It is far too early on a Sunday morning for me, or indeed anyone, to be awake. But, I am. Anxiety is stretching my nerves to the point of breaking, and I have been unable to sleep for about forty hours. Insomnia isn’t out of the norm for me; it is part of my pattern. But the anxiety is. Or, at least, the level of anxiety. I can feel the extreme imbalance of the chemicals surging through my system, splashing around, crashing into each other and the rocky shores of my insides that have until now been unknown to me. The inner landscape of my body is soaked, drenched, in acidic anxiety, and I can’t think of how to rid myself of it, how to alkalise.
I know that I can and will get through this. I have survived it before, and I will again. It is just that the strength of emotions have taken me by surprise. Yes, I was nervous about this upcoming break in therapy for weeks before it started, but I thought that perhaps this time might be different, because, in contrast to many other breaks, I – we – P. and I, had spent so much time talking about it, preparing for it, putting in place things to make it more manageable. And I, foolishly it seems now, thought that that in itself might dull the sharpness of my feelings. But it doesn’t.
I miss P. terribly, and even though I have talked to my friends about it, and many of them have responded with empathy – more so than in the past, it seems – I am still left feeling that no one really understands the depth of my emotions. Or maybe it is a sense that others expect Adult Me – the intellectualising, reasoning, part of me – to handle this, to take charge and make it all OK, for all of the different parts inside of me. Truth be told, I think that even I expect her to.
But, what happens during a therapy break – a break from my pseudo parent – is that Little S. – not Adult Me – is the one who is reacting to this separation. Adult Me can watch, but can do nothing about that, because Adult Me wasn’t there when the fear of separation and abandonment, was born. Adult Me hadn’t yet been formed when Little S. – or even before then – tiny Baby S. were dealing with life in a world where there simply was no stability, where her parents gave her up and left her to fend for herself, completely void of tools with which to do so. Because of this, the reassurance Adult Me is continually trying to offer rings hollow to Baby S., in exactly the same way reassurance from anybody else does. Adult Me may be one of many parts that forms the whole of me, but she wasn’t there when it happened, and as far as the Littles are concerned, she doesn’t get it any more than my incredibly kind and well-meaning friends do. Not emotionally. And Little and Baby feel just as nakedly defenceless as they did back then.
Of course Adult Me has acquired lots of tools over the years to deal with situations like these. And during normal, daytime, hours, she makes the most of those tools and is often successful in temporarily alleviating much of the fear and anxiety. But when the rest of the world goes to sleep, and Adult Me is exhausted from a day of constantly trying to soothe those Little parts, when she needs a break to stock up on supplies, that’s when the primal scream of Baby S. sounds the loudest, deafening all intellectualisation and reasoning.
Baby S. was about six months old when she was adopted, when she came to live with her new parents in Sweden. No one knows, and Baby S. can’t remember, what happened in the six months before then. But the emotional echoes of the feelings born in those months still bounce between the walls of her outer shell, and when something like this – a separation, a perceived abandonment from a care giver – happens, those echoes amplify and drown out everything else. The echoes are always there, even in peacetime, noticeable in the fear of forming attachments with others and the difficulty in trusting, but when an actual separation happens something explodes in her, because just as Baby S. couldn’t know at the time that that abandonment would be temporary, she is now – still – blind to this fact. Baby S. only knows the here and now, isn’t able to look to the future, so when Adult Me, in sheer exhaustion, takes a break from reassuring Baby S., Baby S. thinks that this will last forever.
I wrote an email to P. a few weeks prior to her going on her summer break, about the whole How to cope with your therapist abandoning you for a minor eternity-issue, and as I am writing this now, it strikes me that that is exactly what I am dealing with: a minor eternity. It is minor in the eyes of the world, even in Adult Me’s eyes, but to Baby S. and Little S. – both of them too young to understand the concept of weeks or days or even minutes – it is an Eternity. And eternities have no foreseeable end.
As I wrote at the beginning, I will get through this separation, just as I have got through separations in the past. But in order to help Baby S. and Little S. I need to remind Adult Me to deal with them gently and patiently in the understanding that they have not yet got as far in the healing process as she has. They will get there eventually, but it will take more than the survival of a few therapy breaks for them to feel safe enough to integrate fully, to get to a place where The Whole can begin to work as a single entity, rather than as a multitude of frightened independent parts.
So, I say to myself, as much as I do to you:
be kind to your Selves.
Sounds as though the planning for these therapy breaks might, for the time being, need to include non-verbal strategies for the little parts. I’m not assuming that this didn’t happen, but offering the thought in case it didn’t. Such strategies might also take into account those times when “Adult Me” is exhausted.
Thanks for posting, Gerald.
I don’t think I really understand what you mean by ‘non-verbal strategies’ [other than them obviously being non-verbal], so not sure whether or not this happened, to be honest.
Let me lob you a classic “Can you say more…?”
Since I don’t know the details of your treatment I can only be very, very general. I’m thinking certain soothing colors, sounds, music, physical objects that might be held or seen, scents — that sort of thing. Perhaps you have already tried all of these. Hope this explains what I had in mind.
Thanks, that does explain it.
P. gave me photograph of herself [a physical one] before going on break and that has felt very helpful, in terms of reassuring me [all the different parts] that she – and our relationship – hasn’t completely disappeared in her absence. It also helps to know that she has a photo of me in her phone [which comes with her] while she is away. I think breaks will always trigger echoes of previous abandonments, but little things like that do go a long way when I try to sooth Little S.’s and Baby S.’s fears of having been forgotten and left behind.
I think that perhaps before the next break it might be a good idea to have had those things in place a little further in advance, so I can ‘practice’ using them to reassure myself BEFORE P. actually goes away. This is our first longer break since we started working together, and it’s been something of a steep learning curve.
I have a blanket from my T which is invaluable in comforting the baby in me. It deals with the unimaginable and the stuff I cannot put into words because it was when there were no words. Could you consider something similar with P for next time?
Would you mind if I stole your term ‘a minor eternity’ to write in an email to my T? My eyes watered when I read it – it’s so true. So so true.
Look after you x
The blanket sounds like a great idea, although for me, personally, I think I would find it too overwhelming. It’s hard to explain, but something about having something that is actually hers feels too much for me to cope with. I don’t think I’m quite at the stage where I could feel comfortable with such a big gesture.
But, maybe further down the line.. Who knows?
Of course you can use that phrase. I’m only glad if something I write might help in some small way..
That just reminded me of another phrase I used in an email to P. ; “TIF – therapy induced feelings”, which she said she thought would make a great addition to the Standard Dictionary of Psychology Terms (only she Freudian slipped it into “THERAPIST induced feelings” in her reply..).
So, thank YOU for reminding me of that and making the distance between P. and I feel less vast.
:) T and I started with a polar bear. It’s tiny, plastic and very much hers but also very easy to hold in a palm of the hand etc. Maybe something smaller. Even like a pen of hers for you to journal with whilst she’s away or something.
I really understand this agony and my T is away for 2 weeks at the moment so I am feeling it ATM! I am supporting you xx
(P.S. I said this before and I’ll say it again – your blogging is SO helpful – your blog is the reason I started blogging!)
A pen is actually a brilliant idea, and possibly something I could manage. It’s a bit like “I may be away, but you can still use me as a tool for expressing how you are feeling”. I might – if I can muster the courage – ask for that next time..
As much as I obviously don’t like you having to share these feelings while your therapist is away, it is helpful to know that I am not the only one who is struggling. That there are others who understand.
As for finding my blog helpful and even inspiring you to start blogging..I really don’t know what to say..other than that you are VERY good for my ego.
Thank you SO much.
Pen is a brilliant idea :) keep struggling on, you’re doing great and I’ll here struggling alongside you. Take care x
Thank you so much for these posts. I’m on day 20 of a 25 day break.
You have expressed perfectly the agony, eternity, fear and pure anxiety of a therapy break. And you have expressed perfectly the relationship between the adult self and the littles. I have tried to explain the sense of responsibility I feel to my “little” so many times and also encapsulate that sense of being exhausted and knowing that the adult self will not be able to prevail.
Your writing is beautiful and insightful. Thank you – I’m so glad to be reading posts from you again.
Stay strong – anxiety is a horrible thing.
Once again, thank you so much for your kind words.
I’ve still got about a week and a half to go before P. is back, but as I’ve said before; in so many ways time is irrelevant. You can have twenty-four really easy days of separation, or you can have a single hellish day of separation.. Right now I’m coping a lot better than I was, because I’m visiting my sisters and their families, and that really makes such a difference. I do still miss P., but the sense of abandonment is far less intense because I’m with the people who mean the most to me. It’s really mostly early morning and late at night that those slightly panicky ‘My therapist has abandoned me/forgotten all about me’-thoughts and feelings make Little and Baby S. freak out. Spending hours playing Lego sea rescue with a four-year-old is a very good way to keep such thoughts at bay, I have discovered.. :)
Anyway, thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog and for sharing your thoughts with me.
All the very best,
I really appreciate your beautiful writing, it captures so much of what I feel. The mind of an adult, the emotions of a child (or, often, a baby): so few people, and therapists actually, get that. I’m thinking of you – hope you can feel the love and sit in it over the web, in this comment. When I had a break the last time, I made this meditation fantasy of my T coming for a visit in my imaginary “safe place” (a cottage in a magic forest) and making me soup and we had a lovely meal together, and then my T just sat down in the one corner while I went about and do things, clean up, have a nap, feed my imaginary cats that live there :). And when I went to sleep, I would imagine waking up and my T would just still be there in the corner, quietly present, always caring, always filling the space with love. And I would be able to go back to sleep or just relax. It was very powerful. I don’t know if you have your own safe “mind space” but it is amazing having it, and going there, when things get too much or if you want to find out what it is that is bothering you, when you are down/anxious/confused: it tends to come out. Above all: be kind to your little one inside. xx
Thanks so much for the kind comment.
I had my first post-break session today, so it appears I have survived it.
May write an update about it soon.
I haven’t got a safe space in the sense that you describe, more of an enscape island that’s so small only I can fit on it. But, maybe in time, the island can grow to allow others to join me there.
Once again, thank you for taking the time to read and to share your thoughts.
It is much appreciated.
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