the other side of the hallway with a window in the door, like a classroom and I could see Em in there teaching a group of people or maybe doing a group therapy session. She looked at me through the window and she mouthed, ‘I’m sorry’ at me. I stood staring at her, not quite believing what was happening. She’s always said she wouldn’t leave unless something happened that was completely outside of her control and here she was terminating me without even giving me a reason.

The people from the room caught up with me, restrained me and took me to hospital where they did all kind of tests, shining lights in my eyes, and some kind of CT type scan. Then I woke up.

AAAAARRrrghhhhh. So twice in a week. That’s a bit of a head fuck.

Guess how I feel today?

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Today is only Wednesday and so there’s another five days until I can (perhaps) bring myself to talk this through in therapy along with another horrid dream where I was very little, maybe eleven years old lost in the countryside, screaming, trying to find her in the dark. I kept meeting other younger children (different parts of myself) and all of them were searching for her and desperately frightened.

Whilst I know these are only a dreams I’m left that horrible feeling in my gut. What if she is going to leave me? I feel terrified by that thought. My adult is trying hard to shake the feeling off and remember that this is just my insecurities about the relationship coming out in the dream. I have been worrying lately about whether she can handle everything I am throwing at her. I guess I am subconsciously wondering whether she’ll be like my last therapist N who told me that my issues and needs were too complex for her and that she didn’t have the skills to help me.

It’s times like these when a transitional object would really help. I need a physical reminder that things haven’t suddenly gone to shit and that I am safe in the therapeutic relationship. We need to get down to writing that card together that she was on about a couple of weeks ago with a helpful holding message! Although I can’t see the little ones holding it close like a teddy (honestly I will let it go at some point!).  I can feel that my little ones are absolutely terrified that she is gone, that she has left us. That we are finally too much for her.

The Teenager is a little less rattled by the dream but that’s because she’s riding on her usual ‘fuck her and fuck this’ attitude. For her it’s a case of, ‘She hasn’t left us. It was just a dream, but she will leave us one day. It’s only a matter of time before she destroys us. By staying in therapy you are going to let her hurt us. What are you doing? We’ve been through enough already. When it all blows up, which it will, I am blaming you. You are crap at looking after us. I hate you.’ So she’s a delight to have wandering in my head but I sincerely hope that the Critic doesn’t start up as I can’t cope with that right now.

Anyway, I have sort of run out of steam with this now. I’m so tired and I can’t tell you how much I just want to go to sleep and dream of nothing at all!

I HATE THERAPY DREAMS AND I HATE ATTACHMENT TRAUMA!

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‘I’m watching the weather channel and waiting for the storm’

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I’m sitting here now, four days after my therapy session, trying to compose some kind of readable post but I still don’t really know what to say other than it was really bloody hard being in the room on Monday…

I knew that there had been something big brewing as I headed into the break and whatever ‘it’ was had been steadily gathering power and intensity during the break. By the time it was time to resume therapy last week, it felt as though I had an emotional hurricane inside me but there was part of me that just wasn’t ready to face it and so my adult symbolically battened down the hatches and the children went into hiding during my sessions. I talked but not really. Externally, at least, those two sessions functioned as the calm before the storm.

I should know by now that concealing the hardest stuff (the young, vulnerable, needy feelings) only makes things worse for me in the long run. I can feel the child parts almost immediately start to get agitated in session when they have stuff to say and I keep overriding and silencing them.

I can feel their distress steadily building. I can see the very smallest ones in my mind’s eye absolutely distraught, wailing in the corner, and yet, more often than not, I continue to ignore them, or gag them until they basically have no choice but to have a complete meltdown, en mass, when I am on my own! It’s hideous. I don’t know why I do it! Oh yeah, I do, too much shame and embarrassment about having these feelings and needs in the first place!

When there is a lengthy break my child parts definitely don’t get a chance to be seen or heard by anyone but me and therefore their emotional distress escalates. The metaphorical rain cloud that hovers over my head most of the time between sessions becomes a full-on internal shit storm – sorry- hurricane! It’s just awful and really hard to contain. You’d think, then, that returning to therapy would be the perfect opportunity to start to settle some of the turbulence and anxiety but no…

One of the biggest problems after any significant disruption is that I am never sure when I enter the room whether I am going to be on my own facing the potential destruction that my internal storm will cause when it touches down (and that is terrifying – I don’t have the skills to weather this on my own yet), or whether, actually, she (my therapist) will be there, a professional storm-chaser, ready and waiting to witness it all with me and guide me through it. I’m always hoping she’ll be there, fully prepared – someone who sees beauty in chaos and who will be able to reframe the potential destruction of the storm as something positive:

‘Yes, the hurricane will wreak havoc, but don’t worry! I am experienced at navigating storms – it’s what I do. I know how to keep us both safe. I’m not frightened by these tempests, and I will show you how to remain secure and grounded when everything starts swirling and flying about. It will feel scary and some things will undoubtedly get destroyed. The storm will sweep away the derelict and dangerous structures that currently exist, those that aren’t really fit for purpose anymore, and in their place there is the potential for us to build something so strong that it will be able to survive any future storms.’

(Or that’s the kind of thing I’d like to imagine her saying, anyway!)

The thing is, it’s just not that easy to simply pick up where I left off after a disruption because no matter how secure I might feel when I leave a session, or how welcome the little ones might have been made to feel in the room and in the relationship with her previously, when I return to the therapy room I am not sure if I am still safe with my therapist or if something has changed. I am not sure whether I can still trust her with the child parts who are absolutely desperate to reconnect but are also incredibly fearful of being hurt, rejected, and abandoned. Ugh!

I woke up feeling pretty rubbish on Monday, I hadn’t really slept, and could feel that I was going to struggle with the session. When I feel like I ‘want to talk but can’t’ sometimes it feels like the only option is to give myself a symbolic kick up the backside by giving my therapist the heads up via text before a session. Doing this poses its own set of difficult issues around communicating outside of session and therapy boundaries. It’s actually just a frigging nightmare and it does my head in!

After a lengthy internal monologue: ‘Will she be cross if I message her? I just can’t face another one of those let’s keep it in session lectures when I feel like this. I need to let her know what’s going on but I’m not sure if I am allowed to, now. I don’t want to break the rules. I really don’t want to annoy her. She must be so fed up of me by now. Why can’t I just go to session and talk? I hate this’, I did text my therapist an outline of what I wanted to say.

Ultimately, I knew I was stuck in that horrible place where despite having a million things (ok, maybe more like four) I desperately needed to discuss, that it’d all somehow get trapped inside when I got there and I probably wouldn’t say anything at all. I didn’t even feel like I had the energy to have a ‘talking but not really’ session and was aware that it could all just become an uncomfortable silent session, and we’ve had enough of those lately – although they’ve stemmed more from anger and frustration rather than just feeling insecure, needy and small.

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Driving to therapy I could feel the little ones starting to activate. They’ve been really struggling over the break and I knew that they needed to come out and be seen and soothed. When I arrived I think I sat down and said something along the lines of, ‘I don’t feel very good today’, and from that point the anxiety and crippling emotional pain that I had felt so keenly outside of session entered the room with force. The storm touched down.

I felt so overcome by my feelings, a mixture of emotions: fear, grief, sadness, love, longing, hopelessness, confusion, embarrassment, and shame (and probably too many others to name, actually). I said ‘I feel like everything has caught up with me’, meaning all the feelings I’d been trying to manage over the break. I felt as though I was about to disintegrate, my body was a mass of nervous tension and I felt sick to my core. The intensity of what I felt was totally debilitating. The child parts of me were utterly beside themselves and I was unable to talk. I think this is generally what happens when Little Me and Four show up because they just haven’t got the language to explain the feelings and their trauma feels locked in the body.

Despite having sent the warning text and my therapist making repeated reference to it (no telling off!) asking if I wanted to talk about it, I still couldn’t bring myself to tell her what was on my mind. I find talking about how I feel in/about the therapeutic relationship really difficult. I feel so exposed and just mortified that I have such strong feelings about her. Yes. I know. It’s not unusual to feel this way but god I fucking hate it, sometimes.

I know I need to tell her how much of an impact breaks have on me and how much I miss her, and all that gets stirred up for me as a result….but ugh, it’s just excruciating and I just can’t really articulate it in person! I did write some of it down in the letter I gave her before the break but revisiting the content is so hard now because I feel like I have lost momentum and confidence since the break.

I also know that I need to really unpick, rather than just touch on the visualisation exercise (can’t do it!) that was meant to function as some kind of internalised transitional space during the break. In my long letter I asked for a holding message to help me remain connected to her during the break:

‘I was wondering if you might write/send me a message that essentially tells me that we are ok, that you aren’t leaving me, and that you’ll come back, that it is ok to miss you, that my feelings are valid and that there isn’t anything wrong with my caring about you or needing you. The thing is, I’m not even sure if all that is true.’

She agreed to my request and sent me the visualisation via text describing that I was meant to picture the therapy room and us in it together, me talking to her and her responding in the way I need…sounds ok, right? Nope. I tried it and found myself, child parts fully activated, desperately sad, sitting in the room but she wasn’t there, I was completely alone, staring at her empty chair and feeling flooded with despair. Part of my problem mid-week has been the sense of her being gone and being unable to picture her. The visualisation confirmed this.

Devastating doesn’t cover how it felt. I don’t think it’s hard to understand that if you are already in the position of needing to try and conjure up a safe, nurturing space because things feel bad that when it doesn’t work it just feels like everything is hopeless and pointless. I felt really defeated. It had taken a huge amount of courage to even ask for the message in the first place and then for it not to work just seemed so unfair.

I kept staring at the message on my phone, trying to coach myself into a better place, ‘look, you can’t do the visualisation, let it go. What matters is that you reached out to her, asked for something and she responded to you. She tried to meet your need. She spent time thinking about you and wrote this to you. She must care a bit to do that.’ That’s good processing right?!

But when I was sad and frustrated with it all I started to get wound up about some of the wording in the message surrounding the visualisation: ‘thank you for your communication’ (nooooo – too formal, clinical, cold somehow) and ‘I think the most developmental help at this time might be for you to imagine the consulting room(really not soothing at all!). I know I’m probably just splitting hairs here, but I also get that most of you will totally get what happened in my head. By the time I got to the ending, ‘With best wishes’ (OMG I hate it!) I’d sort of lost the will with it all. I don’t think I need to elaborate on this sign off! Needless to say, the child parts were like ‘what does this all mean? The words are too long. Why isn’t she talking to us? Where is she?’

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I think, no, I know, what I really needed was a really simple message that spoke directly to the little ones and not to the rational adult who is meant to be able to contain the feelings of the little ones. I understand that is the long-term goal, to furnish my adult with the skills to cope in her absence but right now I’m not quite there. My child parts are running my internal show and it’s all a step too far at the moment. That’s not to say I won’t get there eventually….maybe! Hopefully!

I feel a bit ungrateful writing that because I (adult) know that the intention behind the message was good and so I feel unduly critical. But I just needed more. More holding. More containment. More ‘real’ person coming through. I know that these things take time and sometimes things need refining. I get that maybe I will never actually get what I need/want because perhaps it’s just not possible. Perhaps she doesn’t think it’s necessary and maybe I have to trust in that? The thing is, deep down I know I need to fight for what the little ones need so that they, and therefore I can move forward. If the long-term goal is integration of all these parts then I know I have to take another running jump at this and try again, but it feels risky.

I need to bite the bullet and tell her how I really feel the need for a tangible transitional object, something I can physically hold, to get the small ones through the week.

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It’s just so hard. It makes complete sense to the child parts that this is what would help them when they can’t see her but my adult just wants to dig a big hole and bury myself in it for even having this need. I mean seriously, this is just mortifying! I guess there’s also a bit of me that is scared. I don’t want to take any more time building up the huge amount of courage it takes to express that kind of need and then not have it met. I know I (adult and little ones) wouldn’t recover from it.

I know I am not a child but in this situation I kind of am. I just cannot cope with the possibility of being shamed or abandoned for expressing such a childish need – I’ve already had too much of that in the past. I know that if I express this need and it’s not met I would lose trust and faith in the relationship. I think this is a similar conflict to how I feel about asking to be held. I will never ask her for a hug because I can’t face the rejection. Argh. Even typing this makes me feel sick.

Errr. I don’t know where I am going with all that. Umm. The visualisation? I basically managed to tell her ‘I couldn’t do the visualisation and I found the break really hard’ Twelve words! Hilarious given all of what I’ve just written above!

I never cry in session but Monday saw the start of something. Silent tears slowly started coming – it wasn’t a true reflection of what was inside (flooding!), because I was still trying to hang on tightly to everything. The tears that came out were the few that I couldn’t contain. I’ve spent my whole life holding everything in or crying on my own, never ever seeking comfort because I learnt at a young age that none would be forthcoming.

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The idea of really letting go and properly crying in session terrifies me. I think part of it is that it feels really exposing, but the main thing is that I just couldn’t cope with being watched and ‘left’ to break down on my own. It’s one thing to choose to be alone in my own emotional pain but it’s horrible to think that I might now trust her enough to be that vulnerable (cry) in her presence, that maybe I could let her see that all that pain, and seek comfort in being with her and she might just leave me to it.

My child parts were emotionally abandoned and never physically soothed and I can’t bear that pain repeating in this relationship. So I guess that’s why I am reluctant to cry or reach out even when I need to. The warning message repeats in my head: ‘She’s a therapist not your mother. She’s a professional not your mother. Hold it together. Don’t embarrass yourself – or her’.

The heightened sense of anxiety and fear I felt in session has lingered on well into the week and I can’t seem to shake it off. I’ve had Sheryl Crow’s, ‘Weather Channel’ as my internal soundtrack (must be more depressed than I thought) and I haven’t been able to fully emerge from the deep pit of grief and pain that I was silently swimming (or drowning) in in session.

I think maybe I am still so hungover from the session that I just can’t get my head together, yet. It sounds a bit dramatic but honestly I have felt like my world has been steadily falling apart day-by-day and my brain has gone into panic overdrive. It’s as though someone has typed in the code to activate the ‘fear of abandonment’ button and is now on countdown to nuclear apocalypse. It’s crap.

I seriously considered ringing my GP for an appointment on Tuesday for some kind of anxiety medication. I felt jittery, sick, had a horrible migraine, and so much tension behind my ear that I felt like doing a Van Gogh and cutting the bloody thing off! I haven’t had anything like this amount of anxiety in years and it was horrendous. The most distressing thing was that the anxiety that is usually contained within the therapy relationship crept into my ‘now’, my ‘real life’ and current relationship.

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I was certain on Tuesday evening that my wife was going to leave me. Why? Well, she seemed to be in a bad mood about something and was a bit short. It might well have been that she was tired or stressed about work, but I couldn’t face asking what the matter was because I was so sure that the reply would be about her being sick of me and my depression and anxiety and getting caught up in therapy etc (it’s happened before).

Because I was too scared to ask what was wrong I felt shit all night, couldn’t sleep playing different scenarios over and over in my head. I felt as though I was treading on eggshells on Wednesday morning and did my very best to put on the ‘everything is fine, and I am functioning like a normal human’ persona. I was beside myself with anxiety waiting for her to come home in the evening worried about what was going to happen. Everything was fine. She was fine. There is nothing wrong. We are ok. That anxiety lifted but what’s going on in therapy hasn’t. So I feel a bit better but ffs this sort of thing is not sustainable long-term!

So, yet again, I feel that overwhelming need to contact my therapist outside session and tell her how bad things feel, but I know there’s no point because she won’t respond to my messages and told me to write it all down or draw it and bring it to session to talk about. I get the importance of keeping things in session but sometimes I just need to know she’s still there.

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I don’t really know what to write or draw to take to session. I have so much to say but also don’t know how to say it to her.

I don’t think I’ve really talked about Monday’s session here!…She was really good and said all the right things. I’d like to think I’ll be better this Monday but unless I somehow manage to find the words to say this stuff to her I don’t really know what it’ll be like because the child parts are still very upset.

I’m not sure what I am taking from this very very long post (sorry!) other than this question:

Why is it so so hard to express need?