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

 

*

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. :)

Endings: Standing On The Brink Of The Unknown

Being in therapy is being in a relationship. Therefore it follows that ending therapy is an as complex and complicated – and sometimes painful – process as ending any other relationship. There are loose ends and jagged edges to deal with, memories – good and bad – to look back at, and a struggle to not panic and in desperation seek to go back to something that just isn’t there anymore.

I have always said that things that are familiar are often also comforting to us, even when The Familiar isn’t necessarily a good thing in itself. The Familiar is comforting because it keeps The Unknown at bay. And nothing is more frightening than The Unknown.

I have four more sessions left with A.
Four more sessions, after more than four and a half years of working together. In short: it is nothing. I am standing only millimetres away from The Unknown, and I have to find the courage to not turn and run, but rather to allow myself step in to and somehow tolerate existing within it.

I have been spending a lot of time over the Chrismukkah therapy break thinking about what exactly it is that makes this ending feel so difficult, because, intellectually I can see that ending work with A. has more or less become a necessity, both because I am unable to give her the reassurance that she needs that I won’t end my life, and – perhaps more importantly – because we have simply come as far as we can, working together. The conclusions I have reached, as to why the ending is difficult is summed up in the first paragraph of this post; this is the end of a very special relationship, so how could it not be difficult? But, on top of that ‘normal’ difficulty, apart from the anxiety and sadness and sense of loss that any ending brings with it, I think that there is something I need to take from this relationship, which I fear A. might deny me, and this is what makes it so much more painful.

In November, when I finished counselling with Z. – that, too, was a difficult ending. But, I do feel that in the last few sessions – and especially in the very last one – Z. managed to provide me with that one thing I needed: the reassurance that it mattered to her too, that we would not be working together anymore. That I had made an impact on her. That she would actually miss seeing me. What I am talking about here is not a need to be told that I am her favourite person ever to work with, but something far more simple; an open acknowledgement of the fact that working with me is special, because I am special: there is only one of me. So even though my slot would soon be filled by someone else, someone just as engaging, it is still different, because the relationship between Z. and I could only happen because of who we are as individuals, and what we accomplished in those sessions was specific to our relationship, to what we jointly brought to the table.

I talked with A. about this ending at the time, explaining that those things Z. said to me meant a lot, and significantly helped make that ending, if not less difficult, at least not painful, and left me with something positive to carry forward. The fact that Z. actually told me these things, actually said them out loud, rather than simply assume that the way we had been working together and the way we relate would automatically lead me to know it, I think is important. People who have been abused tend not to take things like that for granted, because actions and the meanings of those actions have been so terribly mixed up and confused in the past.

So, I suppose, what I would like from A. is something similar. I’m not talking about any earth shatteringly emotional revelations or dramatic proclamations, but just something said, in clear plain direct speech, about the work we have been doing and about what this ending means.

I asked A. earlier in the year if I matter to her, and she decided to not answer my question, and I am sure she has her reasons for that, but, I think what I need – especially now – is for her to step away from those reasons, whatever they are, and just meet me openly and honestly. The lack of this direct communication in the last few months, is part of why therapy is now coming to an end, and seeing as there will be no Next Session in which to analyse why I asked the question, an answer would be good, would provide me with that Something that I need.

But, as I wrote earlier, my fear is that A. will not opt to go down this route of openness and honesty, and this is where I feel the pain is created. To need to hear that working with me has mattered to her, that getting to know me, hearing my thoughts, means something, is important, and to leave, having been denied it, would be excruciatingly painful.

Of course, I don’t know that this will be how things end, and I really hope that A. will have taken onboard the things I said about ending with Z., and what made that a more positive ending. But, the fear is still there, looming like a dark cloud over my head.. I am seeing A. for the first time after the break tomorrow, and I will carry on talking about all of these things with her, as I had been before the break. I just hope that her response will be different.

*

Before concluding this post, I just wanted to say thank you to all who have emailed me following my last post. I am sorry that I haven’t been able to reply to all of you, but, hopefully, in time, I will. I know that this post hasn’t really been a direct follow-up on the previous one, and it isn’t because I am trying to shy away from the seriousness of the situation, which remains sadly unchanged, but because I feel that – for now – I need to try to deal with things in slightly smaller chunks, and if that means navigating by auto-pilot for a little while, well, so be it. As my sister said We much prefer Auto-Pilot to No Pilot..

But, once again, thank you all for your very kind emails and comments. They have been read, heard and appreciated.

Much love,

xx

Scaffolding

I was supposed to be dead by now.

It feels kind of strange to write it, but it is true, nonetheless. A little over four weeks ago was when it was supposed to happen. I had booked the hotel room where I was going to go to, to end my life. I had everything I needed to do it. I was completely at peace with the idea of going through with it, felt satisfied that I had tried my very hardest to get onto a different path. There was only One Last Thing I needed to do before setting my plan in motion. Except chance intervened and stopped me from being able to do that One Last Thing, and there was no way I could go ahead with ending my life without that.

So, instead I ended up going another round at Drayton Park Women’s Crisis Centre. I was offered a place, having initially been turned down for it, as I was deemed too high risk to be safely contained there. Nothing had really changed between the time I was initially assessed and when I eventually took up a place, but, I banked on my good personal credit that if I made an absolute promise that I would not act to end my life as long as I was staying in the house, staff would trust me enough to let me have a place. As long-term followers of this blog will be aware, I made a very serious attempt at ending my life the very first time I stayed at Drayton many years ago, and ever since then I have developed a rather special relationship both with the staff and with the place itself. It has been a go-to place for me in times of real crisis, a place to sort out my feelings, to create space for myself without having to worry about anyone else, somewhere I feel safe enough to really stay with myself, if that makes sense.

This time was very different. Not because the above things were no longer true – they still were – but because in complete contrast to all other times I have gone there, this time I went into Drayton Park with absolutely no belief whatsoever that anything was going to change while I was staying there. The reasons for wanting to end my life were – and still are – things that could not change through short term crisis intervention. But, I decided to take up a place at Drayton Park, in spite of this. I went there in part because I wanted my loved ones to know that I hadn’t just given up without one last fight, and partly to buy myself time, because as much as I didn’t believe that anything would really change, I also accepted that I haven’t got a telescope to the future, and consequently couldn’t know for sure that I wouldn’t be proven wrong. And I desperately wanted to be proven wrong. I desperately wanted something to change.

A number of big things happened during my time at Drayton Park.
Firstly, counselling with Z. came to an end on the day I took up residence. Secondly, I made a decision that long term therapy with A. will have to come to an end after more than four and a half years of working together. A. made it very clear to me earlier in the year that she is not able to work with me under the threat of suicide, and as I am someone who simply will not make a promise I don’t know I can keep, the only fair thing to do was to set an end date to therapy. Finally, in the last few weeks I have been under assessment of the personality disorder services to see whether or not I should be offered a place with them. I have had very mixed feelings about this from day one, have very little hope that there really is anything in it for me, but again, I try to keep an open mind rather than closing doors.

With all of these things going on, and feeling completely stripped of any hope that there truly is anything out there that could change how I feel about ending my life, I decided to use my time at Drayton Park to go against what my heart was telling me – a very foreign concept to me. To hold on, rather than to let go.

I spent my three weeks at Drayton Park actively putting up scaffolding around my life, in spite of the very real and painful belief that it was utterly futile to do so.

I put scaffolding up by carrying on with the assessment process with the personality disorder services, even though I was reasonably certain that neither DBT nor MBT were really for me, that I don’t quite fit the bill. More scaffolding went up by re-arranging the end date with A.; it has now been planned so that rather than going from twice weekly therapy to nothing from one day to the next – which was the original idea, and which on reflection felt unnecessarily harsh – we will instead carry on with twice weekly sessions until A. goes on her Chrismukkah break later this week, and then go on to do one month of weekly sessions at the beginning of next year to allow for a tapered, more emotionally gentle, ending. Further scaffolding was created by contacting Z. and asking her and her supervisor to have a think about who they might be able to refer me to, for longer term trauma focused work. Someone who might be willing to work with me, knowing what the full situation is, in terms of suicidal ideation.

I also threw myself into expressing myself through writing, taking part in two creative writing workshops facilitated by the most fabulous Leah Thorn, and was able to share some of my feelings about life and death at a poetry reading during the annual Open Day, which happened to be held during my stay at Drayton Park. [Click here to read one of the poems I read that day].

I was discharged from Drayton Park a week ago today.
I don’t feel any different in terms of wanting to allow my very tired soul to rest. I wish I did, but I just don’t.

However, I am carrying on with the building work I started while at Drayton Park: I am working with the crisis resolution team to have some extra support for the first few weeks of being back home. The extended assessment with the personality disorder people has come to an end. In the only way the NHS knows how an Expert was brought in [in the shape of a clinical psychiatrist I had never met before in my life] to try figure out what the heck to do with me. It was ultimately decided that I was probably right: I don’t quite fit the bill and neither DBT nor MBT is going to be particularly suitable for me. However, although I won’t be enrolled on the personality disorder programme with all that that would have entailed, I have been given a care co-ordinator [henceforth called E.], who I will be meeting with somewhat regularly, to have someone within the blessed NHS who knows me and who I can turn to in a crisis.

Z.’s supervisor also got back to me with a name for a specific psychotherapist who she felt might be a very good match for me for long term work, and I will be having an initial consultation with her tomorrow to see if her gut feeling proves right. Although I don’t necessarily feel that even this type of work will really have the power to change anything, I am trying my best once again to at least be open to the possibility that it could have something to offer – and – for a naturally analytically minded person such as myself, at least this type of therapy [trauma work with an experienced attachment based psychoanalytic psychotherapist] makes far better sense than either DBT or MBT.

In my therapy with A. I have tried to be brave and really explore what this big change, this ending of our work together, means to me, and how it makes me feel, the deep sadness it brings out in me. It’s not easy, but I am hoping that through being as open and honest about my feelings as I can, it will make for a more manageable ending.

So, that – dear readers – is where I am at:
In the process of building something that may or may not stand the test of time.

I do hope that it will, but right now, it is simply too soon to tell.

 

Much love,

 

xx

_- * -_ _- * -_ _- * -_ _- * -_ _- * -_ _- * -_ _- * -_

I am the Cinderella wolf
cast out by my pack.
A loner, I run wild
in a forest
of blackest black.

The northern lights above me,
a curtain of greens and purples and blues.
I run fast
I run free
a she wolf with nothing to lose.

The Huntress has lit a fire
its flames flickering between the trees.
An age-old sign of her desire:
to capture,
to kill,
to bring me to my knees.

Ice cold and sharp underfoot
the snow plays an important role;
Reflecting the shimmering moonlight,
a mirror to my tired soul.

Beautifully sharp and deliciously painful
it breaks
with each step
of my stride.
The sound of its breaking
is scary
and echoes
as far as heaven is wide.

The Huntress listens intently
as I move through the still of the night
Her rifle resting beside her,
still unable to catch me by sight.

I know I should just keep quiet,
but my voice needs to sing,
needs to fly
So against my better judgement
I stop
and I stretch
and I cry

My howl instantly gives me away
and the Huntress gets to her feet
Her rifle now at the ready
– our destinies finally meet.

But something stirs inside her;
the pain my voice has laid bare.
is a feeling she too has known of,
And something we both now must share.

So laying down her weapon,
The Huntress falls to her knees
And joins in my desperate prayer
for stillness
and for peace.

                               xx

 

 

A poem I read at this year’s Open Day at Drayton Park Women’s Crisis Centre. The rhythm of this poem, and the rhyming, is purposely off-set and slightly haltering, because when read out loud I wanted it to be a little like a wounded animal, limping. Apologies for the poor sound quality and background noise in the video, may post a proper sound file at a later time.

A Fork In The Road – Choosing A Path

A. has been away since the Friday before last, and it feels like it has been our longest break ever. There is just something about this particular break that has felt sort of endless. Of course, this hasn’t really been the longest one, seeing as she was off on maternity leave last year, but it has felt incredibly long.

I think one part of it is the fact that I have been living in a heightened state of fear ever since I ran into M., and not having A. there to talk it through with has been hard. Yes, I’ve still had Z., but since that’s the place where I’ve seen M., I haven’t been able to relax at all, and that – naturally – has had a direct impact on my ability to open up and talk about things; it is very hard to allow yourself to be vulnerable in a place where you don’t feel safe. That isn’t to say that I haven’t tried to do just that. But, still, it’s in my sessions with A. I usually feel most safe, more sheltered from both external and internal storms. In fact, this is where I am least likely to experience flashbacks. Sure, I do still have the occasional flashback when I’m with A., but it happens a whole heap less there than anywhere else.

A. is back tomorrow, and that’s a good thing, for sure. I feel that there is a lot that has happened in the eleven days since I last saw her, and there is a lot of catching up to do. Prior to A. going on leave I had a session where I tried to be brave and share my concerns regarding not feeling sure about where our therapeutic relationship and work is headed, or even where I would like it to go.

There is one part of me who is listening closely – perhaps even a little too closely – to other people, who all seem to be suggesting that perhaps I am overly attached to A., and that I have really come as far as I can, working with A. That I may have outgrown her, in a sense, and the time has come to start over with someone else. And at the same time there is the intense pull in the opposite direction: that while there are many things that are less than ideal in our relationship and the way we have been working together, there is a golden opportunity here to work things through, to have a different experience to what I have had in many previous therapies.

I think what troubles me most is the fact that I feel so completely in the dark about my own motives for wishing to go in either of these directions. Is thinking about terminating my work with A. really a result of outgrowing something, or is it a case of the exact polar opposite? That, actually, having spent years only dipping my toes I am now dangerously close to allowing myself to dive in head first? Perhaps terminating is a way for me to avoid having to do that? It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that happened. In at least three previous therapies I’ve managed to find an ‘out’, when things have got a little too hot. Maybe I am really just repeating a pattern here? To cut and run, rather than stay and face my fears?

And, at the same time, is my wish to stay with A. purely about this opportunity to go deeper than I have done before, or is it rooted in fear of letting go of the emotional safety blanket A. has been providing for me in the last four and a half years? Change can be a pretty scary thing, and sometimes we all need a little push in the right direction to dare take that final step off the beaten path.

I definitely feel that working with Z., alongside A., in the last few months has been a very positive experience, has made me reflect on the work I have been doing with A. It has helped clarify in my mind what I feel has sometimes been lacking. But, equally, it has highlighted the things I really appreciate in my relationship with A., the things I find a little overbearing in my work with Z.

In many ways, therapy with A. is a very independent endeavour; I am most definitely in the driver’s seat, choosing which roads to go down, which ones to avoid, and what speed we should be travelling at. Counselling with Z. is a lot more directed, something which became very clear when she expressed concern that we may be dipping too deep into things. And, at the same time, Z. is a lot more head on than A. She often asks very direct questions about what’s going on for me, what I am feeling, and, particularly – what I feel about our relationship, pushing me to go to a place where it is a little scary to be. And, this is an area where A. and I don’t really manage to communicate all that well. I am not sure if this is down to me and my fears, or if it is a situation A. and I have created jointly, but I do know that it is absolutely one of the things I would like to change.

A. made a comment when I talked about this, among many other things, in one of the last sessions before this break, which I feel is both valid and makes me worry. She said that all these questions I have about our work together, the uncertainty of where we are going, the not knowing where I would like to go, echoes very loudly in the rest of my life: there is a lack of clear direction and a strong feeling of being pulled in two opposite directions [the wish to live and work through things, and a darker pull towards giving up and ending my life].

As I wrote earlier, this comment does have some validity: I can see the echo, and I get what A. was trying to tell me. And at the same time, there is some frustration on my part about the way A. tends to see most everything I say about our relationship as a direct echo of something bigger in the world outside of her consulting room, the way she sometimes seems reluctant to allow me [us] to fully explore what’s there inside those four walls. My general view is that, yes – there are often echoes of the outside world being reenacted in A.’s and my relationship, but, that this doesn’t mean that what is going on between the two of us isn’t equally real and in need of being worked through. One doesn’t negate the other, and sometimes a rubber duck is just a rubber duck.

As you can see there are a whole lot of questions bouncing around inside of me at the moment, and very few solid answers to counter them, but I hope that in the next few weeks I will be able to use my sessions with both A. and Z. to look at them closer.

xx

Self-Harm Distraction Techniques: "Draw, Don't Cut"  [..the slightly more creative version..]

Self-Harm Distraction Techniques: “Draw, Don’t Cut”
[..the slightly more creative version..]