Living Without Dying

My last post was in the main concerned with writing about what happened. This time I would like to talk about feelings. Or at least I would like to try to do that. I’m not sure that I will be able to, but I do want to try. So, here goes..

I know that I wrote in my previous post that my immediate reaction upon waking in the hospital was that I was glad that I had indeed woken up, that I was glad that I was still alive. And that is absolutely true. I was. In fact, I am. But, as always, things are never quite that simple and straightforward. Naturally there is a plethora of emotions surrounding the fact that I am still here today. And that is what I would like to write about today.

There were reasons for why I was suicidal in the first place, and surviving a serious intake of poison does not take any of those reasons away. All of the things I was dealing with before are still just as present now. In the words of the esteemed Dr. House: ‘Almost dying changes nothing. Actually dying changes everything.’

Although, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I am back at the exact same place I was before, nothing has got particularly easier. Yes, the happiness about being alive does help, gives me some kind of energy to keep trying, to keep at it a little longer, but, that isn’t in itself a magic cure. In some ways, the very fact that I am happy that I survived actually complicates things. You see, for me, ending my life has always been a viable Out, a thought that has been been my constant companion throughout life; I genuinely can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel that if things got too bad I could always choose to get off the train.

But what happens when you wake up, having very nearly fallen off the proverbial train and you realise that you’re actually pleased that you didn’t? Well, it means that you are suddenly in a brand new and very special kind of Scary Place. You are in just as much unbearable pain as you were before, but suddenly you haven’t got that Out anymore. So, somehow you have to find a way to live, without the option of dying.

I am not saying that I have left the option of death as an Out forever behind – as I wrote earlier – nearly dying changes nothing – including that, I suspect. But, for now, this option has been moved from being constantly right there on the table, sitting right next to my tea cup, to being stuck somewhere at the back of a bottom drawer.

I am not naïve enough to think that I will never again find myself sitting there at the jumping off place with both legs dangling over the edge, but I am also in tune enough with myself to know that this feeling, the feeling of actually wanting to be alive, is very very different to anything I have ever experienced before following a suicide attempt. And, I am – or at least I’d like to think I am – wise enough to recognise that this is a significant shift in me. And that I need to use that shift in some way.

But, how do you live without dying?

Well, the honest truth is that I don’t know; I haven’t got an answer to that. I’ve never been in this situation before, and I don’t really know how to deal with this.

So, for now, I am following a very simple rule: take each day as it comes and make no major decisions until I have some distance, until I can look at what has happened with some perspective. And I think the best way to get to such a place is through maintaining an open and honest dialogue with those around me.

That – and lots and lots of therapy.

Do be kind to your Selfs,

xx

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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

The Harry Potter and Sirius scene

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..

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

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

Hearing the Littles – A Therapy Break Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Much love,

xx

 

Reconnecting

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

*

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Namaste.

 

xx

 

 

 

Life’s A Dance You Learn As You Go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

xx

 

Life’s a dance you learn as you go

Sometimes you lead

Sometimes you follow

Don’t worry about what you don’t know

Life’s a dance you learn as you go

 

Life’s A Dance © 1992 Shamblin & Seskin

Cinderella Wolf – A Poem

A drawing Little S drew on a night she feltvery sad and lonely and wanted to let her sorrow out

A drawing Little S drew on a night she felt
very sad and lonely and wanted to let her sorrow out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                               xx

 

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