Starting Over After A Break

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“Lily, oh Lily – I don’t feel safe
I feel that life has blown a great big hole through me.”
And she said,
“Child, you must protect yourself,
You can protect yourself;
I’ll show you how with fire..”

                           [from ‘Lily’ by Kate Bush ©1993]

 

 

 

I have had my first two post-summer break therapy sessions now. And it has felt, well.. strange. Both on Monday and today I found myself uncharacteristically tongue-tied at the beginning of session. [I am often silent during the first few minutes of a session, but I don’t often feel that I can’t speak]. There were plenty of thoughts and feelings buzzing around, but I just didn’t seem able to catch hold of any of them to translate into words.

In the very first session I was initially completely overwhelmed by how powerful the relief of seeing P. was. I hadn’t expected to have quite such a strong emotional response. I could almost physically feel Little S. doing backflips in sheer joy at the sight of P. in her chair. Back where she belongs.

And, at the same time, there was a real urge to withdraw and protect myself from anything and anyone who wasn’t me. To go to my island, the one that is so tiny that it only has room for me. The one where I feel safe in the knowledge that no one else can get to me.

See, that’s the funny thing about Little S.; as happy as she was to see P., – and she was very happy – she is also naturally suspicious of others. Just because P. was back and everything seemed alright, it didn’t necessarily mean that Little S. would readily take that at face value. So, she went from being absolutely delighted to have P. back to ‘You disappeared on me, so I’m not quite ready to trust you yet’ in seconds flat. You see, Little S. is – as I explained to P. in today’s session – a lot like Little My of the Moomin Valley; there is only ever enough space for one feeling at a time and she can go from one to another in no time at all. One second ‘overjoyed that P. was back’, and then – boom – ‘suspicious that she might do another disappearing act’.

 

- Little My - "If you're angry you're angry." Little My reasoned, peeling her potato with her teeth. "You're supposed to be angry from time to time. Every little creature has that right."


“If you’re angry you’re angry,” reasoned Little My, peeling her potato with her teeth.
“You’re supposed to be angry from time to time. Every little creature has that right.”
[From Moominpappa At Sea by Tove Jansson ©1965]

 

P. suggested that maybe Little S. is quite angry with her – or even really angry with her– for leaving her to fend for herself while she went on a nice long break. As soon as P. said that Little S. – sensing danger at being called on her negative feelings – had to go into hiding, and Adult Me was left to explain that Little S. wasn’t quite ready to deal with those feelings yet, ["Little S. has left the building"] even if P.’s guess was probably spot on and Adult Me would have liked to have been able to talk about it, together with Little S.

At the beginning of today’s session, while still in Unable To Speak-mode, I became aware that there was a song playing in my head. It seemed unlikely to be chance that that particular song had decided to play, so I shared a few somewhat random lines from it with P.: “Child, take what I say with a pinch of salt, and protect yourself with fire”. At the time I felt very aware that I was leaving out two lines about feeling unsafe and being afraid, but as I am writing this now, I am thinking that maybe that’s not the end of the world? I have another session tomorrow, and if I want to, I can mention making that choice – so we can look at the reasons for consciously leaving those oh-so-revealing lines out, or I can leave it as it is, because even though I missed out parts of the lyrics, we kind of managed to touch on the themes of not feeling safe anyway.

We also spoke about feeling unsure if this need to protect myself through withdrawing [from P.] is something I – or at least Little S. – genuinely needs to do in order to cope, or if it is something I now do per automatik, unquestioningly and without thinking, because it is what I have ‘always’ done.

I suppose that this is a constant battle for me; striking the right balance between being mindful of Little S.’s needs, and challenging her to take tiny steps forward.. It is also, admittedly, a struggle at times to manage Adult Me’s frustration with the amount of time Little S. needs to take any little steps at all. I often find myself having to repeat the mantra that ‘baby steps are also steps’ to Adult Me, because if she had her way, she could quite easily race ahead at a pace neither Little S. nor Adult Me is ready to cope with..

 

All the very best,

xx

 

Lily from the album The Red Shoes. This video features in Bush's short film The Line, The cross and The Curve.
Kate Bush © 1993

Hearing the Littles – A Therapy Break Update

Våga Lita - Dare Trust A reminder written on my arm before going into a therapy session shortly before The Break

Våga Lita – Dare Trust
A reminder written on my arm before going into a therapy session shortly before The Break

It is far too early on a Sunday morning for me, or indeed anyone, to be awake. But, I am. Anxiety is stretching my nerves to the point of breaking, and I have been unable to sleep for about forty hours. Insomnia isn’t out of the norm for me; it is part of my pattern. But the anxiety is. Or, at least, the level of anxiety. I can feel the extreme imbalance of the chemicals surging through my system, splashing around, crashing into each other and the rocky shores of my insides that have until now been unknown to me. The inner landscape of my body is soaked, drenched, in acidic anxiety, and I can’t think of how to rid myself of it, how to alkalise.

I know that I can and will get through this. I have survived it before, and I will again. It is just that the strength of emotions have taken me by surprise. Yes, I was nervous about this upcoming break in therapy for weeks before it started, but I thought that perhaps this time might be different, because, in contrast to many other breaks, I – we – P. and I, had spent so much time talking about it, preparing for it, putting in place things to make it more manageable. And I, foolishly it seems now, thought that that in itself might dull the sharpness of my feelings. But it doesn’t.

I miss P. terribly, and even though I have talked to my friends about it, and many of them have responded with empathy – more so than in the past, it seems – I am still left feeling that no one really understands the depth of my emotions. Or maybe it is a sense that others expect Adult Me – the intellectualising, reasoning, part of me – to handle this, to take charge and make it all OK, for all of the different parts inside of me. Truth be told, I think that even I expect her to.

But, what happens during a therapy break – a break from my pseudo parent – is that Little S. – not Adult Me – is the one who is reacting to this separation. Adult Me can watch, but can do nothing about that, because Adult Me wasn’t there when the fear of separation and abandonment, was born. Adult Me hadn’t yet been formed when Little S. – or even before then – tiny Baby S. were dealing with life in a world where there simply was no stability, where her parents gave her up and left her to fend for herself, completely void of tools with which to do so. Because of this, the reassurance Adult Me is continually trying to offer rings hollow to Baby S., in exactly the same way reassurance from anybody else does. Adult Me may be one of many parts that forms the whole of me, but she wasn’t there when it happened, and as far as the Littles are concerned, she doesn’t get it any more than my incredibly kind and well-meaning friends do. Not emotionally. And Little and Baby feel just as nakedly defenceless as they did back then.

Of course Adult Me has acquired lots of tools over the years to deal with situations like these. And during normal, daytime, hours, she makes the most of those tools and is often successful in temporarily alleviating much of the fear and anxiety. But when the rest of the world goes to sleep, and Adult Me is exhausted from a day of constantly trying to soothe those Little parts, when she needs a break to stock up on supplies, that’s when the primal scream of Baby S. sounds the loudest, deafening all intellectualisation and reasoning.

Baby S. was about six months old when she was adopted, when she came to live with her new parents in Sweden. No one knows, and Baby S. can’t remember, what happened in the six months before then. But the emotional echoes of the feelings born in those months still bounce between the walls of her outer shell, and when something like this – a separation, a perceived abandonment from a care giver – happens, those echoes amplify and drown out everything else. The echoes are always there, even in peacetime, noticeable in the fear of forming attachments with others and the difficulty in trusting, but when an actual separation happens something explodes in her, because just as Baby S. couldn’t know at the time that that abandonment would be temporary, she is now – still – blind to this fact. Baby S. only knows the here and now, isn’t able to look to the future, so when Adult Me, in sheer exhaustion, takes a break from reassuring Baby S., Baby S. thinks that this will last forever.

I wrote an email to P. a few weeks prior to her going on her summer break, about the whole How to cope with your therapist abandoning you for a minor eternity-issue, and as I am writing this now, it strikes me that that is exactly what I am dealing with: a minor eternity. It is minor in the eyes of the world, even in Adult Me’s eyes, but to Baby S. and Little S. – both of them too young to understand the concept of weeks or days or even minutes – it is an Eternity. And eternities have no foreseeable end.

As I wrote at the beginning, I will get through this separation, just as I have got through separations in the past. But in order to help Baby S. and Little S. I need to remind Adult Me to deal with them gently and patiently in the understanding that they have not yet got as far in the healing process as she has. They will get there eventually, but it will take more than the survival of a few therapy breaks for them to feel safe enough to integrate fully, to get to a place where The Whole can begin to work as a single entity, rather than as a multitude of frightened independent parts.

So, I say to myself, as much as I do to you:
be kind to your Selves.

 

Much love,

xx

 

The Beginning Of A Break

Had my final pre-therapy break session yesterday, and it was hard. Or, maybe hard isn’t the right word? It was emotional. Not emotional as in floods-of-tears-streaming-down-my-face-fifty-minutes-straight, but it certainly stirred things up inside of me in a big way.

So, P. and I spent most of the session talking about all the different feelings this break is bringing up for me. How it makes me feel like the abandoned, forgotten baby I once was, the distant echoes from when I was tiny and was given up by my birthmother, and how – even though I have no conscious memory of it – that must have had a profound effect on me. I also retold the story that my mother [technically adoptive mother, but it’s not a term I ever use; she’s just my mother] has told me so many times: that about two or three weeks after I was adopted my mother was downstairs doing something with my brothers, and she completely forgot about me. Not as in ‘she forgot that I was upstairs in the baby swing’, but as in ‘she utterly and completely forgot that I even existed’. My mother tells this story as a bit of an amusing anecdote, but of course, there isn’t really anything very much fun about it at all: I had already been given up once and then only a few weeks later my new mother also forgot that she had a baby to care for..

We also talked about how I simultaneously fear it will be an incredibly difficult break and that it won’t be difficult at all. That it, paradoxically, is easier to deal with the idea of finding this break an immense struggle, than to cope with the idea that it mightn’t affect me much at all. Because, if it isn’t difficult, if it doesn’t affect me, what does that say about P.’s and my relationship? Of course, it could just mean that I have simply developed better ways of self-soothing than during previous therapy breaks, but, knowing myself, I am far more likely to jump with instant certainty to the conclusion that it must be because P.’s and my relationship isn’t really all that special after all etc etc etc.

Last week P. gave me a few suggestions of things we could do to make me feel less abandoned during this break, to allow me to hold on to her even when I’m not actually seeing her. One of her suggestions was to give me a recording of her voice for me to listen to, if she started feeling too distant in my mind. I rejected that idea right away, stating that it wouldn’t be all that useful, considering how poor my hearing is, all the while knowing that that wasn’t the reason at all, but rather that something about having a voice recording felt too close and too scary for me to cope with. Another suggestion, in a similar vein, was that perhaps it would be helpful if she were to give me a photograph of herself to look at. This led to me coming clean and admitting that I already have a picture of her, and that – yes – I do find it very helpful to look at it. P. said that this photo would be different, though, because this would be a photo she had given me, which I agreed it would be, but that I needed to think about it.

What I failed to explain to her at the time, and which later came back to haunt me in the form of a number of sleepless nights, was that I said nothing about why [how?] I had a picture of her. Eventually, it got to me so much that I had to write her an email to explain that it wasn’t quite as creepy-stalkerlike as it may seem: because of the prosopagnosia I have taken to doing a quick search engine/social media scan for a pic to add to any new contact I put in my address book, including the guy who comes to fix the boiler. Just for clarity: I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong in having your therapist’s photo; most clients have a very natural, healthy curiosity about their therapist, and googling someone is hardly the crime of the century – it was more the fact that I hadn’t said anything about it to P. that was bothering me, because it filled me with anxiety that she might think I was exhibiting creepy stalkerlike behaviour. Unfortunately, the very sweet email she wrote back to reassure me that this wasn’t the case, that she didn’t feel it was either creepy or stalkerlike, for some reason didn’t make it through to my inbox, and consequently my anxiety was quadrupled over the next two days. But, we managed to talk all of that through later.

In the end I did accept P.’s offer of giving me a photograph. The actual photo is one that my prosopagnostic brain has trouble deciphering as being of her – there is something about the fact that she isn’t smiling with her eyes – as she so often does in session – that makes it hard for me to understand that it is really her in the photo, but it still means a lot to me having it. I treasure it in the same way that I might treasure a handwritten note from her, precisely because it is from her. I also showed P. the picture I already had of her, and I think she understood why that is a picture I find much easier to connect emotionally with – because in that photo she seems very relaxed and is indeed ‘smiling with her eyes.’

The final idea of how to cope with this separation was one I came up with. I had been thinking about what exactly all of those fears inside of me really are, and what different ways we had worked out to deal with each one of them, and I realised that one of my biggest fears – the one about being forgotten and left behind – could also be dealt with, with a photo. This time, I suggested to P. that maybe I could send her a photo, of me, because even though Adult Me intellectually knows that I won’t disappear from P.’s memory the second I am out of sight, her having something of me with her would make Little S. feel a lot better. [For long term followers, this idea was a modified version of the rubber duck I gave A. in our very last session together.]

So, all in all, that last pre-break session was a good one. I felt quite overwhelmed by P. saying so many kind things to me, particularly when she said that her having my photo meant that she could take me with her on her leave.. But, as I also explained to her, it was good overwhelming, not bad..

Right at the very end of the session P. asked one last time if there was anything else she could do for me, to which I said: “Just make sure that you DO come back”.

To which she replied that she wanted the exact same thing from me.

 

xx

Reconnecting

I’ve been writing this update in my head for about a month, only I’ve not got down to typing it up. I am struggling to remember where I was at, emotionally, when I posted my last update, but I know that it wasn’t a very nice place.

Things sort of spun out of control for a bit. I went into the worst period of constant flashbacks I have ever experienced and ended up, once again, at Drayton Park. The whole first two weeks of staying there I more or less only ventured outside of my room to see P. for therapy. I didn’t eat, didn’t sleep and didn’t socialise with any of the other women who were staying there, so this stay was very different to many of my previous stays at Drayton Park. I simply found it too much to be around others when I was being thrust back into the past again and again and again, in an endless waking nightmare of relentless flashbacks.

Something very serious happened while I was at the crisis house, something I still don’t feel I have properly processed or understood, and I may come back to that another time, but for the time being I won’t go into it. I need more time to think about it.

In my third and final week at Drayton Park the frequency of flashbacks began to decrease and I was able to be my usual self a bit more. I had a few really good conversations with some of the other women staying at the project, feeling privileged to be allowed hear their stories and to get to know them a little. It is always a very special thing when someone decides to trust you enough to share of themselves.

I saw D., my ex-counsellor, in passing a few times during my stay [since she is based at Drayton Park one day a week] and we had some good, honest banter over lunch one day. In fact, it must have been really good, even to others listening in, because after D. left one of the residents asked me if D. was my mother, because we had such a ‘natural and easy way with one another’. How anyone could associate ‘natural and easy’ with a mother-daughter relationship is beyond me, it certainly doesn’t fit with any experience of a mother-daughter relationship I’ve ever had, but it was a very nice thing to hear, nonetheless.

Good banter aside, as D. and I were ending one of our little mini-conversations she told me to take good care of myself. Force of habit I shot a semi-automatic “I always do” coupled with a bright smile in her direction. Only, this being D. on the receiving end, she didn’t just let that statement slide, but immediately lobbed a “No, you don’t” back at me. She then paused, looked me right in the eye and slowly repeated “No. You don’t.” And there was so much feeling in those words. There was an unspoken – but clearly received – message of ‘I so wish that you did take good care of yourself. Because you really, really matter.’  And that meant a lot to me.

 

*

 

It has now been four weeks since I left Drayton Park, and there have been both ups and downs. The frequency of flashbacks seems to be back to normal, more or less. It is in no way easy to deal with the flashbacks, regardless of the less intense frequency, but it is a lot better than what it was. As I explained to a friend of mine; it’s a bit like my breathing. While my breathing is never really all that good, immediately after a bad asthma attack the ‘not so good’ still feels like a relief, by comparison.

Therapy with P. is going well and we are continuing to build our relationship, making sure to take plenty of time to do so, so that all of the different parts of me – especially Little S., who is so terribly afraid of anything that resembles trust and care and attachment – feels both seen and heard. Little S. gets scared, because she learned very early on that all of those things will inevitably lead to pain and hurt, and as much as Adult Me wants to challenge that fear, wants to show her that this relationship with P. can be safe and won’t necessarily lead to pain, it takes time and patience to get there. It takes a lot of work to truly alleviate fears that are that deeply rooted.

We are coming up to our first therapy summer break by the end of this week and as a consequence anxiety has been running high both for Little S. and for Adult Me. Regular readers of this blog will know that psychotherapy breaks is a topic I have written about a lot over the years, because it brings to the fore all of my fears about being abandoned and forgotten. It is also one of those things that people who haven’t been in therapy never seem to fully understand or appreciate. And, to me, that is also part of what makes breaks in therapy difficult; the sense that others don’t understand how hard they really are. Whenever I mention to ‘non-therapy’ friends that I feel really anxious about an upcoming break, I always get the feeling that they are thinking that I am worrying over nothing. And if I, during the actual break, say something along the lines of finding it hard that my therapist is away, the immediate response is invariably ‘When will she be back?’ followed by an equally predictable ‘Well, it’s only X weeks left’. This, of course, feels terribly invalidating, since a therapy break isn’t really about length of time at all, but about strength of emotions and how to cope with them in the absence of a safe place to explore them.

P. and I have been talking about this upcoming break and how I will be able to manage while she is away. P. had a few different suggestions of things we could do and I felt incredibly touched by them. I know that it probably seems a little silly, but it had never even entered my mind that she would have spent time thinking of ways to make this easier. I am so used to doing all my thinking and coping on my own, and I feel simultaneously grateful and overwhelmed by the care she has shown me leading up to this break.

 

I think I will end this update here.
Hopefully it won’t be quite so long before I post another one.
[I always seem to be saying that, these days].

Just before I leave you for this time: Thank you all so very much for the many moving and kind words posted in the form of comments and emails during this past blog hiatus. I am sorry that I haven’t been able to respond to all of you, but please know that I do read every single email and comment, and they really do mean a huge deal to me.

Namaste.

 

xx

 

 

 

Life’s A Dance You Learn As You Go

To me, writing is like breathing; a necessity for life. So, the fact that it has taken me this long to feel able to update my blog may be an indication of the degree of difficulty I have had in holding on to life itself. For the past several months the wish to just let go, to allow myself the luxury of that Final Rest, has been a minute-to-minute struggle. It hasn’t been a crisis as such – at least not in my eyes – and there has been a very definitive lack of urgency about it all. No mad dash towards the Ultimate Finish Line, just a steady step by step journey towards a glittering End ahead of me. It stems from walking around with a soul that is simply so tired, so emotionally exhausted that it naturally gravitates away from life. The strings I have used so many times in the past to pull myself away from the edge are either broken or have disappeared altogether.

I wrote in my last post about having a flat battery and a faulty charger, and that, to a large degree, is still how I feel. Like I am running on empty.

But I am still here, and not only that, I am here through my own very conscious decision to be so. It isn’t a case of Death all of a sudden having lost its vice like grip on me; I can still feel those cold skeletal fingers around my ankle.. but, I can also feel my other foot – the one Death has yet to reach, planted firmly, barefoot, on the soft grass. It is a defiant “I decide when I step across that line, not you.”

I have always felt that ending one’s life ought to be a decision, not impulsive acting out because things are so unbearably difficult in that one particular moment. I wouldn’t ever want my loved ones to be left wondering What if she had only just got through this crisis? Would she still have made the same choice?

I am not so naïve as to think that a ‘painless suicide’ exists – suicide always comes with pain in its wake – and I accept that whatever the intention, there will always, inevitably, be question marks forming for those left behind, but I would like to have done my best to minimise the suffering. I would like them to know that this was what I really wanted. And this is one of the reasons why I am still here today. Because I will not let go while I am in the middle of what is a very difficult period. You simply cannot make a rational, reasoned decision in the midst of chaos.

In the last week I have yet again entered one of those nightmarish periods where one flashback follows the next – ceaselessly, relentlessly. It is an incredibly painful place to exist within, a place where it feels as if nothing is my own, where I keep being pulled under the surface again and again and again, with hardly any time above water to catch my breath. And even though I know that this won’t last forever, it certainly feels endless.

In session today, P. revived the metaphor I used before of jumping into the pool, not knowing whether or not I would be able to swim, and she reiterated how it is her job to be the life guard. She said that we need to work together to create metaphorical armbands, to help me stay above water. My immediate response to that was that I taught myself to swim, without water wings, thank-you-very-much, that, in fact, I actually learned to swim under water, before I figured out how to do it with my head held above the surface.

I have often said that even though I generally learn new things quickly, I am an emotionally slow learner – but now I am sitting here, thinking that maybe it is really that I am a slow unlearner. In the months since I started seeing P. I have struggled with echoes of past relationships, with trusting P. to know her own limitations and have automatically and without thinking taken on sole responsibility for managing our relationship. I can see where this need to be in charge comes from, and I know what the original sources of those echoes are.. What I find difficult to do, however, is to make a different choice this time around. While I have needed to be solitarily strong and in control in the past, this may not still be necessary. It makes me think of a ’90s country song that goes “life’s a dance you learn as you go, sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow”..

You need to have that balance in a relationship; to sometimes lead and sometimes follow. I am pretty good at the first, but markedly less so when it comes to the latter. And maybe, just maybe, it isn’t such a bad thing to allow someone else to lead every once in a while..?

 

xx

 

Life’s a dance you learn as you go

Sometimes you lead

Sometimes you follow

Don’t worry about what you don’t know

Life’s a dance you learn as you go

 

Life’s A Dance © 1992 Shamblin & Seskin

A Flat Battery, A Broken Charger

You know that mode where you get so overwhelmed by things that your whole system simply shuts down? That state where everything tangles and intertwines into an almighty tied up, knotty, gnarly mess and you can’t find an end to start, even though you are staring at a million and one loose ends [either one of which would do], but you just can’t seem to be able to pick one up? That is the mode I have been in lately.

Today I finally managed to pick one of those loose ends up: writing something about what has been going on. It’s not the one that should be at the top of my list, or even in the top ten, but it is the first one I have felt able to pick up in a long time, and starting somewhere, I suppose, is better than not starting at all. Perhaps.

My sessions with P. have been progressing in a squiggly upward curve. I have challenged myself to share things that I would never have thought possible, and I have very very cautiously began to accept – maybe even trust – our emerging relationship and the terrifying intimacy that comes with it. There is something very gentle about the way P. works with me. I don’t mean that she takes things unduly slowly or that she doesn’t challenge me, because she does, but there is a lot of focus on doing things in such a way that there is always time to experience the emotional impact of what we are talking about. There is space to explore both how it is for me and also, crucially, how it is for her to enter these dangerous minefields, where each tiny step can so easily explode into painful memories or full-blown flashbacks. I think [even though something inside of me feels afraid to put it in writing, lest I jinx something] that I am in fact beginning to feel safe with P., and it is such a deliciously unusual feeling, so delicate and precious, that I find myself softening my grip on Control to ensure that I don’t accidentally break it.

Some weeks ago I said to P. that beginning this journey felt like standing on the very edge of a pool knowing that I need to dive in, but feeling uncertain whether or not I would be able to keep myself from drowning once I hit the water. So, P. looked right at me, in that way she does when she wants me to really listen, to truly hear her, and gently suggested that maybe I could try to remind myself that I am not alone and that she is actually quite a good life guard.
P. often talks of how desperately Little S. – my inner child, the child me – needed to be seen and heard and cared for, and how this, our relationship, is a place where that can happen, where it is safe to let Little S. out.

So, I have been pushing on, have been trying really hard. Yesterday, I even brought Doth to my session, because I knew it would be an immensely difficult one, and I thought having her in my arms might make it a little easier.

But at the same time, there is this other part of me that can’t help but to ask why I am even doing this. What the point of it is.. Because lately I am struggling to see one.

You see, all my life – even while the abuse was still going on – the one thing that always kept me going, that got me through, was the thought that one day I would have children of my own. It made it worth soldiering on, made it worth living through the abuse. Later on, it made it possible to cope with the daily onslaught of flashbacks, made it worth going through the often very painful process of being in therapy. All because one day I was going to be somebody’s parent. That thought, that one day I was going to be somebody’s parent, is what has always kept my heart beating; as noisy as the difficulties and struggles have been at times, that thought always beat louder. One day I was going to be somebody’s parent.

Only, for the last five years I have been trying for a child, have discovered that I have fertility issues, have had fertility treatment, and have had it fail. And as much as I have been trying to fight it, slowly the knowledge that this – my one dream, the one thing that has always kept me going – has dissolved, has died and no longer exists, has truly sunk in.

Please, refrain from telling me that It may still happen, you can’t know that it won’t or Have you thought about adoption? or Lots of people have no children and still have fulfilling lives. Yes, I have thought about all of those things, of course I have, I have had years to think about it, but the bottom line is that the one thing that I have ever wanted for myself is something that I will never have. And the one thing that has made it worth working so hard all these years to keep my head above water is no longer there. And rather than well-meaning, but ultimately empty, encouragement, I need space to mourn. Because, for me, this is a loss greater than any other. It is the loss of hope.

The motivation for going through therapy, for wanting to get to a place where I am as whole as I can be, has always been because one day I was going to be somebody’s parent. I wanted to get through as much of the difficulties as possible, for the sake of my future child. But, if that is never going to happen, then, what is the point?

I know I am supposed to want to do it for me, but that has just never felt important enough. I have never been important enough to me. And, yes, maybe that can change. After all, that is part of what P. is trying to do with me. It is just that all of my energy is draining from my soul and the hope that once helped recharge my battery isn’t there anymore, and soon I will be running flat.

So, do forgive me if I have been a poor and absent friend lately. I really am truly sorry that I haven’t been able to be there for you in the way that you deserve. I am so very blessed to have people who care so deeply about me and I am incredibly thankful for having you all in my life. But, right now, I suppose I need to preserve whatever energy I have left in my tank, to fuel whatever it is that it takes to be me.

xx

 

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The Greatest Joy & The Biggest Sorrow

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Daring To Trust

 

Today I did something that scared me, something that made me feel, something that needed me to be braver than I have ever been before. I shared something that I had never ever shared with anyone before.

*

I have now been seeing P. for just over a month. Ten sessions to be precise. And it has been, well, quite a big change for me. It is hard to not constantly compare the work I am doing with her to the work I did with A. It isn’t so much that I keep thinking that one is decidedly better than the other, but I am struck, over and over, by how different it is to be in therapy with P. The relationship we are tentatively building has a whole different feel to it, there is an added dimension to it, a quality that is hard to paint in words, but which is so real I can almost feel it physically.

That said, I miss A. I do. I really miss her. I miss the way I would spend time in session self-analysing and contemplating different angles to things, turning things round and round and having the luxury of going through all the ins and outs of my thoughts, with A. every now and then reflecting back to me what she heard me say.

I find myself, sometimes, making statements that I feel would have fitted well in A.’s therapy room, but which don’t quite work in the space I share with P. I find that doing my ‘getting into therapy mode’ routine, which I have been doing for nearly five years with A., feels awkward and out of place with P. I still do it, because it is simply the way I kick into gear, but I always feel very aware that P. is there, waiting for me to look at her and greet her properly.

So, there’s a lot to get used to. I find it so scary, the way P. meets me at the door, always with a big, warm and welcoming smile, and the way she seeks to make eye contact with me. I find her invitation to form a real relationship with her absolutely terrifying. There are alarm bells going off all over the place, simply because they have been tuned to mistrust that kind of openness and warmth, has been trained to automatically look for the ulterior motive behind any random act of kindness.

But, I am determined to not allow myself to use that fear as an excuse not to dig deeper. I am determined to find a way to ‘dare to trust’, to challenge my own hardwired concept of the world, of others being out to cause me harm. So, I’ve been pushing on with P. I’ve used my sessions to talk and talk and talk and talk about this fear of attaching, this extreme inability to trust – I’ve talked very openly about it all and she, in turn, has responded to it. And I think that that is where some of the healing may lay; in having those fears heard, having that reluctance be understood and accepted. Because – paradoxically – that is what may ultimately allow me to let my guard down, to allow P. in for real.

And today I took a leap of faith. I brought my journal with me, and I shared a drawing I made this morning of something that happened to me, something I had relived in the form of a flashback earlier today, and which I have never ever shared with anyone before.

It was incredibly scary to do, and before I did it, before I even opened up my journal, we spent time talking about what I was feeling, what the fear really was. I explained that there was something about P.’s presence that made me feel more scared than I would be, if I were on my own with the drawing. That something about her being there made me feel more exposed, more vulnerable, because I didn’t know how I would react to looking at the drawing in front of her, and I also didn’t know how she would react. The metaphor I used to explain it to P. was that it’s like standing in front of the mirror, naked, and then doing the same thing, but with someone next to you. The first is hard enough to do, the second all the more frightening.

At first I just sat with the journal in my lap, looking at the drawing I had made, without sharing it with P. Just to see what that would feel like, to test the waters. I found it difficult, had to actually use my hand to cover up the parts of my drawing that felt too difficult to look at. And then, in the middle of doing this – in the middle of shielding myself from my own drawing – it occurred to me that I didn’t need to be the one who was stuck with the drawing. I didn’t need to shield myself from it. I could give it to P., and she could protect me from the full force of the raw horror that the drawing contained. So, I handed it over to her, barely daring to look at her.

But I did. Look at her. And, yes, there was a reaction to what I had drawn, an obvious emotional response to what she was seeing splashed across her face, and it made me feel very afraid, anxious that maybe I had pushed her too hard, too soon. But then P. spoke, first about how what I had shared in the drawing was something no child should have to experience, and later, about how she felt about me having shared it with her. And it made me feel better.

In the session before this one, I also shared something, in words rather than through a drawing that time, and towards the end of the session P. asked me how I felt about what I had shared. So I talked about it. And then – the thing that made me really feel that there might be a possibility that I could trust her to take good care of me – she asked if maybe I needed to also know how she was feeling, having listened to me. So, I nodded and said that I thought that would be good, feeling so immensely grateful that she had understood how enormous my fear of breaking others with my story is.

And that – her honesty in sharing exactly how listening to me affected her – is what made it possible for me to take this huge step in today’s session. Because, something about that – about P. not holding back on her own response, is what makes me feel safe, makes me feel that she knows her own limitations, and that – because of this – she wouldn’t allow either one of us to go further than we could cope with.

xx

“It’s time we made a place
Where people’s souls may be seen and made safe

Be careful with each other
These fragile flames..
For innocence can’t be lost
It just needs to be maintained..”

JK

 

Innocence Maintained  © 1998 Jewel Kilcher

Surviving An Ending: Starting Over

Finishing with A. was always going to be immensely painful and would inevitably leave me with a whole host of scary feelings, and nowhere to put them. So, in a bid to keep myself from harm’s way I decided to give myself a time-out immediately after The Ending.

Chickening out of allowing any kind of time or space for those Scary Feelings to rear their ugly heads, I made sure to book a seat on the first morning flight available after The Ending – and – looking back, I think that was a wise choice, indeed; getting through even just an afternoon and evening after my final session with A. was a momentous task, and didn’t feel like something I could have coped with safely for any length of time at all, to be perfectly honest. Far safer to spend time with sisters and nephews and brothers-in-law, all of whom provide sufficient distraction, and help me find some balance between being hit at full force by the painful loss of my relationship with A. and shutting down altogether. In short, I made a conscious choice to be around people who I knew I would feel OK to not be OK around, if that makes sense.

But, now I’m back. And – fearing that reality is about to strike – I have purposely thrown myself into all things Olympic in order to buy myself some more time and shelter myself from the whirlwind of emotion which is sure to soon come sweeping across my soul.

*

I had my first two sessions with The New Therapist this week, and that was both absolutely emotionally draining and a huge relief. The New Therapist – who I have decided to call P. [as that was the letter that immediately came to me the very first time I met her, at the initial consultation], is very different to A. Although she is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist, just as A. is, she is also attachment-based. And that is a whole new ballgame for me. It’s all very relational, very direct and very open. Even at our first meeting I noticed that she actively wants to make eye-contact with me, and seeks to engage in a completely different way. And that will take some getting used to. As much as I have often found myself frustrated with what I have experienced as a certain lack of closeness or intimacy with A., now that it is being served to me in this way, it is quite a scary thing, because in that slight distance between A. and I, there was also safety: for better or for worse I could opt to hide in that space if I needed to, and I have a feeling that is something that will be a whole lot harder to do with P. There is something about this open invitation to attach that leaves me feeling vulnerable and somewhat exposed. And allowing myself to enter into a relationship in that way feels strange and more than just a little scary.

I will say that, instinctively, I rather like P., and I think that – once I get more used to this new way of relating to The Therapist, this could be quite fruitful. But, at the same time, I do have a lot of ambivalence: I find myself going back and forth between ‘Go on, dare to trust. Everything you have seen of P. so far points towards you being in safe hands. Try to not hold back so much’ and ‘Don’t do it. Don’t let her in. You’ve been wrong about people in the past, and ultimately you’ll be let down, and you’ll end up being hurt’.

*

As I am writing this post, I suddenly feel very aware that with every difference I note between A. and P., the realisation that I won’t be seeing A. anymore knocks on the door – makes my eyes tear up – and I am also struck by the feeling that I am somehow being disloyal to A. in writing about anything even remotely hopeful about P.  Almost as if I am cheating on her with another therapist. I remember feeling something very similar when I started seeing A., having learnt so much from my work with D., and worrying that in one way or another moving on to a new therapist meant that I didn’t value what D. had offered or the hard work she had done with me. I know that these feelings will eventually subside, and I also know that in some ways I had outgrown A. – or perhaps we had both outgrown our relationship – and the time to part ways had come. But for now, each reminder that things have come to an end in my relationship with A. hurts. Because I really miss her.

I suppose that in a way, ending with A. – and the fact that I really won’t be seeing her again – is a bit like dealing with a death, and I suspect that over the next several months I will be going through all the different stages of grief.

But, hopefully, I won’t be doing it on my own.

xx

Ps. To those of you who know about my trip to Sweden: I know that I am missing out two absolutely massive things about my time there, both of which deserve some proper analysing; I will return to those things in a later post, but for now, I am choosing to leave it out. *hangs the STILL PROCESSING sign on the door*

The End Of A Relationship

Sometimes A Rubber Duck Really IS Just A Rubber Duck ..these ones, of course, aren't..

Sometimes A Rubber Duck Really IS Just A Rubber Duck
..these ones, of course, aren’t..

 

I feel so desperately sad.

Had my final session with A. earlier today. And I just want to cry. In fact I have been crying. A lot. It just feels awful. I hate the way things have ended, it doesn’t feel good at all; there are so many loose ends that we were just never able to tie up and we will now never get the opportunity to do so. I feel we came to an impasse at some point last year, and no matter how hard I’ve tried, it’s just not been possible to break it. And that is what is making me feel so terribly sad, what I mourn. I knew that I would have to end therapy with A., that there really was no other path left to take, but, I would have liked to have been able to rebuild at least some of the things I felt got broken in the midst of this therapeutic breakdown of sorts.

I knowingly opted not to write about the last four sessions as they happened, because I wanted to use these few weeks to deal with therapy coming to an end on my own and in my sessions with A., without discussing and analysing it to bits elsewhere beforehand. I just felt that if I spend a lot of time between sessions writing about them, especially about all the things I didn’t say in session, it would somehow dilute something, would make it easier to remain emotionally remote in session, because I would have already felt the initial force of impact when dissecting it in black-on-white writing. And with this very important final phase of my work with A. I wanted to try to avoid that. Especially knowing how good I can be at switching off emotions, even when I’m actively trying not to.

But, now that it is over, I would like to share some of the things that have been going on. I’m not sure that I will be able to write about it all tonight, it all feels so terribly raw still, so there may have to be a few posts on the subject over the next few weeks, but I’ll make a start today, to the best of my ability.

There is this broken record that’s been playing in my head on repeat this whole time: How am I supposed to say goodbye at the end of the final session, walk through the door and never come back..? It’s a thought I have been wanting to share with A. throughout, but I wasn’t able to give voice to it until today, in the very last session.

The idea of never feels so terribly painful and inescapable that I’ve not quite known what to do with it. In the last few weeks, I’ve often found myself suddenly struck with sheer panic about the fact that I would soon not be seeing A. anymore. That she will no longer be my therapist. And – even more painfully – the realisation that, not only will A. not be my therapist anymore, but I won’t be her client. The link will be completely severed. Forever.

And it hurts like hell.

So, I had to come up with a solution to help me deal with that. Something. Anything. And in the end it happened in the shape of two rubber ducks.. I spent some time thinking about whether or not I wanted to make a card for A. for the final session, or even give her a little something. It’s something I’ve never done in all of our years together. You see, my father – The World’s Greatest Psychotherapist – used to get Christmas cards and Easter cards and Happy Midsummer cards and other bits and pieces from his clients, and I always deeply resented this intrusion of his work in our family home. Feeling that he was already so much more involved with his clients than he was with his family, I really didn’t want reminders of his clients dotted around the house.. As a consequence of this, I’ve always felt I can’t quite cope with being That Client, and as a consequence A. has never been sent a card or left a gift or anything like that.

In the end I decided that actually, doing a little project of some sort, while dealing with the ever nearing ending, might be useful. In essence, to put my own needs before any thoughts about what impact this may have on anything or anyone. So, I came up with the rubber duck idea. It seemed fitting, because I have told A. many times that “sometimes a rubber duck really IS just a rubber duck”, meaning that not everything said in session is an echo of the world outside, and even if there is a bigger duck in the outside world, sometimes dealing with the smaller duck inside the therapy room, will be just as effective at resolving something..

Anyway, I bought two ducks to decorate with my trademark nail varnish flowers. [Having never used nail varnish on this material before, I wanted to have a back-up duck should I need to have another go, using different paints.] As it turns out, nail varnish works really well on rubber ducks, and I didn’t need the back-up, spending an hour and a half painting the duck and thinking about my journey with A., allowing the emotions it brought out to just exist. The idea with giving A. the duck – apart from serving as a reminder of what I used to tell her – was that it might make it a little easier to walk out and never come back, if I knew that there would be something of me left behind. No, I don’t really feel that nothing of me would have been left behind, without the duck, but leaving something physically behind, made it less abstract. Then, last night, I decided to paint the second duck as well, because I thought that if I have the twin to A.’s duck still with me, there wouldn’t be such a definite severing of the link between A. and I. A very comforting thought. So, that’s what I did. When I was done, I named A.’s duck Graduation Day Duck [End of Therapy Duck, was a little too negative] and mine Separation Anxiety Duck. [I think we’ll save analysing that for another time..]

I’ve previously written about the things I’ve felt I’ve needed from A., in order to make this parting of ways more manageable. I can’t say that I’ve really had any of those things, at least not packaged the way I had imagined. But, at the same time, some things have been said – tiny little things here and there that have seeped through when A. has been talking about other things, which have made me think you’re really talking about us here, aren’t you? I think therapists sometimes underestimate the amount of time their clients spend analysing them, and the fact that interpreting what is being said is not a magic skill bestowed on their profession alone. Just as they hear echoes of other things in what we say, so do we see shadows and other dimensions in the pictures they paint for us.

In one session A. said something along the lines of how it is really important for me to hear her say that I am special. I can’t remember if I replied directly to that, at the time, but I remember thinking that, actually, it isn’t so much about being special to her, as it is about feeling validated in the fact that I am unique, that even if she sees a million other clients, every single one with a similar background, our work is unique, because our relationship is unique –  that our relationship can’t be replicated or duplicated, because of who we each are as individuals, and the unique combination that creates.

At times, the refusal to allow me to have this validation has felt very harsh and has been experienced as exceptionally rejecting, regardless of the intellectual understanding that this was not the intention. In the midst of therapy, I can to some degree see the value in not always providing automatic gratification, to instead look at what this need is really about. But, at the end of nearer to five years, when there soon would be no next session in which to analyse things, I don’t really understand this withholding of validation. In fact, even if it really was just about needing to be told that you’re special, what is the cost in doing that? When there is no further analysis to be done within that particular relationship? I have talked to A. about how the fact that both D. and Z. in their final sessions with me made sure I could really feel that the work we had been doing had meant something to them, too, has been really helpful. To be told that I – simply through being the unique person that I am – have had an impact on them, has had a definite positive effect on me. That is not to say that I am unable to feel good about myself without someone else reassuring me of my value, BUT –  a little positive reinforcement from someone you respect can go a long way and create rings on the water that reach very far, indeed. Just look at children who grow up with parents who validate them, and then at children whose parents actively invalidate them, and the benefit of the former becomes obvious. It is human nature to continue to grow in a healthier way as a person, if we feel valued for simply being ourselves.

*

Today the dreaded final session finally came. At the beginning of it I used the duck to talk about the ending, and the process the duck had been part of [and – yes – I did a little analysing of the names I’d given them], and that part of it felt good. But then I sort of side-tracked myself and talked about something entirely different – something which, had this been a normal mid-therapy session, would have been very useful – but, which in the context of this being the final session felt very much like something that wouldn’t really be nearly as helpful as talking about the fact that after 429 sessions and 21,450 minutes spent together, A.’s and my relationship was about to end. At one point I tried to get back to talking about the ending by stopping myself mid-sentence and stating that ‘No, I don’t actually want to talk about that’, but as A. encouraged me to carry on, and not feeling particularly brave, I ended up using all of the precious remaining time on this side-track.

And all of a sudden, without any warning at all, A. announced that “Our time has come to an end”. Not ten minutes before actual end of session, in order to leave time and space for a proper goodbye, but at the actual end of session, with no time to spare. It’s a bad habit of A.’s, this lack of signalling that time is nearly up, and it was particularly deeply felt today.

So, I left feeling somewhat robbed of the chance to say a proper goodbye, because, really, this session was ended much like any other session, with me putting my shoes on and quickly gathering my things, ready to vacate the room for The Next Client.

Yes, I was able to look A. in the eye and say “Thank you”, and  A., in turn, said that she wished me all the best, but, even though she more than likely genuinely does wish me all the best, it sounded awkwardly formal. She tacked a “Thank you for my duck” on after that, with a little more feeling, and that helped some, but I could without a shadow of a doubt have done with another five minutes spent truly acknowledging that what has been an incredibly important relationship for me was coming to an end.

Instead, I said goodbye and walked through the door.
Knowing that I would never be coming back.

And that’s when the tears began falling.

xx

Living With PTSD – Not Like The Movies

I managed to go to service this morning, for the first time in a long long while. Last week I couldn’t go because I had managed to give myself a concussion, before then it was down to running a temperature, and before then – for many many weeks – it has been due to simply not being up to it; too depressed, too submerged in my life/death battle. And then there’s the PTSD. Post-traumatic stress disorder. The bane of my life. A big reason for previously mentioned life/death battle.

I feel that a lot of people don’t really understand what post-traumatic stress disorder is. Or, more accurately, they may not be aware of how it affects people. I think that, at least in part, media is responsible for this. People have generally heard of flashbacks as being one of the symptoms of PTSD, and you often come across storylines in which characters suffer from this disorder, and the viewers are treated to an insight into the flashbacks that they experience in a variety of ways. Only, there’s an issue with this: having a flashback isn’t like watching something happening on a film screen. It’s about feelings. About re-experiencing the traumatic event, as if it is happening all over again, and having an emotional response to it. Again and again and again and again.

In the most recent episode of BBC’s Silent Witness, the storyline followed a former soldier suffering from PTSD. It was explained that certain sounds and situation could trigger flashbacks for him. So far so good; this is all true for many people suffering from PTSD. Later on in the program we got to ‘experience’ a flashback alongside the character: he saw a person on the street, it morphed into a flashback person – someone who wasn’t actually there – someone who had been part of the trauma. All of this is fairly accurate, I think, for a lot of people: flashbacks can very well be triggered by someone who looks like someone who was part of the traumatic event, and flashbacks can absolutely cause a person to see someone who isn’t really there. Happens to me all the time.

But then the character talked to someone about his experience of having flashbacks, and when the person listening to him said something along the lines of “That must be really horrible” the character’s reply was “No, it’s OK. It’s actually quite nice.”

And this, to me, is a huge departure from what PTSD sufferers truly deal with. I have yet to meet a single person suffering from PTSD who would describe having flashbacks as ‘nice’. Because the disorder is caused by traumatic experiences, often very extreme ones, you are not likely to have an emotional response which could in any way, shape or form be described as ‘nice’. Having a traumatic experience is not nice, thus, the emotional response will probably not include positive feelings.

Let me illustrate: say your previously wonderful and perfect partner rapes you. Very traumatic, very hard to deal with, extremely emotionally damaging. Let’s say the effects of the experience go so far as to cause you to develop PTSD. You now have flashbacks of the event. This is hardly going to trigger emotions related to the rosy honey-moon period of your relationship. Whilst you may still – in your conscious mind – remember that time when your partner brought home a dozen roses and your favourite chocolates, and the lovely feelings that gave you, those feelings will not be triggered by a flashback to the rape. They just won’t. Those lovely feelings weren’t associated with the rape, and so can’t be triggered by flashbacks to the trauma.

When you have PTSD [as I understand it, and put in layman’s terms] the memories of the trauma are stored in a different part of the brain to where other, ‘normal’, memories are stored, and the response flashbacks produce completely bypass the part of the brain that is responsible for rational thought. Thus, even though some part of you may be aware that the trauma isn’t really happening right now, and most of the time you are able to remember both positive and negative aspects of a relationship [assuming there have been both], because rational thought is taken out of the equation, your emotional response to a flashback will be as if it the trauma had only just happened, and will involve the feelings you either had at the time, or the feelings you may have had to repress at the time in order to survive. It won’t involve feelings related to an entirely different situation.

I mentioned earlier that flashbacks are often caused by triggers. But there is more to it. While a majority of people with PTSD have flashbacks caused by external triggers [sounds, smells etc – things that in one way or another remind them of the trauma], some people – myself included – have flashbacks that are caused primarily by internal triggers. Internal triggers are tricky, because they are difficult to identify. And if you can’t identify triggers, it is almost impossible to avoid them.

For me, personally, it is often a case of one flashback triggering the next, in a continuous chain, and I am just as likely to have flashbacks if I am out having an absolutely fantabulous time ice-skating with my friends, as I am sitting with someone talking about really deep and difficult things. In short, if I’m going to have a flashback, it will happen, regardless of what I am doing, where I am or who I am with.

One of the first things people [professionals in particular, actually] tend to ask is “What do you do to stop the flashbacks from happening?” to which I answer “Nothing”. They will then in one way or another convey to me that I have a very negative and defeatist attitude which isn’t helpful. Or they will suggest that I do something nice and relaxing – light candles, have a bath, listen to music, and so on. So, I tell them, oh, I do all of those things. Because they are very nice things to do. But I will still have the flashback, only I will have it in the bathtub, with the music playing and the candles all around me. I then say “You know when you go to sleep..?” adding a pause to allow the person I am talking to to nod, since this is something everyone has an experience of, before continuing “Well, you know once you are asleep, yeah?” Another nod. “At what point do you choose not to have a nightmare?”  You see, I can’t choose to not have a flashback any more than you can choose not to have a nightmare. No amount of positive thinking or relaxation is going to change it. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen, and it simply isn’t caused by a defeatist or negative attitude. I know a million different grounding techniques to help me come out of a flashback, all of which I employ on a daily basis, and I am working very hard at finding ways to cope with the emotions the flashbacks bring out, but there is no way I can stop the flashback from happening in the first place.

I have somewhere between 30 and 40 flashbacks on an average day. On a particularly bad day, when it seems like one flashback triggers the next, I can have over a hundred. That means re-experiencing, re-living – the abuse over a hundred times in a day. It means dealing with the emotional impact a hundred times in a day. To me, the fact that I am still here, in spite of this, is proof that I absolutely do not have a defeatist attitude.

If you would like to know what it is like [for me] to have flashbacks, there is a drawing (What Words Can’t Express – A Visual Representation Of Sexual Abuse Flashbacks) that I posted a number of years ago, trying to visually explain that sense of being in two places at once – the past and the present, simultaneously. I feel pushed to warn, though, that it is somewhat graphic, and could be potentially triggering.

I want to make it clear that I am in no way an expert on PTSD, and what I have written here is based on my own experience of living with flashbacks, and on what others with PTSD have told me. Of course, as with anything, different people react in different ways, and there may very well be PTSD sufferers out there who disagree entirely with my take on what PTSD is like. And that’s OK. I just wanted to offer my view of what it’s like.

 

All the very best,

xx

 

PS. In case you happen to know me, I’ve recently added a little section on the right, appropriately called “For People Who Know Me”. You may want to check that out. Not in any way saying that you can’t check it out even if you don’t know me, it just won’t be all that relevant to you. :)