I Survived A Therapy Break

We’ve been on a break, my therapist and I. A Pesach / Easter / training combo break. Leading up to the break I was very aware of Little S. inside having a lot of feelings about P. going away. This, even though, I – or should I write we..? – were also going to be away for almost the entire break. There was an increased and very distinct need for emailing and texting P. to make sure that she was Real.

I think that what Little S. means by someone being Real is a combination of them not forgetting her when she’s not with them and for them to not abandon her when things get rough. But, at times it is also a way to express genuine fear that maybe the relationship with the other person is too good to be true, it is asking for reassurance; are you Real, or just a figment of my imagination, because it seems so unbelievable to me to have someone who is really there for me when I need them.

A break always brings out a lot of abandonment issues, especially for the Little S. part in me. From Adult Me’s vantage point this makes perfect sense, I understand why this happens; so many people in my life haven’t been there when I’ve needed them the most, so, naturally, when someone as important to me as P. declares that she’s going to be away, it is bound to trigger all manner of emotional echoes inside me. But, as much as Adult Me can see this, it doesn’t actually make it any easier for Little S. to deal with the anxiety and sadness that these separations inevitably bring to surface. To Little S. the worry that P. might be going on a break because she has been too much for her is very real, as is the fear that P. might – during the break – realise that she prefers not to have to deal with her ups and downs, her neediness, her constant need for reassurance.. Before a break the tension inside Little S. will keep building, until she is convinced that a) there is no way she can survive this break and b) that, should she through some form of miracle survive, there is no way that P. will ever choose to return.

A few years ago, back when I was still seeing A., I would never ever talk about any of this directly with her before a break. I would suffer in silence, and maybe – very maybe – mention it after the break was over, although generally in a very brief glossing over kind of fashion. Before a break, I would just feel the anxiety mounting, bring me closer and closer to breaking point, but I would not really acknowledge just how difficult breaks are for me. This, of course, lead to breaks being absolutely catastrophic in my mind, and it was extremely rare that I would not need to be working with the crisis resolution team during them.

In the first year or so of seeing P. I slowly and very gradually became better at talking around the subject of breaks, slightly dipping my toes in it, so to speak. I would talk about it in the way Adult Me sees it, intellectualising it, rather than actually feeling it. In part this was because I didn’t really know how else to approach it; intellectualising difficult feelings, analysing why they are triggered, rather than actually feeling the feelings, is how I have got through an awful lot of difficult times; it is a well beaten path. But, as I have been working more and more closely with P. to try to notice that there are feelings stirring inside, and to identify what those feelings are, I can now fairly often allow myself to stay with them.

The other part of why – back in the early days – I didn’t really talk about the feelings was that many of those feelings [particularly the ones to do with abandonment and separation, and the shame of needing someone else] belonged more to Little S. than to Adult Me, and Little S. hadn’t yet found her voice. Or rather, I hadn’t yet found a way to allow Little S. to express herself directly in our therapy. But, eventually we cracked it; first by letting Little S. email and text P. between sessions and then by Little S. speaking directly to P. in sessions [as opposed to through Adult Me]. It’s been a long journey, but I do feel that Little S. is now reasonably able to take part in therapy when she wants or needs to.

So, this time around, on top of the many emails and texts asking P. if she is Real, she was also able to not only talk about her feelings prior to the break, but she was able to experience them while she was talking about them. And that felt like a very big step forward.

The break in itself actually went quite well this time. Of course we all missed seeing P., and there were a few times when either Little S., bob, or Adult Me needed to email P., but there wasn’t quite as much anxiety to deal with as there might have been, had we not been able to experience and explore some of the feelings before the break, had P. not helped me make space for these feelings to be not only shared, but also heard. P. doesn’t ever make me talk about difficult feelings, but she does actively encourage me to try – and we set the pace together. She makes it very clear to me that it is safe to allow feelings out, that she wants to hear about them, whether it be in session or in an email, a text or in a drawing. And, possibly most importantly – especially to Little S. – she reassures her that she will be able to bear those feelings, that they won’t be too much, and they won’t result in P. no longer wanting to see her. That feeling and talking and talking about feelings is very much welcomed and valued in our relationship. Even when it’s scary. Especially when it’s scary.

Another thing that P. and I do to help Little S. manage during breaks and particularly difficult times, is to let one of P.’s ‘little friends’ – a soap stone hippo called Ringo [*not his real name, gotta protect his privacy!] – stay with me. I will also leave something of mine with P. to further strengthen the sense of connection between us during the break. As Little S. would say: “Something to help you ‘merember’ me, in case you start to forget.” It may sound like a childish thing to do, this exchanging of personal artefacts, but, Little S. inside is just that – she’s little – she may live inside the body of an adult, but she still finds comfort in having something physical to hold on to help her connect with P. So, no matter how silly it may seem to outsiders, taking Ringo with me everywhere I go, it makes all the difference in the world to Little S. And that’s worth a lot!

So, when you’re facing a break in your therapy, here is my advice to you: listen to what all of you need to make that break as bearable as possible. Don’t allow your Adult Self to stop your Little from getting what they need to manage it. To the best of your ability, talk about the fears and worries that all of the different parts of you carry about this break. Write it in a letter if it is too hard to say it out loud, if the fear of rejection gets too much. And if needed: ask if Ringo can come stay with you. And, if asking for a Ringo to stay with you feels too much; start small. I was given this tip by one of my readers many years ago, and at first, having something personal of P.’s felt way too overwhelming for me, so we started by my borrowing a random pen of hers that I could use to write in my journal with. And a little note from P. to help reassure me that she wouldn’t forget me and that she would be back.

But now that I have worked my way up to having Ringo stay with me, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
And neither would my sisters’ kids!

Be good to your Selfs.

xx

IMG_3885

A drawing Little S. made last night to show how happy bob, she and Adult Me feels that P. is finally back

 

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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:

http://youtu.be/UVDg8fVC4EQ

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..

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

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! 

Progress And Pain – Parenting My Inner Child

It’s been a long time. It’s been too long, really. I suppose that I just needed a proper break from things. Or, rather, I needed to use what little energy I could muster to deal with the bare essentials, hence largely withdrawing from the world, both online and in my day-to-day interactions with family and friends.

It has been, and still is, a very rough ride. Since the beginning of the year I have had three rounds of crisis team intervention and one admission to Drayton Park, all with that burning hopeless feeling that ‘It’s pointless, it won’t make a difference’. Except, from an external point of view it has; I am still here now. I might not have been.

Therapy is the one thing that I feel is actually going well. But, as is so often the case when it comes to therapy, ‘going well’ involves a decent sized chunk of dizzying pain. The therapeutic process has never been heralded as a ‘free from unwanted side effects’ type of medication..

I continue to build my relationship with P., doing this quirky little two-steps-forward-one-step-back dance, putting my most deep seated fears and trust issues through their paces. Progress is slow, but at least we are moving. Those of you who have been in therapy will know exactly what I am talking about; one session and – almost out of nowhere – you find the courage of a lioness and take a giant leap forward, right across the abyss – the next two sessions; withdrawing and giving in to age-old fears of being let down, needing to test and re-test your therapist, to check that they really are for real, that those encouraging words won’t turn out to just be empty promises.

My need for emotional hand-holding and reassurance has known no limits in these last months and weeks, and consequently P. has had to work darn hard for the pennies.. She tells me that she knew what she was signing up for when she decided to take me on, I argue that she can’t possibly have known – because she didn’t know me – she then agrees that this is true, but reassures me that she has a very strong sense of what she can cope with, and that I really really really am not too much for her. And we take another tiny step forward.

As I have said many times before, I don’t think therapy is meant to be easy, I think it’s meant to be worth it.

Right now we are standing at the door of a two week therapy break, so – predictably – all of Little S.’s abandonment fears are awakened and hyper aroused. Adult Me works hard to try to explain that it will be OK, that we have been through – and have survived – many, many breaks before, and that we will get through this one, too, but Little S. clamps her hands firmly over her little ears, certain that this is the end of the safety and pseudo-mothering we have enjoyed from P.

What it boils down to is that my inner child, just like any other child, has no real understanding of time, and so a separation from P. is not a temporary state, but is permanent and absolute. And, again like most children, when the caregiver goes away, she assumes that this must be because of something she has done. This, in turn, makes Little S., go back and forth between putting unrealistic pressure on herself to be ‘all good’ [because, if she is very very good, maybe P. won’t leave her] and needing to self-punish [because she must have been bad, to make P. go away]. Adult Me works very hard to try to help regulate the extremes, but parenting your own inner child is not an easy task, especially when so many of Little S.’s thought patterns and beliefs still live on in Adult Me.

I still have three sessions left before the commencement of this two-week-bordering-on-eternity break, so there is time to talk this through with P., time to get another shot of reassurance injected, and hopefully that will alleviate at least some of Little S.’s [and Adult Me’s] anxiety.

We’ll see..

Anyway, take good care of your Selves, and thank you all so much for sticking with me through this hiatus, of sorts.

xx

Twenty-fourteen – A Year Of Changes & Challenges

I thought I’d make one final push to get an update out before the end of the year. I’m not in a great place, hence radio silence on most channels, but sometimes that’s when the best blog posts come out, so let’s hope for the best. Could be nothing, could be something.

It’s been a rough year. There are no two ways about it. At the beginning of the year I ended with my therapist of five years and started over with a new one. It’s a big transition, moving from A. to P., and a huge emotional undertaking. It’s a bit like being asked to switch out your parents. Sure, your parents might not always get you, might be unfair, might make mistakes, might be downright unsuitable to parent anyone, but at least you know them, right? You know their habits, their triggers, their blind spots and you know how they react to the things you say and do. And you also know how you react to the things they say and do. It’s that comfortable – if often less-than-ideal – Familiar versus the scarily unpredictable Unknown that I’ve written about so many times in the past.

That was pretty much what I was going through with A. at the beginning of the year, as we slowly neared and then reached The Ending. Things had been running along the heading-for-an-irreparable-relationship-breakdown route for some time – probably for far longer than I was ready to admit to you, or myself, at the time – but at least I knew what to expect, knew when odds were that my words would be met with silence, knew when there was potential for disappointment. I also knew what not to say and what not to do to keep the status quo, to keep us from falling off the edge. In addition, I was standing on the bedrock of our previous years together, all the times we had communicated really well, spoken a similar emotional language. I had a good sense of where we had one another, of how big or small the distance between us was at any given time, how close we could get, how much trust there was and where the boundaries of our relationship were; all those things that had made our work together so meaningful and fruitful for such a long time. So, it was with a lot of sadness that I had to accept that the time for us to part ways had come.

I had met P. only once before we actually started our joint therapeutic journey. Fifty shared minutes during an initial consultation to decide whether or not we could be A Match. I left that first meeting in December last year feeling that, yes, she could potentially be someone I could learn to trust, given enough time and space to Thoroughly Test what sort of stuff she was made of. But, apart from that gut feeling I didn’t know much about her [or attachment-based therapy] when I went for my first real session in February. I knew that there was something about the way she actively sought to make eye contact in that first meeting that both scared me beyond reason and made me feel that she genuinely wanted to get to know the real me. Actually, let me rephrase that: the way she actively sought to make eye contact with me scared me beyond reason, because she so clearly wanted to get to know the Real Me. Not just the Me she could glean or guess at from the polite introductory phrases or the bullet pointing of my fragmented, chequered and often painful past during this initial meeting, but the Real Me hiding behind all that – the Me that only comes out after the Thorough Testing has been done. The Me that even A., after nearly five years, was only just beginning to get to know.

I took the plunge, and it turned out that the water was far more calm and warm than I had expected. As K. put it only the other day: ‘When you finished with A. I didn’t think you’d ever be able to build a relationship with another therapist. I thought the trust had been shattered for good. I’m amazed at how quickly your relationship with P. has developed.’ I get exactly what K. meant, because it was what I, myself, was thinking at the time. How would I be able to trust? Why should I?

I suppose the answer to that lies in the way P. is, really. I wasn’t at all ready to trust, and P. was able to accept that completely, without any expectation that this would change. Was able to meet me where I was at. She was able to accept that I simply didn’t know if I really wanted to go on with therapy, or even with life. The exact thing that had ultimately caused the breakdown with A. The very thing A. had made clear she couldn’t accept; that I may not only feel that life wasn’t for me, but that I might actually act on it. P. made me, almost immediately – without the Thorough Testing – feel that this was a part of me she could accept. She in no way gave me license to act, but she simply accepted that this could be one of the paths our journey might take.

Then, of course, only a few months later this was put to the test. A splash of a toxic chemical on my tongue, the swallowing of some tricyclics – which I still to this day don’t remember taking – an ambulance ride from the women’s crisis centre to A&E and eleven hours in a coma.

Some might say this was part of my Thorough Testing. I’m not going to argue for or against. All I know is that we survived it: P. didn’t break, didn’t conclude that the reality of acting out was so different from the theory and phantasy of it that she could no longer work with me.

And our relationship grew a little stronger.

The aftermath of this overdose – along with a previous, more serious, intake of that same ototoxic chemical – was the loss of most of what remained of my already damaged hearing. Another big thing to deal with; the knowledge that my actions would have a lifelong effect – near deafness. But, also, in a backwards kind of way, the realisation that even when I mess up it is still within my power to do something about it; the decision to hop on the not-so-joyful steroid ride, the slight but miraculous recovery of some hearing, the sorting out of hearing aids [even though it at times makes me feel I’m ninety-something rather than thirty-something].

And all year long this journey has of course been fenced in and intercepted by flashbacks, by horrendous memories of a past that is never really in the past and by nightmares that don’t go away just because I wake up. Post but-never-quite-over traumatic stress disorder. The stuff that makes day to day life all but impossible to plan. The never knowing if a day will be a 40, 100 or near continuos flashback day. Making plans, cancelling plans, scheduling and rescheduling – because I simply can’t know in advance if any given day will be one where I can leave my house without putting myself at risk.

At the moment it seems worse than usual, more 100-a-day days than 40s. I went to visit my father for the first time in two and a half years at the end of November. That may have something to do with it. I don’t know. It might be related to the fact that both P. and K. have now gone on their respective Chrismukkah breaks, leaving Little S. feeling sad, scared and abandoned, and Adult Me struggling to cope in their absence. Or it might be chance. But, whatever the reason, it’s not so easy to deal with.

Anyway, I want to take the time to thank all of you who have faithfully stuck with me through the ups and downs of this year, in spite the updates being few and far between. It does make such a difference to me. It touches me deeply every single time one of you takes the time to post a comment or write me an email to share a bit of your Selfs with me. I know that is how most of my replies to your communications begin, but it is for a good reason: it’s the truth. I am very grateful for your support.

So, wherever you are in your lives, whatever is going on for you right now, good or bad, I do wish you all the very best.

xx

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Starting Over After A Break

               *

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

                           [from ‘Lily’ by Kate Bush ©1993]

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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


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

 

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

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

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

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

 

All the very best,

xx

 

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