The Empty Chair

Boooo! T’s gone again! It’s another therapy break! (Like really, how many holidays does one person need?!). It may technically only be a week this time, but the way things have fallen, this break means three missed sessions (two Fridays and a Monday)…and that is a lot of ‘missed’ contact time especially when things feel so precarious.

Still, it is what it is.

And what it is… is SHIT!

Ha!

I am very aware that therapy breaks are an inevitable part of therapy and it’s the breaks that have really highlighted one of the huge problems I experience in relationships that matter to me: fear of abandonment (and people dying!).

I don’t do especially well maintaining the sense of connection between sessions with Em; although it is a much better than it was since moving to two sessions a week. Two sessions a week doesn’t help with breaks, though. In fact it almost makes it worse because, as I said just now, time away now signals more ‘non contact time’ – a week used to mean one missed session and now it is two. Ugh!

I was hoping that, by now, I’d have found a strategy that would prevent a meltdown each time Em goes away. Over the years we’ve tried a few things: internalising visualisations (rubbish) and the pebble (OMG what a faff that was!) but nothing has really worked. I am determined to try the power stones thing I saw on Twitter a while back as the next attempt at a transitional object. The idea of it really appeals to the young parts and they are exactly the ones that freak out on breaks so it’s got to be worth a try. LOL…I am nothing if not persistent!

I never do especially well over the Christmas break (think last year’s huge rupture!) and so it is really important that once this current therapy break is over Em and I have some proper discussions around what happens during breaks, that we try and put some things in place to help, and that I leave for Christmas feeling safe in the relationship because when things feel dicey it makes time away even harder. Everyone inside panics.

I’m half-panicking now. The young parts aren’t having a very good time of it. There was nothing especially wrong with last Monday’s session, i.e Em didn’t say something to upset me! … but unfortunately some unexpected material was thrown into the melting pot and knocked me sideways…or actually, straight onto my arse! I really hate it when that happens.

Recently, I was looking online for book Christmas presents for my kids (my poor kids can’t escape books having an English teacher for a mum!). I bought a children’s book by Oliver Jeffers purely based on its title, ‘The Heart And The Bottle’ and the front cover. It was kind of for them, but also for me. I was intrigued and I do love kids’ stories.

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Basically, the plot of the story runs like this:

There is a little girl who was completely filled with the wonder of life. She was inquisitive and adventurous. Happy. Almost every page sees her experiencing her life with a male figure. He introduces her to various concepts, reading stories from a chair, looking up at the stars, but he is also on the side lines when she is off exploring – close but not in the way. It’s lovely. The girl is free to explore knowing her safe adult is there. Until one day, the chair the man sat in is empty. The implication is that this important male figure has died. As a result of this, the girl’s world instantly changes. She doesn’t know what to do with her feelings and so decides the best course of action is to put her heart safe in a bottle.

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The girl carries on with her life, grows up, but her life is devoid of happiness, nothing is the same. She goes through the motions but no longer sees the wonder in things. The heart in the bottle that she now hangs around her neck has become a huge burden…but ‘at least her heart was safe’ (I think we can all identify with this metaphor!).

One day the woman meets a little girl, who just like she was as a child, is full of wonder about the world. The problem is, the woman, without her heart, doesn’t know how to answer the little girl’s questions. It is then that the woman decides to get her heart out the bottle. Unfortunately, no matter what she does she can’t get it out. Luckily, the little girl has an idea and is able to release the woman’s heart. With her heart back where it should always have been she is open again to all the wonder and joy of the world. The end of the book sees her sitting in the, once empty, chair her imagination free, like her heart.

It really is a powerful book (and the illustrations are gorgeous) and when I read it, it instantly resonated with me. Losing my dad so suddenly when I was twenty five was utterly horrific. I lost the figure that taught me so much, that made me feel just about safe enough in the world. Like the girl in the story I shut my feelings off in order to be able to carry on with life. I functioned but didn’t live, not really. And then I had my daughter and something shifted in me.

I don’t want to make anyone puke and sound like the world’s worst cliché but the moment my daughter was born I experienced a surge of love that I had never felt before. Actually, even before that, the moment I discovered I was pregnant something massive changed in me. I knew in that moment that I would die for that child and no matter how bad things got I would endeavour to be there for her. I would push through any of the suicidal feelings in order that she would always have me as her anchor. I never wanted to leave my child or for her to have to experience the loss that I had…which I bloody ironic seeing as I then got cancer when she was three and my longer term future is more uncertain than I would have liked.

I know things are still not brilliant even now (mental health/emotions wise), and that’s not just because of my dad’s death, there’s still all the ‘other stuff’ and the huge mother wound to contend with, but certainly things are way better than they were. I now have two little people to live for and they bring me so much joy. Part of the reason I persist with my therapy is because I want to be the parent my children deserve.

Anyway, back to the book- knowing it was the last session before the break I decided to take the book in to show Em, let her read it and explain how it had touched me. I could stay in my adult but talk about the grief and emotional hangover of loss – not just of my dad but also of my friend who died at the end of October last year.

Em thought the book was wonderful too and we spent quite a lot of time talking about it – on the level that I have just mentioned. The thing is, something happened as she was reading it that I didn’t/couldn’t tell her about. When I had read the book initially I followed the character right through to adulthood and her epiphany at the end. On Monday, however, I got stuck in the child part of the book. The image of the empty chair stuck in my mind. The therapy break, to me, symbolises an empty chair.

The first time Em sent me a message to try and help through the break she sent this visualisation:

Imagine the consulting room, with our chairs and the pictures on the walls and books in the bookcases and to imagine us in our chairs. You can then talk to me about your concerns and needs and you can then imagine me responding in a grounding, understanding, reassuring, and caring way.’

The visualisation didn’t work. It was terrible, in fact. I was successful in picturing the room and the chairs. I could even put myself in the chair. But when it came to putting Em in hers… I just couldn’t. When I am not with her I can’t remember what she looks like. I can’t remember her voice. I can’t picture her at all. It’s hideous. When I needed to be able to feel like she was still out there all I could feel was the pain of her absence.

Not good.

At all.

So, Monday. My brain was suddenly in empty chair mode. I felt like that little girl staring at the empty chair (even though at that moment Em was sitting in it). The memory of that horrible summer therapy break set in and I was gone. I got very quiet. I felt very sad and little. I dissociated. Em tried to reach me but I couldn’t let her in. I couldn’t connect. I knew she was going, so what was the point? No matter what I would have said it wouldn’t have changed that she was disappearing and her chair would be empty and I’d be left grieving and desperately trying to shove my heart in a bottle to get through the break.

Look, don’t get me wrong. I do know I was dumb on Monday. I know that if I had have been able to express some of what was going on for me Em would have validated those young feelings and understood the fear and in doing so it may have taken the edge off and the emotions I am struggling with now might not have been so intense. The problem is, after all that’s gone on in the last month post marble and ‘I care about you’I have been reluctant to show that need and vulnerability. I still feel a bit wounded…even though things have been repaired somewhat.

Anyway, for whatever reason, I couldn’t talk about feeling abandoned and sad about the break on Monday. Driving to my tutoring it became clear to me what just had happened in session and you know how much I like to fire off a text post session that won’t get replied to!!! So I sent this (cringe!):

‘Before today’s session ‘The Heart And The Bottle’ resonated with me because of the loss of my dad, the grief, and the experiences I have with my kids now which is one of the reasons I wanted to share it with you. Today, with you, it took me somewhere else. As you were reading, the image of the empty chair came to mind and took me back to summer break 2017 when I asked you to send me a text to try and maintain the connection over the holidays. I told you when we got back that I when I tried your visualisation, about the room and imagining talking with you, I could picture the room but your chair was empty and that it felt really hard because when I needed to feel like you were still there, I couldn’t make it feel like you were at all. Knowing that there’s a break again now made those horrible feelings of helplessness and abandonment come up and I couldn’t talk about it.  So like the book suggests, when there are painful feelings I put my heart in a bottle in order to keep it safe but end up disconnecting from the world and myself. When I want to reconnect with you it can feel like no matter how hard I try and smash the bottle, I can’t. I know it’s only a week but the little parts don’t really understand time, all they know is the chair is empty 😦 and this time of year feels like there are lots of empty chairs where people don’t come back’.

Concise as ever!

Of course that has generated … absolutely nothing.

Radio silence…

Although, I do feel better for having got it out and I do think it should at least open up a conversation about the break when we get back rather than her asking how the break was and me either shrugging my shoulders/avoiding answering the question/saying ‘it was rubbish’!

So where does that leave things? Tomorrow is Monday. The chair will be empty. My heart is in its bottle. It’s kind of safe…for now! I have a week off work. I am trying to regroup and recharge a bit. I need to relax. I need not to wish the next week away. As much as I want to see Em, as much as I need therapy, I really don’t want to be plunged back into an 8 week half term of work  – I don’t have the energy for it.

So, yeah, that’s it! Rubber bands and chewing gum remain the primary adhesives for holding everything together! Fingers crossed everything holds!

xx

 

 

Transitional Objects (again), The Marble, And The Meltdown.

‘I don’t know what to say’ is a sentence I frequently utter in my therapy sessions and today it’s pretty much how I am feeling about trying to write this post. I have so much to say and yet have no idea where to begin with the mess that is inside my brain. Perhaps I’ll just hit it chronologically and go from there.

I said last post about things seeming to (finally) free up in therapy after a long stagnant period….well yes, but I think a better analogy would be that I have been sitting for a long while with the handbrake on and now, all of a sudden, the car is free-wheeling down a steep hill, the wheels are loose, and any minute now are going to come off and I think I might go hurtling over the edge of a cliff.

A little while back, when my therapist and I were discussing the possibility of moving to two sessions a week (because the wheels were falling off in a slightly different way …man I need to get this car looked at!) she said that two sessions offered the chance of greater containment but also more regression. At the time I internally did a big ‘GULP’ – whilst the feeling of more containment was exactly what I have needed the idea of regressing even more gave me the heebie-jeebies. I mean let’s face it, the young parts have been losing their mind big time already…could it get more intense?

Simple answer: YES.

Em knows what she’s talking about.

Damn!

Call me naïve but I didn’t think the shift into letting the vulnerable, young, stuff out would happen so quickly, especially after the (enormous) summer break. I mean, we’ve been back….errr… four weeks! But hey, I guess all these feelings have been there waiting for a safe enough time to come out. One session a week wasn’t allowing enough connection and containment and so it’s little wonder it was taking a gargantuan effort to reach the hard stuff in only fifty minutes a week.

I have certainly felt that knowing I’ll see Em on a Monday and talk to her via Skype on Friday has made things feel a bit easier. There seems to be a bit less internal pressure to ‘get it right’ in session and ‘get stuff out’ now. I used to only have 50 minutes to release the pressure that built up in a week. If I felt like I’d ‘wasted’ my time or ‘not connected’ I’d beat myself up and then suffer with what was left over and it would sit festering for another seven days. Now, if I don’t quite say what I wanted (like the other week where I spent the whole skype session talking about WORK- ffs…) I think ‘fuck, that was frustrating, but at least I’ll see her again in three/four days. I wonder why I did that?’

I can’t really remember anything at all about the Skype session on the 21st. I guess it was just work stuff and hasn’t stuck in my mind. The young parts were really upset afterwards, though. I can’t remember what they had wanted to say to her – I think it was something about the summer break and the fact that she’d just given me the next set of break dates. Anyway, they didn’t get a chance to talk, and even though I knew I would see Em in three days the weekend felt hideous. I was very, very agitated and unsettled.

I was trawling through Twitter on Sunday evening and saw a great tweet about power stones. Basically a therapist that works with kids had invited children to think about who their ‘safe adult’ was and to get them to make a finger print in some clay in order that when the children were away from their safe adult and needed reassurance they could take out their power stone from their pocket and be reminded of them.

You can probably see why I got really excited about this idea especially after the long-running saga with the pebbles last year! #transitionalobject! So I retweeted the post as I knew a few of my friends would love it too… and then….OMG….immediately sent Em the link to my tweet in an email asking: ‘Can we do something like this before the next break?’.

Sometimes I get that impulsive urge to reach out like that and then once I have I almost immediately freak out!

I got to session on Monday and felt so unbelievably exposed. That in addition to all the stuff I’d read on Saturday night didn’t help at all. I wanted hide, and said as much the moment Em brought up the email. I may have put that stuff out there but I wasn’t ready to talk about it yet. We talked a great deal about feeling exposed and vulnerable on Monday and the little parts went away feeling really connected to Em but, as is often the case, when things feel really good they miss her even more.

It’s crap really – a no win situation!:

Disconnected = meltdown

Connected = meltdown

Anyway, I was back on the moors on Tuesday doing some geography with my home-schooled boy. On the way home there is a glass making factory that makes, amongst other things, beautiful marbles. As a kid I always loved it there and started collecting marbles from the age of eleven….I have loads…which is ironic really as I clearly am not in possession of my other marbles! So, I took a ten minute break and went into the place for a wander around and looked at the marbles.

Eleven came online. I could feel the shift in me. My adult/teacher was gone and Eleven was like a kid in a sweet shop. She picked out a couple that she liked…and then saw something. A gorgeous marble in the colours that Em always wears with hearts on it. I felt a wave of: ‘I love this. I love her. I think she’d like this. I want to buy it for her’ wash over me and so I bought the marble. That same impulse to send the tweet about power stones was there.

Anyway, the week dragged on. I asked my wife if there was any chance of her being able to do the school run so that I could get to session in person. Fortunately she could. The young parts were desperate to go to therapy but equally were worried that if I took the marble to Em and actually gave it to her she might push us away and reject us. Yeah, that old chestnut.

I got to therapy and eeeeeekkkkk… I was so nervous. I can’t, again, really remember what we spoke about (wtf is it with this therapy amnesia?) but it was really connecting and helpful and with five minutes to go I felt safe enough to try and explain the marble I had in my pocket.

I told Em about how when I was eleven I used to collect marbles and keep them in glass vases. I spent all my pocket money on them and had hundreds. They were beautiful but not something I played with – not toys. When I went away to university my mum met her now husband who had son. She went into my room, emptied out my vases and took the marbles outside to play. When I came home from uni my marbles were scuffed and smashed. I was gutted. I told her (Em), then, that I had been to the marble factory and had seen a marble I really liked and wanted to give her but that now I felt really embarrassed because it was a young part that had bought it for her.

She couldn’t have handled it any better (with three minutes to go!). She spoke about how big a deal this felt and how this was about wanting to express something to her but also that there was a huge fear about being rejected. She said that I didn’t want her to smash the marble and disregard it. Marbles are very beautiful but incredibly fragile and she wanted me to know that she had no intention of damaging it (if I chose to give it to her) or shaming me for wanting to give it to her.

Anyway, she talked quite a bit and it really felt like she got it…then the session was up. She said she thought it was really good that I had been able to bring this up and that we could talk about it more on Monday. I said, I just want to give it to you now and handed it over. She really liked it, said it was beautiful, and that I had noticed that she likes those colours. It felt nice….but also good that I could run away to my car without having to unpick the finer details of the hearts (the love!) etc that was attached to it.

So, yeah…good stuff. But having started down the path of ‘let it all out and be vulnerable’ and emailing earlier in the week it was as though my filter had gone. All the parts started activating. Everyone had something to say. Everyone wanted to be in the room with Em. Shit a brick!….

Then it happened.

The Inner Critic came online to shut everyone up. OMG it was horrendous. She was so unbelievably angry. How dare I have let myself talk to Em like this. Why on earth would I do that? It felt awful. That relentless, attacking, mean voice that makes me hate myself was really going for it. I had a huge urge to cut myself. I didn’t. I wanted to not eat. I didn’t. Instead I mentally logged what was going on and thought it was important to talk about it in session.

I know, by now, that it’s not always as easy as that because I never know which part will arrive in the room and front for me….I had a sneaking suspicion it was going to be the critic (you can see where this is going!) and so pinged off a text on Monday morning to try and foreworn Em so that she might be able to help me talk if it all went to shit:

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Sooooooo…..I got myself to therapy somehow. It was all a bit of disaster. I stopped to grab a coffee and left it on the roof of the car resting against the roof rack. I drove a bit and then realised what I had done, retrieved the coffee and proceeded to pour it ALL OVER MYSELF. I arrived at the town where my therapist lives and sat on the sea wall. It was a stunning day. I did a bit of deep breathing and taking in the view…trying to compose myself. When it was time to leave. I jumped down and totally misjudged the height and hurt my ankle. It was that kind of day!!

I arrived at my T’s and FUUUUUCCCCCCCKKKKK it was so noisy in my head. All the parts were clamouring to be heard and seen. It was chaos. Usually I feel like there is maybe one or two parts active at a time but not this week. Good god! It was really hard to even hear what Em was saying. I told her that I felt like I couldn’t hear her. She asked if she was speaking too quietly and I tried to explain that it wasn’t about volume it was about not being able to tune in to what she was saying. I couldn’t connect…and then there she was – the Critic. 

She shut the show down.

She was not happy at all.

All I could hear, then, in my head was ‘DON’T YOU DARE TALK TO HER!’

Em tried really hard to connect with me. I’ve since listened back to the session and really she could not have done any more to try and reach me but the power of the Inner Critic is unbelievable and everything Em said pissed her off more and more – especially when she asked if maybe what was going on was related to the marble and taking a risk on Friday. I could feel myself bristle all over. Em persisted trying to tell the Critic that she had as much a right to be here as any of the others and that maybe she was worried that if the others talk then she will lose her power and be left. (Grrrr!)

At one point Em asked how I was feeling having been speaking directly to that  critical part for about twenty minutes and I told her I was angry. Em tried to unpick the anger but it just infuriated me further and so I said …..‘JUST FUCK OFF AND LEAVE ME ALONE’ —– not one of my finest moments for sure.

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It was a really a tough session and I haven’t felt that level of anger and shutdown for a really long time, like probably this time last year. It was uncomfortable but necessary I think. I hate feeling like I am losing control over what is going on. I know the Critic is all about control…but she’s only meant to be rude to me and control me. She isn’t meant to face off my therapist!

I left therapy and listened back to my session in the car on the way to tutoring and all the young parts started crying inside. It was horrid. I couldn’t remember half of what I’d said and hearing it back I felt like I had ‘done a bad thing’. I didn’t want Em to be angry with me. Of course adult me understands that this is all part of therapy and that Em is probably pleased that I have finally been able to express some of the rage inside, but the little ones don’t understand at all. They are frightened of anger. They’ve seen way too much of it over the years. I pulled myself together to teach and then drafted (another) text … oh god!:

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And so this is where it’s been left. I am having a bit of and up and down week! I am trying to be kind to myself but it’s not easy. The Critic is going mad and trying every trick she knows to get me to leave therapy because I should be so ashamed of myself. But I am facing her off for now. I have my Skype session on Friday. I am nervous as hell about it but it is what it is. I guess, actually, I am not so much in a wobbly car careering down hill so much as I have got on a new and bigger rollercoaster and I am finding out where it is safe to put my hands up and enjoy the ride – it’s all a bit white-knuckle right now!

Summer Therapy Break Is Almost Here…

I should be delighted right now. School’s out for summer and that signals six weeks off from tutoring; no more trying to make packed lunches at 6am only to realise there is nothing to make a packed lunch with in the fridge; no more washing and ironing uniforms (THANK FUCK!); and better still, no more negotiating with pint sized terrorists every morning to ‘pleeaaasseeee darlings just put your shoes on’.  I will certainly not miss doing school runs or racing around to get to my teaching. I can, for the next few weeks, sit here at 9am in the comfort of my PJs (TMI?!) and blog if I want to.

It’s all good.

Ok, so anyone with kids knows that the shine of summer holidays wears off about a week (day) in, but right now I am trying to picture myself as calm, together mum who plans nice trips, meets for play dates, bakes, and creates a generally harmonious atmosphere. (Who am I kidding?!) The truth is, before long I will probably be threatening to get out the ‘bin bag’ and throw all the toys away if the floor isn’t cleared before bed time and will be pleading with them to ‘be nice to each other’ and ‘stop snatching’ and ‘can we agree on something you both want to watch on Netflix?’

So, yeah. In my head I am aiming for Mary Poppins but realistically, just gotta hope they are both alive in September (that is a joke by the way!). Using the therapy speak – I’m hoping I do a ‘good enough’ job over the summer with my kids.

Oh, but wait, if school is out for summer then that means therapy is almost done with and the long summer break is coming doesn’t it?…

I’m totally screwed.

Ok, so it’s not like this is new news. I’ve been mentally counting down to the summer therapy break since Easter (I’m fun like that!) and once I had confirmation of the break dates from my therapist could start properly obsessing about how bloody long she is going to be away. She always takes roughly the same holiday and, actually, in real terms it’s only two weeks away for her but because my session falls on a Monday things always feel longer because before she even starts her break on a Monday it’s been a week since I have seen her (I think therapists forget this sometimes). The summer break is particularly crap, too, because there is a bank holiday at the end of August in the UK so I lose another session.

So, basically my last session is on the 30th July and my next face to face is the 3rd September…err that’s 5 weeks… There is a session in the middle on the 20th but I can’t get to it because the kids are off. I could, maybe, Skype but it wouldn’t be all that easy with the monsters causing havoc. I am also a bit reluctant to Skype after essentially three weeks break because I know what I am like, and much as I would like to check in, there’s a real danger of me stonewalling her and us getting nowhere and then there being two more weeks until we can sort it out. I know that is a recipe for disaster. So right now I have to think about what is the lesser of two evils: a long five week break or three weeks and then two weeks break back to back.

I can’t see that either is going to be great. I think it’s going to be about survival (again). I hate that I am like this. I hate that the attachment stuff causes so many problems. I wish I could look at this break as a chance to regroup and enjoy some time with my family but it doesn’t feel like that. Instead it feels like my safety net is being whipped out from underneath me or my anchor has been severed and somehow I just need to hang on and make it to September without something tragic happening. I know, spare the drama right?!

I did think about asking my therapist to write me a note for the break but after all the hell with the pebbles I just don’t think I can face it. I don’t want to create a situation that destabilises me before I even get to the break. But five weeks is a long time isn’t it? Especially when you are unable to hold someone in mind…

I don’t really know what to do.

The weeks between sessions have been getting increasingly more difficult recently and I have been dissociating a lot in my sessions (as well as outside them). I know it’s panic about her going away at the end of the month. The anniversary of my dad dying falling in July doesn’t help matters, either. My mind automatically lurches from the fact that he was meant to be going away for a month on holiday and never came back to the possibility that she may do the same. I can’t deal with that. I know it’s not rational but it is what happens in my mind. I panic. It’s like the grief of the loss of my dad swirls with the idea of losing my therapist and a shit storm starts inside me.

There is some good news in amongst all this doom and gloom, however, that I guess I should share and that is that as of September I will be having two sessions a week. A session time has become available on a Friday and so we are going to trial 6 months of twice weekly sessions and see how it feels. Unfortunately, the time is too early for me to actually get to the session in person (9:30am) as my therapist lives 50 minutes from me and I don’t drop the kids to school until 9. However, it does mean I can come home and Skype. When a better time becomes available I’ll swap into that.

I already know this change in session frequency is going to make a significant difference to how I feel in the week because whenever my therapist has a cancellation and can offer me two sessions in a week things feel way more manageable. We did this a couple of weeks ago and I can’t tell you how much easier things felt having that weight of anxiety lifted from me because I knew I would see my T on Monday and Friday. I didn’t get any of that shitty horrid attachment pain and physical ache that usually wipes me out on a Wednesday. I didn’t feel like I needed to dig deep or hang on tight in order to get through the week.  I was able to keep sense of my therapist still being out there – which was refreshing! I knew the child parts were there but they weren’t completely beside themselves. It was so freeing.

This week has been total shit, though, back to one session a week and no in between contact. It’s hit me like a sucker punch – even though it is what is normal for me. Two sessions now remain until the break. My session on Monday this week was ‘meh’. Adult me went in and talked shit for half an hour about ‘non things’ and avoided going to the difficult stuff because I’m in self-preservation mode. But then something suddenly shifted. It was as though the little ones clocked that only twenty minutes remained and they freaked out. They wanted to connect with my therapist but then the shame and embarrassment flooded in and rather than reaching out I started retreating inside myself and started to shut down.

My therapist quickly noticed I was starting to dissociate and tried to hang on to me. I could feel myself slipping but she kept talking to me. She said she could tell something was starting to change because my body had changed and that she has noticed I close my eyes more when I am starting to dissociate. I didn’t know this!

I wasn’t able to tell her why I had started backing away but could tell her how it felt like she was behind glass and that I was alone at the end of a very long tunnel. She asked me what I might need in the tunnel? And I said I didn’t know. I was too lost by that point to express the need for someone to be there with me but she said that she imagined having someone alongside me that I adequately trusted might help. I nodded.

She asked me how old I felt and I quickly answered ‘eight’. She said that that was the age where I had already learnt to cope by myself and not rely on anyone. She was right. As usual. I really wanted to be able to reach out to her, to ask her to sit closer to me, to connect, but I just couldn’t. That glass wall is too thick and the tunnel is so dark and long.

Before long the session was over and it was time to leave again. My therapist has really been talking a lot about how difficult the ends of the sessions feel and is more aware now (I think) that they feel like an abandonment or rejection to me and I seem to hit a very young place at the end, like I look frightened or something. She commented that I seem to feel like because the session is over and I have to leave that it’s automatically ‘out of sight out of mind’ and yet that just isn’t the case. She’s right though. It is how it feels to me. I struggle really hard feeling like she doesn’t care unless I am in the room and that is limited to 50 minutes a week. Because I can’t hold her in mind I feel like it works both ways. I find it really helpful when my therapist says things like this because actually the young parts need reminding that she cares. It really helps.

Although, it clearly doesn’t help enough when a break is coming. I just need to do a massive face palm. I know things are dire when my dreams start getting really vivid and regular. I dream a lot anyway but this last couple of weeks has been horrendous. I’m back into therapy stress dreams 101. The ones where I am vulnerable with my therapist, express a need for her, try and get close to her and she physically pushes me away with force. I hate them and they are occurring so regularly (a couple of times each night) that it’s hard to remember that they are only dreams and not the reality.

There have been times when my therapy dreams affect me so badly that I can’t even talk to my therapist properly – for like a month! I get so shut down and scared that I can’t even tell her anything. I fear the dream will play out in real life. It is utterly horrendous. Of course when I do manage to bring the content to session it’s nothing like the dream but it’s so hard when my mind is telling me one thing over and over and yet I am meant to try and believe that the worst won’t happen and trust in someone I can’t hold in mind. It’s so hard.

I think I’m going to write some stuff down tomorrow or draw some flow charts and take them to session with me. I don’t mean to be deliberately avoidant in sessions. Sometimes I just can’t talk and sometimes I can’t even bloody remember what has been paining me outside the session. Man, that is so frustrating! It’s like some kind of amnesia! haha. Ok, so it’s just a product of dissociation and fragmented parts but either way I think I need to take a map with me on Monday so we don’t get lost.

I think that’s all for now. I don’t really know what to say. Bleurgh. Bloody therapy breaks! I guess it’s almost time to:

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Therapy Break – 1 Week In: Struggling to Find Peace

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I’m really struggling to find peace right now – both literally and metaphorically! It’s very early (5:30am) on Monday morning and I am trying to steal myself a little quiet time to write, collect my thoughts, and drink a substandard cup of coffee before the day kicks in and I am thrown fully into the demands of being a mum and wife with the family all on Easter break – which basically means shelving all my needs and doing my best to put a lid on my issues until bedtime when I can hide under the duvet and let the little ones have some time to be how it is.

This waiting is not as easy as it may sound – waiting all day to allow myself to really feel what’s going on inside feels exhausting, especially when right now my dreams are filled with my therapist and leave a lingering sense of being ill at ease for a good part of the day. I am experienced in ‘hiding’ how I feel, I do it week in week out, but sometimes it feels like a ridiculous amount of effort to keep up the appearance of being fine when I am really not fine at all. I am so not fine. Not at all. And whilst I don’t want to sink deep down into the pit of sadness that the young ones feel about being left, I don’t want to deny them space to express how bad it actually feels.

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Sadly, I am not just a mother and a wife trying to enjoy time off with my wife and kids (that on its own wouldn’t be a problem); I am also a therapy client with CPTSD on a three and a half week long break from my attachment figure (therapist) and I feel lost, alone, abandoned and desperately sad. Or rather, the little ones are struggling massively and all the old wounds are exposed, sore, and weeping; and yet again adult me is a fucking chocolate fireguard when it comes to self-soothing and nurturing the vulnerable parts.

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When it’s like this I need to write. Well, actually what I need is a nurturing hug that holds the child parts but that’s not possible now and even if I were to see my therapist it still wouldn’t happen…not touch rule…argh!… and so here I am, once again, trying to let it all out on my blog! I am not sure what to say, but I absolutely need to try and find words for some of how I feel because I am struggling. Really struggling. Have I mentioned that I hate therapy breaks before?! Ha. It’s so boring now.

It’s not even funny is it? It’s painful. I feel mental and unsettled and generally all over the shop.

Clearly, I’ve not found this last week particularly easy, but I think today is going to be especially hard because, whilst I have now effectively ticked off one week of this mammoth Easter break (well done me!), today signals my first ‘missed’ therapy session. In theory, today is just another day of the break; like any other day, it’s a day to try and make the best of things. I need to live my adult life as best I can, enjoy being with my family, despite struggling with the underlying feelings that the child parts have about being abandoned and their fear that something bad is going to happen whilst my therapist is away.

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It’s just not that simple, though. Today already feels bigger… harder… longer than yesterday because today is the day I usually go to therapy and today I can’t. My body clock is set to be in that therapy room at 10:30am on a Monday and, frankly, being anywhere else feels plain wrong! I can feel the anxiety rising in my body knowing that today I am not going anywhere. That today, I can’t let anything out or take anything in with my therapist.

Today I am here and I have to hold my shit together for myself. Yeah, sure, I know, this is no different to any other time, but usually I have a sense of being supported: I usually have a scaffold around my structurally unsound building (the one that I am steadily dismantling bit by bit in order to rebuild a better, more sturdy structure for the future). The thing is, for some reason the scaffolding has disappeared and it feels like bits of the building are now breaking off and rapidly crumbling away. Some people might say, the scaffold is still there, I just can’t see it right now because I am not looking in the right place; either way, my sense of things is that the building is breaking and it might completely fall down if I don’t get that frame back in place soon.

I wish it felt less desperate.

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Lots of people don’t like Mondays. Monday signals the start of the working week, the end of the weekend, and a stretch of time until the next rest period. For me, however, Monday is the day I hang on for each week, the day I look forward to, the day where I can go and be myself for 50 minutes and have someone listen to me and help me work through my issues (and man there are plenty of those!). It’s more than that, though. Of course, it’s partly about having a meaningful chat and unloading some stuff with a safe and empathic person but it’s about taking some important stuff in, too.

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Monday signals the day that the young parts get to physically see that my therapist/their attachment figure is ‘still there’ that she hasn’t ‘disappeared’ or worse, ‘left me’. It’s the day where I try and top up that supply of care and love and nurturing that leaks away each week between sessions.

Therapy consists of various types of work for me but so far as the attachment stuff goes: 1) is trying to refill my leaking bucket and 2) patch the holes that are in the bucket to stop the leak from happening in the first place. I’m talking just about the need for care and love and my inability to hold onto any sense of it. Of course we do lots of other work too. But right now I’m stuck in the shitty attachment spiral and so, of course, that’s what I am going to talk about today.

Sometimes I manage quite well in the week: the holes my therapist and I plugged in session hold reasonably well and so there is a slower trickling away of the content of my bucket. I feel ok-ish. I miss her, yes, but I can get through the week because there is still some ‘evidence’ of her care left in my bucket and I can see proof that we are ‘ok’. Sometimes, I can have a really good therapy session where my bucket gets filled right to the top and so it takes longer for the contents to slip away – these are the better weeks.

Unfortunately, on breaks I am onto a losing streak because despite plugging holes and filling up the bucket to the brim in preparation for the holidays, there are still areas of the bucket that leak. A longer period of time without a mend and refill opportunity means the bucket has more time to empty out. It gets even worse though, because the bucket is pretty empty there’s a great deal of slipperiness on the floor around me. When I’m approaching the desperate stage where my bucket is nearly drained, it’s not uncommon for me to slip and slide about, lose my footing altogether and then eventually fall on my arse, drop the bucket and lose all the remaining content I have been trying so hard to protect….

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I apologise for the long and winding metaphors today!…essentially, I am shit at breaks, I miss my therapist and I can’t maintain a sense of her.

Ugh.

Shoot me now!

To be honest. I don’t really have much to say other than I am struggling a lot. I know this is not an insightful or interesting read. It just is. It’s how I feel. I am moaning and whiny. I am stretched and struggling. I am very aware that the mother wound is starting to seep through my layers of clothing. To the untrained eye it’s barely perceptible, but for me…well, I’m exposed now.

I am going to try and patch myself up, keep calm and carry on. I cannot afford to sink down into that place where anxiety and depression lie in wait because I know who else is down there…and right now I don’t have the strength to battle the Critic. There’s still 17 days to go of this break and so right now I am trying to dig deep. I need some resources to stop the bucket emptying and the walls from disintegrating.

I’m going to go and grab my pebble and shove it over one of the holes in my bucket to stem the flow, or shove it in a weak part in the wall of my building to replace a crumbling part.

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

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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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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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