Feeling Bad & Being Bad – Allowing ALL of Your Selfs into Therapy

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“And, what if – after everything that I’ve been through – something’s gone wrong inside me? What if I’m becoming bad..?”
 “I want you to listen very carefully: You’re not a bad person. You’re a very good person who bad things have happened to. You understand? Besides, the world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters – we’ve all got both light and dark inside of us.”

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The above is a transcript from Harry Potter & The Order of the Phoenix – film, not book – an exchange between Harry and his godfather, but – Death Eaters aside – this could just as easily have been a dialogue between Little S. and P. It’s a conversation they have had many, many times, and one – I suspect – that they will continue to have many more times.

The concept of somehow being bad because of what has happened to us is a common one among people who have suffered sexual abuse. The sense that our experiences in childhood has somehow tainted us, marked us for life, is something I think many can relate to. And even though the adult part of us may well be able to recognise that this is not the case, for our inner child this is a stain that feels all but impossible to remove. It has sunk so deep into the grain of what we were made of, that removing it feels as if it would mean removing a part of who we are. This is especially true if the abuse began when the we were very young, before we have had a chance to form a strong sense of our Selfs.

Little S. struggles greatly with being able to understand that feeling bad and being bad are not the same thing. She finds it almost impossible to distinguish between the two. And that makes perfect sense; because what was happening to her made her feel terribly bad inside, at the same time as one of the abusers made it his favourite pastime to reinforce again and again and again that the reason why he was doing what he was doing to her was precisely because she was bad, the two concepts got mixed up. So, ‘feeling bad’ became ‘being bad’. And, between the abuse and being fed the black and white fairytales that most children are fed, where bad people do only bad things and good people do only good things, yet another truth was formed: if you do something bad, you must be a bad person. Even the dialogue above goes on to state that “What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.” It’s a lovely sentiment, on the surface – our actions define who we are, we can choose to be good rather than bad. But, – and it is rather a big but – for a child in an abuse situation, choices are limited, and more often than not we had to do things which we perceived as being bad [playing along, saying the things the abusers wanted to hear, we may even have been taught to act ‘provocatively’ by the abuser and so on..] all of which even further instilled in us that we were indeed bad. We didn’t just feel bad about what was happening or about the choices we were forced to make, we were bad. And because we were bad, we deserved the bad things that were happening to us. After all, the villain of the fairytale must inevitably be punished; the bad guy banished, put in prison or even killed..

As I am writing this I am aware of Adult Me wanting to step in, to protest, to tell Little S. that she is not the villain, she is not to blame. That those choices weren’t really choices at all, and those actions [the ‘playing along’, the ‘saying the right things’..] were extraordinarily complex survival skills dressed as what looked like bad choices. And that is a very good sign of health on Adult Me’s part, both the wanting to step in to protect Little S. from those misconceptions, and the ability to see them for what they are – but, Little S. needs therapy, too – Little S. especially needs therapy – she needs to be allowed to explain what the world looks and feels like to her, she needs the space to share her truth and to have that truth heard and accepted. So, for now, Adult Me will need to take half a step back.

And that can be a real struggle in therapy. I’ve written previously about this difficulty, how in my work with P. we found that the way to allow Little S. to speak, without Adult Me interfering or even censoring, was not found inside of the fifty minute hour, but in emails and drawings between the sessions. And even that didn’t happen overnight. It took conscious effort on behalf of Adult Me to stop herself from editing Little S.’s communication with P. And that is a hard, hard, thing to do. But, it has finally given Little S. a voice of her own. And, recently – with a lot of hard work – Little S. has even been able to have her very own fifty minute hours with P.

P. and I work a lot on trying to understand what feelings, thoughts and beliefs belong to which parts, and also to recognise that they are all valid. [Not necessarily true, but absolutely valid]. The different parts agree wholeheartedly on some things and disagree wildly on others, and for me, it has been incredibly helpful to stop and listen to what the different parts have to say.

When Little S. writes emails, she does so using childish phrases that Adult Me would never use, and in session she speaks with the kind of language and grammar and even tone of voice that a child of four or seven or nine would – even when she writes by hand, she does so in her own writing. It’s not about acting – I’m not pretending to be a child again – I am just temporarily holding back the other parts, I am turning down the background noise, so that Little S.’s voice can be better heard. And it is so so helpful. Not just to Little S., but to all the different parts of my internal system. It helps us notice where different parts struggle, and it helps us understand where the different internal conflicts take place. And it feels good to know that each part can exist both in its own right, and as part of the whole system; that the whole is simultaneously both exactly the sum of its parts, and so so much more.

I still struggle with this – it is simply not an easy job, understanding oneself and ones inner workings – and it has helped enormously having P. actively encourage all the different parts to speak up. This is one of the things that makes therapy so great: you’re not doing it on your own, there is a second heart and soul in there with you.

I know that working in this way – understanding the whole as being made up of many different parts – is not for everyone – and I also recognise that I am only at the very beginning of this journey myself; I am in no way an expert in the field, but, I would recommend anyone to give it a go. Maybe sit down and allow your Little to write a letter – about anything [it doesn’t have to be about something particularly difficult or painful] – in his or her own words, without the self-consciousness of your Adult Self holding them back.

Whether or not you choose to bring what you write to session, I think that you will discover both how difficult it can be to separate one part of yourself from another – and just how much your Little has to say, perhaps even things that he or she may not have been able to say before. And that has got to be worth quite a lot, don’t you think?

Do be kind to your Selfs.

All the very best,

xx

http://youtu.be/hxDLoeDTXl0

When Your Therapist Goes Away

Here we interrupt the regular scheduled programme for a Holiday Special: “When Your Therapist Abandons You”

“Big Kids DO Cry” – a little illustration I made while sitting at the library pondering what childrens books REALLY teach our children.

Yes, it’s here once again – that darkest time of the year when your therapist has almost certainly gone off and left you. My guess is that you’re just about half way through it by now, and at this point things will either have got a lot easier – because you’ve got used to having the rhythm of your week disrupted – or, got rather a lot worse – because you’ve been trying desperately to hold it together, but now you’re running out of whatever it is that has kept you going until now. Or, you may be – like me – dealing with both of those scenarios, simultaneously; things getting both easier and much much harder at the same time. [Really playing the odds with my guesses here, aren’t I?]

So, let’s talk about it.

I realise that I have written about breaks a lot, and I am likely to be covering similar grounds once again, but there is one slight difference; this post is written from inside a break, not in anticipation of it. It is quite possible that I am remembering this incorrectly, but my feeling is that I generally tend to write quite a lot more prior to the beginning of a break to then go fairly quiet and disappear almost entirely during it.

Either way, this is where I’m at: I last saw P. on December 21st. Prior to previous breaks I had got increasingly better at, sort of – very sort of – broaching the subject of The Break before it actually happened, rather than just ostriching [that’s the technical term, look it up!], which is how I dealt with pre-break anxiety pretty much all the way through the five years I was working with A.

With P. I had begun to at least mention that I was aware – very aware [I’m sure you know the feeling!] – that a break was coming up, and that there were in fact feelings connected to it. I may not have been quite brave enough to really explore those feelings, the desire to go back to ostriching being too strong, but I would at least acknowledge the fact that there were a lot of feelings floating about, messing with my head, heart and soul. This time I took it a few steps further. A few weeks before the actual break – all the way back in early December – Little S. wrote an email to P. that I thought I might share with you:


                                                                                                              *


To P.

I am feeling very extremely sad that soon you are going to go away from me again. That is because I don’t like it when you are away, because then I can’t see you anymore ever again for a very long time. And I will miss you too too too much. And maybe I won’t even remember what your voice sounds like. Also I think that maybe you will forget everything about me, because I know that usually I can be very easy to forget. And also maybe I will forget all the things you have said about feeling bad and being bad. And that makes me very especially worried in my soul. Because then sometimes I do Very Bad Things. And then I will know that I am bad, because of doing those Very Bad Things. When you are away no one can remind me about feeling bad and being bad, and I can’t tell the difference all on my own. I can only remember it when you tell me. So that makes me feel very extremely worried.

From your Little S

PS. Maybe before you go away you can think of a song that I can listen to, like you did one time before, because I really really liked that. Because then I can listen to it and I can think about you and my soul can remember your soul. Or maybe you can write a little letter to me before you go. But you don’t have to do anything if it is too much trouble. I understand.


                                                                                                              *


As you can see this is an email written by Little S. completely on her own, without Adult Me stepping in or editing away the most embarrassing bits. This is not an easy thing to do, allowing your inner child to voice their fears – in their own way – in spite of your adult self’s embarrassment and self-consciousness, but it is such a valuable tool, because when it comes to therapists [read: pseudo-parents] going away, it is often that very young part of you that takes the biggest hit. All those fears of being abandoned, forgotten, and left behind shoot straight through Adult Me’s far tougher shell, and allowing those feelings to be exposed can really make a difference.

So, we took time to look at those feelings, with P. working very hard at getting us [all the different parts] to acknowledge our true feelings, both about the actual break and about P. herself. – Yes, we are talking about acknowledging anger and disappointment and feeling let down here. Can’t honestly say that I quite managed to go all the way this time round, either, but it certainly wasn’t for lack of trying, and especially Little S. did a great job of using a few sessions to speak directly to P. So, yes, I’m really rather proud of us all.

Knowing that things might get more than just a little bit rough during P.’s absence I sorted out a referral appointment with the crisis resolution team for the day of my last session with P. This, too, was new: me reaching out to ensure that a bit of extra support would be on hand prior to actually hitting rock bottom.

This has worked out really well, especially since the person I saw for the assessment told me right away that they would be working with me all the way through until P. is back, rather than doing the usual little dance of “We’ll see you x times, to begin, and review your needs as we go”. That has been incredibly helpful, because as much as I always say that how difficult a break is going to be is completely independent of how long it is, it is far easier to cope with little chunks of a day or two at a time, than trying to deal with an overwhelming fourteen day break in one go.

Knowing that I’d be working with the CRT throughout meant that we were able to schedule regular appointments, and also to ensure that on top of in-between appointments I would definitely be seen on all significant dates during this period: Christmas Eve [that’s when we celebrate Christmas back home, and I reserve the right to call people who insist on celebrating on the 25th Stragglers!], New Years Eve, my mother’s birthday and the anniversary of my first suicide attempt [when the abuse I was being subjected to came out]. So, that has really has been very useful.

In our final session before the break, Little S. gave P. a letter which she read in session, so that we could talk about it, and P. gave us a card on which she had – among other things – written a special bit for Little S., to remind her that feeling bad is not the same as being bad, and that she won’t forget me, because she ‘carries me in her heart, just as I carry her inside when we’re not together’. Also, as she has done over the last few breaks [and some particularly difficult weekends] P. leant me her little soap stone hippo – let’s call him Ringo – who fits perfectly in my hand, to keep me company. Needless to say [but I think I’ll say it anyway], both Ringo and the card have been invaluable to me.

It’s not been a bump free ride, but I do feel very proud of how I was able to prepare for this break, and for accessing help during it, rather than making it harder than it needed to be.

Do be kind to your Selves.
And your elves.
They are not just for Christmas, you know!

All the very best,

xx

 
What song did P. leave me with? For me to know, and you to guess.

But here’s a good one:

Every Part Of You Needs Therapy : Baby S.’s Story

impossible shapes

“Looking Back At My Younger Self” – An ‘impossible’ drawing I did, inspired by Reuterswärd, Escher and Penrose

Whenever I think about who I am, I always reach the conclusion that there is more than one answer to that question. I have written about the concept of every person having different parts to them before [the baby self, the child self, the inner teenager, the adult etc], but I have been wanting to write more about each individual part for a while now, so that is what I am planning to do in the next few posts. [Emphasis on planning here – no promises, plans sometimes don’t pan out]. I have no idea how interesting this will be to anyone else, but as it is something P. and I do a lot of in our therapy [exploring, defining, trying to understand the different parts and how they work – and sometimes don’t work – together in my internal system], I know that it will be a useful exercise for me. So, I am going to be a selfish blogger for a little while. And I use the word ‘selfish’ here in the purely positive sense of allowing myself and my needs to come first. That said, I know from the emails I have been receiving from you over the years, that many of you share similar stories to mine, and I hope that you, too, will get something from this exercise – maybe even take a little time to think about your own internal system?

I am going to start with Baby S., because that is where the person I am now begun. Baby S. is simultaneously the very oldest and the very youngest part of me. She is the part of me who was there from the beginning, the tiny pre-verbal part of myself. She is the one who was around when I was living at the Indian orphanage in the first seven months of my life, she is the one who first experienced being abandoned, first experienced loss. When this happened, I don’t know, because I don’t know if I was born at the orphanage or if I was brought there. And if I wasn’t born at the orphanage, then I don’t know whether a stranger found me somewhere on the streets of Calcutta and handed me in, or if my birth parent made the decision to take me there themselves, because it was what they believed would be best for me. In fact, I don’t even know if my separation from my birth parents was forced upon them or if it was a choice they made. All I know is that at a very early age I experienced the extreme trauma of being abandoned. 

Baby S. is also the part of me who for the first seven months of my life experienced a serious lack of human-to-human [or rather adult-to-child] contact and care. This I do know for a fact. I know this, not from having a conscious memory of this lack of close contact, but because I have been back to the orphanage I came from, and I have seen the little metal cots shared between two or three babies [hence correcting myself earlier; there was most certainly human-to-human contact, but not adequate adult-to-child care]. This inadequacy was not because I came from a particularly bad orphanage, it is simply down to the fact that I come from an exceptionally busy and over-crowded one. [Actually, scratch ‘exceptionally‘ – it is probably no more busy or over-crowded than any given orphanage in India]. The nuns working at this orphanage no doubt tirelessly do so because they care very deeply about all these abandoned babies and children, and are passionately wanting to do what they can to provide for their tiny little charges, but there are simply not enough of them going around, and – sadly – their job becomes never ending rounds of nappy changes and bottle feeds – conveyor belt style – to ensure that no child is missed. So, in spite of these heroic efforts, precious little time is spent with each individual child, and the opportunity to form any kind of meaningful attachment is virtually nil. 
I was ten years old when I went back to visits the orphanage I came from, and even as a child of that age I was acutely aware of the Baby S.-part inside, and I didn’t need an adult to explain to me how lonely and frightening it must have been for me as a baby to be in that environment. It is hot, crowded and noisy, with little colour or comfort. No toys, no safety blankets, no dummies [that’s British for pacifiers], no cuddly teddy bears.. Bleak, bare and loud, with hardly any Big People to care for you; a very sad environment for anyone to be in, no matter what the age. Needless to say, visiting that orphanage had a big impact on me, and it has played a huge part in why I have always been so much more interested in understanding the effects of starting out in an environment like that – void of significant caregivers to form attachments to – than wanting to find my birth parents. 

Anyone who has been adopted will be more than familiar with Everyone Else’s two compulsive-intrusive questions: “Do you know who your real parents are?” and “Would you like to find your real parents?” My answer is invariably: “Of course I know who my real parents are – I grew up with them, and, no, I’m not hugely interested in finding my birth parents.” An answer, which is more often than not, met with disappointment. It is as if, being adopted, one ought to have a strong desire to trace one’s biological roots, and if you haven’t got that desire, well, you must be lying to yourself. I genuinely don’t feel I am lying to myself; I just haven’t a strong desire to trace those roots. That isn’t to say that I won’t ever feel that desire, merely that – as of now – it’s not played a big part in my life. Yes, of course I have at times wondered about them, but – somehow – I have always had a really strong sense of who my parents were and what they were like – even though I couldn’t possibly have any conscious memory of them. Maybe it is a biological imprint that we are born with..? I don’t know. All I know is that I’ve always been far more interested in understanding how my early life experiences have shaped me, than finding out who the people I came from were. So, let’s go back to exploring that: 

Apart from being abandoned, Baby S. is also the one who had to deal with the most extreme life change out of all of the parts that make up my internal system. At seven months old her whole life was turned upside down and inside out when she was brought from the orphanage in the loud and crowded city of Calcutta, to a tiny coastal town in the very north of Sweden. I don’t think the climate or cultural change could have been greater. This was a new life, in a whole new world, with strange new smells and sounds and ways of doing things. And a whole new set of people. A mother and a father and two older brothers, one of whom was also a deeply traumatised young child [2.5 years old on the papers, in reality closer to four] brought over from an entirely different part of India, at the same time. 

One of the things that is always said about me as a baby, post adoption, is that I was “such a good little baby”, meaning that I was a very quiet baby; I rarely fussed and I slept more than most. I was also out of nappies before I was a year old. Every time another story gets retold for the umpteenth time of what a good baby I were, I always have an urge to scream that “Of course I didn’t fuss! Why would I?” and I can feel that it is the Baby S. part of me having this reaction. By the time I was seven months old and came to Sweden I had already learned that there was no point in crying if I needed something, whether it be food, a new nappy or a cuddle, because no one would come, no matter how desperately I cried.. I simply had to wait my turn, whether I understood the concept of waiting or not. So, I stopped crying, stopped fussing, stopped trying to get the attention, care, and love that I so desperately needed. Because I knew that it was pointless. And the sleeping? Well, I’m no expert – but it sounds to me like either a stress relieving coping mechanism kicking in, or early depression. Or, more than likely, both.  

Because of Baby S. inside of me, I experience intense anger whenever I hear people asking new parents “Is he a good baby?”. What’s the answer to that? “No, she’s an absolutely terrible baby, she demands feeding and changing and she won’t let us sleep for more than half an hour at a time!” To me, good does not equal quiet – and I know that my sensitivity to this kind of talk is really Baby S. having an emotional respons. She can’t help but to kick off when someone starts talking in those terms. Which is great – finally she is able to express herself, be it through emotions rather than words. 

That brings us to one of the challenges of allowing Baby S. space in our therapy. Baby S. is pre-verbal, she doesn’t have language – or rather, she hasn’t got words. So, how can she be part of the therapy? I haven’t got a definitive answer to that. I mean how do you get a pre-verbal part to speak? My solution so far is to work on getting Adult Me to become more attuned to Baby S.’s emotional signals, so that she can verbalise on Baby S.’s behalf. It’s not an ideal solution, because dressing a baby’s emotional world in adult vocabulary requires translation, but it is a starting point in terms involving Baby S. in our therapy. The first step to giving Baby S. a voice in the outside world is to listen for it. So, I try to get Adult Me to actively listen to what Baby S. is communicating. It’s sometimes – often, actually – rather a difficult thing to do, especially if what Baby S. is desperately wanting to say, happens to be the exact same thing that Adult Me is wanting to hide from, and still needs to defend agains.

I believe that Baby S. only ever communicates truths – she has not learned that truth can be manipulated to suit one’s needs – and conflict can occur when Adult Me is not yet ready to face that truth. Still, it is work in progress. Through Adult Me’s active listening, and through her translation into spoken word, Baby S.’s feelings can be brought into the open in the space I share with P., and together we can work with it. 

And there is a lot of stuff to work with. Trust me. 

There is an excellent blog called Everyone Needs Therapy – a sentiment I share. Only I would take it one step further and say that Every Part Of You Needs Therapy.



Take good care of your Selfs,

xx 

A Little Bit About Attachment Based Therapy

Parent & Child – Building Blocks and Stepping Stones

I had an email recently [notice the common thread from my previous post..?] from a reader who wanted to know more about the kind of therapy that I am currently doing: attachment-based psychoanalytic psychotherapy. [Just drips off the fingertips when you type it out in full, doesn’t it..?]. So – after some thinking – I wrote her back, and I thought I would use a modified version of what I wrote in that email as a basis for this post, because it turned out to be a really good thinking exercise for me. What is it like to be in attachment-based therapy? In what way is it different to the more classic psychoanalytic therapy I did before?

Before I go on to recreate my email reply I want to make very clear something which I failed to highlight in my original response, namely that it is attachment-based therapy that I am doing. This has absolutely nothing to do with the highly controversial pseudo-“therapeutic” approach known as ‘ attachment therapy’, which is something I would never choose to do, nor would ever recommend to anyone anywhere, as it is, in my view, nothing but a re-scripted form of abuse trying to pass as therapy, practised on already traumatised children.. Strong words, I know, but then I do feel very strongly about calling something therapy that is clearly not therapeutic.. And I really don’t want anyone to think that this is the kind of treatment I’m undergoing three times a week.

Now that’s out of the way – let’s cut to the email and talk about attachment-based therapy:

Having previously been doing more classic psychoanalytic therapy with A., I would say that – in my experience – the main difference that theattachment based-part offers is that it is a very open and relational approach to therapy. Of course, all therapy is about forming a solid relationship with your therapist, but attachment based therapy puts a very heavy emphasis on building a real and genuine relationship with your therapist. It is an open invitation to form a strong attachment with your therapist, an opportunity to learn that it is OK – and safe – to attach to someone else, to allow yourself to be cared for and to depend on another person. I think this is an incredibly valuable [and often unbearably frightening!] thing to be offered, particularly for people who have not had the opportunity to experience safe and secure attachments during childhood, whether through having been given up for adoption, through abuse or through having had parents who simply lacked the skills needed to be the safe adult that all children need and deserve.

I suppose that being in attachment based therapy is a little bit like being re-parented. Not in a being-bottle-fed-again kind of way, nor in the sense that you don’t have to take responsibility for yourself or your actions, but in that you are given the opportunity to learn [ever so slowly!] to trust that someone else can really and truly be there for you, to be allowed the luxury of finding out that you are not ‘too much’ and that you can be loved and accepted for all that you are, including the bits that you feel ashamed of, the bits that you would rather keep hidden, even from yourself.

In our nearly two years together [two years? already!?] P. and I have slowly built our relationship through mutual openness. I try to be as open as I can with her, and she, too, shares openly of herself with me. I don’t mean that she self-discloses lots, but that she shares of who she is with me. The best way I can explain it is that rather than putting on her ‘therapist hat’ for me at the start of each session, she simply is who she is all the way through, and part of that is that she is a trained therapist, and she utilises the skills she has gained through her therapist training in our relationship. [I have no idea if this makes any sense to you, but I hope it does].

P. talks directly and honestly with me – no ‘blank canvas stuff’ – and I try to do the same. In fact, it is often through her openness that I dare do the same. P. has even talked about the love she feels for me and the special place I have in her heart, [now, that’s a Special Kind Of Scary, believe you me!] and she will tell me if something I say moves her or makes her angry or sad or confused or proud or frustrated, etc etc etc. And that really is one of the greatest things about our therapy, because it gives me a model to copy, makes it OK for me to tell her if something she has said or done moves me or makes me angry or sad or confused or proud or frustrated; it is very similar to how a parent who allows themself to show and share a wide range of emotions with their child, teaches the child that it is fine to do the same, that all feelings are OK and can be accepted. To me, this is also one of the more obvious differences between the psychoanalytic therapy I was doing with A. and the attachment based therapy P. and I are doing – the way P. provides a model to follow.

One of my absolute favourite things about P. is that she’ll laugh out loud if I say something she finds funny – with no attempt at all at trying to hold back her response in favour of analysing my joke. Of course there is a fair bit of analysing going on in our therapy, too, but it is much more a case of us jointly thinking about why certain things come up and looking together at why other things don’t, than P. silently sitting there analysing my every word. And if I sense that P. is hesitating to say something to me,  or seems upset by something I’ve said, we can talk about that, too. – Trust me, she doesn’t get let off the hook if I think she is holding back! Or if she is bringing attention to something more than I feel is warranted, for that matter.

Another important aspect of our relationship is that P. is constantly reassuring me that she is there for me and that she can cope with what I tell her [in the same way that a secure parent would reassure their child]. P. also encourages all the different parts of me [Little S, Adult Me, bob etc] to take part in our therapy and to share their feelings, so that we can begin to understand the dynamics inside, to see how the different parts work together and what causes friction and inner conflict. I’m not talking about dissociative personalities here, just the very ordinary internal structure we all have – the inner child, the responsible adult, the raging teenager etc etc.

Because I sometimes find it difficult to allow Little S. to speak in session [Adult Me tends to get embarrassed by her childish neediness and her desire to have a mummy who will look after her and love her] P. encourages all the different parts to email or text her in between sessions and over weekends, so that those parts that perhaps couldn’t be heard in the session have a chance to share, too. And that really has been an invaluable tool which has added a whole different dimension to our therapy. 

When I [or Little S. or bob] contact P. outside of session she will respond to texts and emails not just with a quick one-liner saying “We’ll talk about it on X-day”, but instead she responds in full to whichever part contacted her, sharing her thoughts, and also reassuring me that she really wants me to share what’s going on with me between sessions, that she wants to know.. Just like a parent would. Or at least should.   – I won’t lie, it has taken me a looooong time to feel OK with reaching out to P. between sessions, in all honesty a lot of reassurance is still needed – but, thankfully, she is happy to provide that, and that is so helpful to me, because I do need that reminder regularly. Very regularly.  We’re not talking P. telling me that it is OK to write her once or twice or even fifty times, we’re talking at the end of most sessions and after most of my emails..

Also, P. knows me well enough by now to know that – despite her constant reassurance – one of my greatest fears is that I will break her through asking too much of her, or through sharing too much Bad Stuff, and that those fears tend to crop up immediately after a difficult session, so she will often save a few minutes towards the end of a session for me to ‘check her out’. [As I’m writing this, I can hear her ever so gently asking ‘How are you feeling now? Do you need to check how I’m feeling..?’]

There is of course lots and lots more to write about doing this style of therapy; there is no way that I could fit it all into a single post, but I do hope that I have, through my rather rambling writing, given you at least a little bit of an insight into what being in attachment based therapy can be like.

Of course, this is just my experience – someone else might have a completely different idea of what attachment based therapy is like, and – as I know I’ve written on my blog previously – therapy is far less to do with the theoretic approach – that’s merely a backdrop – and much much more to do with the relationship and chemistry you build with your specific [or, in my case, terrific ;) ] therapist.

But I suspect y’all knew that already – ‘cause you’re a clever lot!

All the very best,

xx

PS. You are more than welcome to disagree with my opinion of attachment ‘therapy’, just don’t expect me to change my view about this particular subject..

To Blog or Not To Blog, That Is The Question

Quick art made using absolutely nothing but a piece of paper, a few seriously old ink cartridges, and my now very ink stained fingers. No pens or brushes used.

Quick art made using absolutely nothing but a piece of paper, a few seriously old ink cartridges, and my now very ink stained fingers. No pens or brushes used.

I had an email from one of my readers recently, someone who had only just found their way to my blog and who felt that they could really connect with what I was writing. It was a really nice email to get – as are all emails I receive – because they remind me of the fact that even though we are all unique and different and separate, our human emotions can connect people from all over the world, people who have never met –  and probably never will meet – in a deep and profound way. Also, it really reminded me of the reasons for keeping this blog going. And I really needed that, because, I’ll be completely honest, in the last few months I have been very seriously considering whether or not to retire from blogging – hence the ridiculously sporadic updates. Apart from finding life such a struggle a lot of the time, I also felt that I was beginning to repeat myself in my posts, that I had nothing more to offer people coming to this site.. And what is the point in posting, if that is the case..? But, this email – along with many other emails I’ve received – told me otherwise. In fact, it made me think that perhaps, rather than retiring from the blogosphere I ought to actually invest more time in my blog. Maybe this blog is the way that I can – in some very small way – help make people feel less alone in what they are going through? Maybe this is my opportunity to contribute to making people feel a connection to the rest of the human race? I don’t know how many emails I have received over the years of blogging where people express genuine surprise at having discovered that somewhere in the world there is another person – whose name they don’t even know – who shares similar experiences, feelings and thoughts as them. And who find that comforting. So.. for now, I shall keep my blog going. Maybe repeating myself isn’t the end of the world, because even if I am expressing a similar idea to what I have shared before, I will have changed since the last time I wrote about it, and maybe my readers will get something new from it, because they, too, have changed?

I wish I could promise that that from now on I will post more frequently and regularly, but, knowing me – that may turn out to not be true. But, at least I shall do my very best to carry on with it.

Be kind to your Selfs and look out for another update very soon, because for once I already have The Next One and even The Next One After That written and ready to post. How crazy is that!?* Just spacing them out a little to not shock and/or overwhelm any of my long time readers. ;)

xx

PS. I feel I should add that – not being a great believer in altruism – I, too, get a lot from this blog, because every time someone contacts me, whether it be in a comment or an email, I am reminded that I’m not alone, either. So, a big thank you to all who have written me over the years.

* How crazy is that!?*  Not quite so crazy. Turns out being in bed with a sprained ankle, a cracked rib or two, and a banged up knee [special clumsiness birthday gift to self] is exceptionally good for your blogging

What Happened Next

The Ephalant In The Room – A Real Talking Point

So.. What happened next..?

Well, it turns out I was right. A stay at Drayton Park was indeed on the horizon. A long stay. Four weeks, to be precise. It was a difficult stay, but, then again, by its very nature going to a crisis house is never going to be all that easy. I struggled hugely with life and death, or perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that I struggled with life to such a degree that death seemed a better option? Also, in the midst of a all that I developed shingles, which is of course exactly what you need when you’re at a stage where death seems a better option. Let me tell you, the pain is excruciating; I should know, this was my fourth ride on the shingles merry-go-round.. And, because things are never straight forward, the antiviral meds I was given this time to help with the shingles made me violently sick and ended in an ambulance ride to the hospital, being on a drip for 12 hours, to rehydrate me. Also, there was strong suspicion that I had suffered a mini-stroke [a TIA], as both a friend of mine and staff at Drayton Park had observed my speech being intermittently slurred in the two days prior to my becoming ill from the antivirals, something which couldn’t be attributed either to the shingles or the medication. So, you can see what I mean when I say that this was a particularly difficult stay. – There was also a racist incident which had a big effect on my stay, but I don’t really want to go over that right now, because it will only upset me, and for the time being, any upset I can spare myself is good.

 

There Is Often Much Going On Beneath That Which Seems Crazy And Fantastical On The Surface

 

The life-and-death dance aside, when I was offered a place at Drayton Park, I made a conscious decision to try to actively balance out the destructive impulses with creativity, so, as always seems to be the case when I am at Drayton, out came the paints and canvases, and I spent many many hours doing art. Particularly when I felt overwhelmed by urges to step over the edge into nothingness. The fruit of my labour is dotted throughout this text..

Child And Giraffe

 

Four weeks later I was discharged from Drayton Park, except it was a discharge back into the care of the Crisis Resolution Team, whom I have now been with for almost three weeks.

Crisis houses, even the ones that are as therapeutic as Drayton Park, aren’t magic cures for all emotional ills; some wounds are too deep, bleed too heavily to be stopped even by a four week super absorbent bandage.. But, they do a lot to help stem the flow. And the referral back to the Crisis Team was another step to try to further slow the bleeding.

IMG_3549

Three Ephalants And A Tree

Also, thankfully, P. is now back where she belongs; in her chair opposite me. [Although, owing to the High Holy Days sessions have been swapped around a fair deal. – The great thing about having a Jewish therapist is that you don’t have to cancel sessions over this period, as they will most likely already have arranged to be on leave on those days. That is if you yourself are Jewish. If you’re not, I imagine that it would seem like a series of extremely random short leaves every year as we go into autumn..].

But, I digress.. Where was I? Oh yes.. P. is back. And, man, does that feel good. As difficult as things still are [I’m not with the Crisis Team for the fun of it], it is incredibly helpful to have her to talk to. And email. And text. [I’ve come a loooong way from the days of seeing A. and only emailing in extreme emergencies]. In these last few months, P. – and also K., my social worker from shul – have been absolutely amazing. I mean, they were of course amazing even before this, but these last few months, by golly they’ve done some mammoth work with me.

 

Polar Opposites – When Olaf Met Elof

 

Things are still very very difficult, but with the amazing support of P., K. and the Crisis Team, I am doing the best I can to make it through each day. I would be a liar [and those who know me, know of my acute allergy towards being just that] if I said that I am not still sitting on the very edge of life, with one foot dangling over it.

But, whatever happens next, no one can say that I haven’t done my very best.

xx

From Swan Lake to Daft Punk – A Post About Psychotherapy Breaks

Every time I upload a new post I do so with the intention of posting another update soon thereafter, but it just never seems to happen that way.. I suppose I will have to own that this happens in part because I slightly lack the discipline to stick to a set publishing schedule, but, also, it happens because – well – life happens. I’m sure you know what I mean. It is hard to write about your life at the same time as you are experiencing it. Especially when the going is tough.

So, what has been going on in my life since my last post? Quite a lot, it feels like, and at the same it is rather a lot of the same that is pretty much always going on; flashbacks, crises, therapy breaks, family stuff.
I’ve been under the care of the crisis resolution team six or seven times already this year and had one stay at Drayton Park. That’s a lot, considering we are only in the eight month of the year.. And I have a feeling that another stay at Drayton Park may be on the cards in the near future. I am actually seeing the crisis resolution team later today, and my guess is that they will suggest to start a referral for some residential care. To keep me safe from myself. Without going into too much detail, the going has been exceptionally tough this year in general, and recently in particular.

*

P. has been on annual leave for about two weeks now, with another two still to go. I know that I have written about therapy breaks many many times in the past, but it is for good reason: they really are that difficult to cope with.

And I know for a fact that I am not the only one who experiences breaks in therapy as major triggers for all manner of extreme abandonment, attachment and separation issues. A quick look at the stats for how people find this blog tells me that some of the most commonly used search terms are variations on the theme of How To Cope During Therapy Breaks. This is also a topic that people frequently email me about. [Much appreciated, and – as always – apologies if I’ve not been able to respond to your email yet]. 

So, this is clearly not something I alone struggle with.  

I think part of the reason why it is so hard to manage while one’s therapist is away is that Everyone Else [friends, workmates, family, even mental health workers] find it seemingly impossible to grasp just how important and intimate a therapeutic relationship is, and what huge emotional waves the absence of your therapy partner sets in motion. So, we are left feeling that the pain we experience because of our therapist’s absence goes unheard, thus redoubling the pain.

I have some absolutely wonderful friends, I am very very close to my sisters [by golly I love them more than I could ever express!] and I really wouldn’t describe myself as a lonely person per se [although I do perhaps crave more alone time than most] – but my relationship with P. is different to every single one of my other relationships, no matter how good, close and meaningful they are, and it takes up a huge amount of emotional spacetime in my day-to-day life. Even on the days between sessions. 

So, when P. goes away for any length of time, that is going to be hard to cope with. I am used to being able to voice thoughts I don’t share with anyone else three times a week. I have 150 solid minutes every week that are there for only me, to express whatever I want to or need to. 9,000 seconds a week to experience being heard and seen by a pseudo-parent who genuinely wants to understand and help find ways to ease the pain. And that’s not even counting the email and text contact P. is encouraging me to maintain in between sessions and over weekends. So, of course her absence is going to be massively felt.

It isn’t a case of my being needier than most, it is simply that this is a big change to the structure of my week – and I think that most anyone who had that kind of drastic change to their life [even if it is temporary], would find it quite challenging to get used to. 

And – of course – we are none of us in therapy for the sheer fun of it. Something has brought us there. There are Issues to be worked through. Usually more than one, and hardly ever the easy-to-resolve variety. [If, indeed, such a variety exists.. I have my doubts..]

During a break the therapeutic process gets put on hold. Or – perhaps more accurately – the format of the therapeutic process changes during a break. Of course we don’t go into a period of zero growth during a therapist’s absence [in fact, in my experience breaks more often than not bring growth in its wake, both for me personally and in my relationship with P.], but the rhythm is upset. There are no two ways about it. It’s like listening to Swan Lake for a solid month and then suddenly having that musical loop switched to Daft Punk. It’s not bad for us [I would never call Daft Punk bad!], but it IS vastly different. And even if we know that the switch is going to happen [having bravely attempted to talk about the upcoming break and the feelings it brings to surface], going from Swan Lake to Daft Punk is going to affect us. Different feelings will be stirred up, often difficult, deep-seated ones. And we will be on our own to cope with them. 

Or, as in my case, you’ll end up working with the crisis resolution team for the umpteenth time.. ;)
So, that’s where I am at right now.

Getting used to Daft Punk. 

xx

Concrete Angels

 how i used to feel

and how i still feel sometimes; 

sad and frozen in concrete

 

little s

 
 

adult me

 

 

baby s

  

Found Some Words..

OK, so I’ll admit it; I wrote that heading in the hope that I will find some words now that I start writing.. There are no guarantees at this stage, especially regarding the quality of said words..but, I’ll give it a whirl just the same.. [Bear with, bear with..]

So, I made it though The Break. It was a lot tougher than I thought it would be. In the past I have generally found that the beginning of a break is harder, because it is as if my body clock is telling me “today is a therapy day” and my whole being is expecting a solid fifty-minute-hour to release tension. The longer the break goes on, the less loudly my internal therapy clock ticks, because it is getting used to not having that thrice weekly outlet and is slowly finding alternative ways of managing in its absence. This time, however, was different – and I can’t really say why, because I don’t know why. If I were to venture a guess, I would say that it is to do with the fact that I am far more attached to P. than I ever was to A. [or even D.], and the longer we were apart, the more panicked I became that the connection P. and I have formed was beginning to disintegrate. I did find alternative ways of managing this time too, but it didn’t really alleviate the panic. In simple terms: I missed P. terribly – not just the service she provides, but I missed her, I missed us. And, again quite differently to past breaks, I allowed myself to admit that I was missing her. I made no attempts to try to convince myself that she’s not that important, or that it’s really just the structure of my week that I miss. And, as much as that made the break more difficult, I also know that this is real progress. This is me genuinely allowing someone in, allowing myself to become attached, taking a risk I usually wouldn’t take. So, definitely progress.

So, what did I do during my break? Well, in part I did what you could see in my previous post: tons of art. I also did some tie dying and some bleach printing and some shoe painting – all of which was very enjoyable and helped the hours and days pass in a positive way. Some samples below – feel free to scroll past, to read the rest of this post..

 

Tie-dye project
No children were harmed in the making of this collage!

 
 

Bleach print project
Again – No children were harmed. However, one tee was a complete fail and consequently got randomly squirted with fabric paint!

 

Still with me? Ok. Back to the tale of “How I Survived My Therapy Break”..

So, the arty-crafty stuff definitely helped a lot, but no matter how busy I tried to keep myself there was always going to be times when I really really really missed therapy – and P. I knew this was going to happen before the break, and – again unlike other times – it was something P. and I had talked about beforehand. In the year we have been working together, forging this relationship, therapy breaks have always been very tough. They just bring out so much Stuff [paradoxically, this is also one of the reasons why breaks are useful]. At times, even weekends have been torturous, so we’ve had to come up with things to help me feel close to P. even between single sessions. 

One of the things we do is that P. will lend me her pen – the one she always has in her ridiculously big handbag. This idea with the pen was actually a suggestion from one of you readers a while back, in a comment after another post about therapy breaks. This – having P.’s pen – has really been great for me; I use her pen to write in my journal, and it makes me feel a little like we are having a session. [By now I know P. well enough to be able to predict what her response might be to the things I say/write]. So, for me, a pen is great. P. did once offer to lend me one of her scarves [we are both Scarf Wearing People – it’s a thing!], but at the time that felt way too much for me, far too overwhelming, and I declined her offer. A pen, on the other hand, was just right. Small and emotionally manageable. 

Apart from the pen P. has also sent me photos of herself. This has been especially useful if we have had a particularly rough session and I’ve been worried that I’ve become too much for her – because that way I can look at the photo she’s just taken and I can see for myself that she is still OK, that, in spite of the things I have told her, she hasn’t broken down or disappeared. I have also sent her a picture of me, so she can carry me with her when she is on leave. P. often uses the phrase “I carry you in my heart” and, for me, her having a photo of me, is an extension of that. 

Prior to both this break and the previous one, apart from P. lending me her pen, I lent her a bottle of nail varnish. I’m very into nail art [the only sort-of girly thing about me], so her wearing/having my nail polish makes me feel more connected to her. I don’t really think that P. would forget me without these physical reminders – after all she ‘carries me in her heart‘ –  but the Little S. part of me finds this very reassuring, and since that is the part of me that generally struggles the most in P.’s absence [because she is the one who has experienced the most abandonment] it makes sense to pay extra attention to her needs. Especially when Adult Me finds it difficult to fully own those feelings herself..

Finally, the thing that probably helps me the most during breaks:  writing letters. Real, physical, handwritten, old skool letters. I let any part of me [Little S., Adult Me, bob..] write P. whenever they want, and they can decorate the letters and envelopes in any way they want, so P. can see who it is from. I will then hand deliver the letters, because that means I get to go to the place where I see P., and it’s another step towards reassuring the different parts of me that even though P. is away, our therapy space still exists. So, that is something I would really recommend.

Wow! Looks like I found rather a lot of words in the end! Hope that’s OK.

Be kind to your Selves.

xx

While Waiting To Find Some Words..

..here are some semi-random bits of art I’ve done recently.

Challenged myself to try out different styles of art to help me through a recent therapy break. [Hopefully I’ll write more about that break, soon.] I am always telling people [especially children] that anyone can draw – so whenever I decided to draw something I didn’t know if I could, I dedicated it to one of the kids in my life, because – really – how can I tell them that they can draw anything they want, if I hesitate to try new things myself?

So, good people, grab yourself a pencil or crayon or brush and do some art!

It’s good for the soul.

xx

A wolf I drew this morning

 

Another wolf
[A theme is emerging..]

 

A Very Frightened Little Bunny Rabbit
[Little S drew this to contrast a previous drawing to show how vulnerable she felt
We used it in a recent therapy session]

 

A seahorse – just to see if i could draw one

 

Roaring Grizzly Bear
[Watched a bunch of online tutorials on how to draw tribal style animals, so can’t take full credit]

Cinderella Wolf
[Therapy drawing: Little S drew this howling tribal wolf on a night she felt very sad
and wanted to let her sorrow out]

 

Polygonal Bunny Rabbit

 

Spacescape
[Playing around with some new Copic markers]

Maskrosbarn / So Near And Yet So Far
A drawing by Little S about attachment, separation and daring to reach out
Which dandelion is trapped inside the chain link fence?

 

Only recently discovered that this style has a name: zentangling or zendoodling..

 

A rough tattoo design I did on comission for a random chap I met at the library

 

I Love My Kånken
An ode to my favourite backpacks: Fjällräven Kånken

 

Devil's In The Detail?

Devil’s In The Detail?

 

Not Better, Not Worse – Just Different
[Therapy drawing about sometimes feeling like my brain doesn’t work in quite the same way as other peoples’]

 

 

My very first dragon


 That’s all, folks!