At The End Of A Difficult Year

The new year is almost here. Time to reflect, I suppose. [As if not all posts are reflections, really..]

This has not been an easy year. In fact, it may actually have been one of the hardest thus far, so I hope the new year will bring a bit of happy change. One of the things that I have been really struggling with this year, and which very nearly pushed me over the edge, is something I haven’t really shared on here. I am hoping that as time goes on, this too, will become something I feel comfortable sharing here. I mean, considering the things I do share, there really shouldn’t be much of a problem, but for whatever reason, I’ve just not quite found it in me to write openly about it so far. Too painful, somehow, seeing it in black on white..

I remember myself at this time last year, on the verge of a minor break in therapy, which I knew would soon be followed by a seriously major break; my therapist’s maternity leave, and I can still feel that horribly cold, hard lump at the bottom of my stomach, which would turn every time I thought about it. The horrendous abandonment issues I was battling with and the separation anxiety I was trying to keep under control. I remember desperately trying to come up with ways to convince myself that I would indeed be able to survive this break, and although I can’t say I truly found any one method that worked wholeheartedly for me, I did make it through. Was brought to my knees a number of times, for sure, but somehow I managed to get back up again.

I think the thing that helped me the most was doing what I have always done when things get tough: writing. Writing this blog, or even just thinking about what I might want to write on it, should I find the words and the energy, helped a lot. And more than that, your lovely emails and comments.. well, I couldn’t even begin to explain how much they have meant to me. To have someone who has never even met me, reach out and show that they care. That’s really something.

Then there’s that other kind of writing. The writing I do when I need to completely escape; working on my book. That’s been useful, too. To allow myself to go to another place, to think about someone else’s problems, to focus on someone else’s daily comings and goings, trying to paint it in words. Still, as I said to A. in my most recent therapy session, although in the moment it feels very much like escapism, when I read back later on – even years later – I can often see that I was working something of myself out through the characters I create, only it happens in a way that is somehow more free, less constrained by the emotional red tape I may put on myself.

And, in the midst of really struggling with near constant flashbacks, I finally found something that helps me with them; my beloved Rubik’s cube. Yes, I’ve turned into even more of a geek than I was at the beginning of the year, but, hey – if it works, it works. I’d much rather look like an absolute 80s retro nerd on the tube, than not being able to go out at all. Now, of course, solving a puzzle like this, no matter how many times you do it, it doesn’t solve the puzzle of your Self, but – honestly – it really has made a difference to my life this year. It may not get to the root of the flashbacks, but it does help me get through them, and sometimes that’s all you can ask of yourself; to get through.

And, of course, faith has got me through, too. Even when it’s felt impossible to look ahead, there is this space inside where I can go to, where I can be still, and just breathe, and know that whatever happens, there is someone who is looking out for me.. And it helps. I can’t explain it, it just does.

Sitting here, thinking back, I am – as always – struck by how lucky I am to have the friends that I have. Not to mention my absolutely amazing sisters, who I could not manage without even for a single day. To be surrounded by people who are there for me, to whatever extent I feel able to let them be. People who won’t give up on me, even when I myself have. That is a true blessing.

So, as hard as this year has been, there are also many, many things for which I am grateful.

Thanks for staying with me this year.
Hope to see you in 2013.

xx

Once again, a favourite quote at the end of the year..

“..and it’s been a long December
And there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell myself
To hold on to these moments as they pass..”

A Long December lyrics © EMI Music Publishing

PS. If the world does indeed come to an end tomorrow, could someone please let me know, as we’re an hour behind most of Europe here..

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Opening Up – Picking Physical & Emotional Locks

It’s been quite a difficult week, with three major things happening, none of which I can share on here, as they involve other people, but they have all had a big effect on my mood. I’m trying to not dip too deep, but to allow myself to reassess my own situation rather than just blindly reacting.

I’m glad that A. is back, but at the same time find that, too, difficult. I’m struggling with only seeing her once a week, which I’m aware may seem like a luxury problem, as for many people in therapy, this would be the norm. But, as you know, I can only talk about how things are for me, and for me, this is something I find very challenging. The last two sessions I have left with a feeling not altogether different to that which I had prior to A. going on maternity leave; I can’t cope with this, having so many emotions swimming around, and not having a safe place to put them. As minor as it may seem – after all it is only a week between sessions – what I think this demonstrates quite clearly is that our psyche and our feelings don’t have a concept of time. They remain in the childlike state where, when we experience fear, anxiety or sadness, a week, a month and a year are all the same. Especially when immediate relief is not provided.

At the same time, in session, I am still finding my way, not feeling sure how much I am able to share with A., still dealing with those trust issues I was worried I would be faced with. I open the door a little and then hesitate. I want to take the plunge, but seem unable to do so. I do try very hard to not allow myself to hold back too much, to not allow those trust issues free reins, but I also appreciate that this is a very real reaction the feeling of having been I abandoned by someone who is supposed to be there for me, and I believe that there is some value in allowing myself to own that reaction, rather than to simply burying it.

Last night I did something that metaphorically describes quite well what is going on in my relationship with A.; I decided to see if I would be able to pick a lock using only bobby pins (like they do in films). Initially I was pleasantly surprised to find that, even with these very rudimentary tools, I was able to do it without much effort. But then the implications of this began to sink in; if I can so easily achieve this, it means that the locks which serve to protect me, may not be quite so secure as I have tricked myself into believing, and in fact, it means that it would be quite easy for someone else to gain entry to my home, should they wish to do so. I didn’t recognise the symbolism in this in the moment, didn’t immediately see the parallel between this – opening a physical lock in my home – and opening an emotional lock to A. in therapy, but later on, when my sister asked how come I had thought to try this little project, it became quite obvious to me. Sitting with this for a little longer, I eventually also came to recognise that although my initial understanding of this discovery had left me feeling quite frightened, the bare knowledge of this security risk doesn’t actually increase the odds of someone breaking in, any more than my acute awareness that opening up in therapy leaves me vulnerable increases the likelihood of A. taking advantage of this. Both remain entirely unchanged, despite my own anxieties, and if anything it gives me an excellent opportunity to look at ways to manage my fears.

And like the wannabe MacGyver / SAS that I am, I’ll keep telling myself: he who dares, wins

I will carry on trying to open up to A., because, ultimately, as vulnerable as it leaves me feeling, there is much to gain from doing so.

I leave you with a little video of me opening a padlock. It’s up to you to decide whether or not you wish to take a look at the reality of these ‘locks’.

All the very best and plenty more,

xx

———//————————————

As some of you have emailed me about my nails following the above video..

About my nails:

I don’t actually have my nails done anywhere, so can’t recommend a good nail bar, I just do them myself. It’s another one of my self-soothing techniques. The flowers are not stickers, but made using regular nail varnish. I don’t use any particularly fancy nail varnish, just whatever is cheep and cheerful. The blingy bits at the centre of the petals are Swarowsky Aurora Borealis crystals. I use a good top coat sealer to make them last, and re-use them as many times as possible. (Yes, I am desperately trying to justify this very eco-unfriendly hobby of mine..)

And, finally: YES, this is totally something you could do yourself. If you can dip the tip of a biro into a blob of nail varnish and then make a dot on your nail, you can do this. Just takes patience! :)




Starting Over After A Major Therapy Break

A. Is back from maternity leave now. I’ve seen her twice, and it has at the same time been both a huge relief and incredibly difficult. The first time, walking up to her door, I experienced a very strong wish to cut and run, to chicken out and not knock on the door. I was that nervous. I was so worried about how I would react to seeing A. again [or rather the emotional impact it may have] that I actually felt quite sick.

As you know, over the last several months there have been a lot of thoughts and worries swimming around in my system, regarding A.’s maternity leave and her baby and how I would cope with this new situation, but, to some degree I have been able to shelter myself from it, as I’ve not been seeing her. Two weeks ago that particular way of sheltering myself came to an end, as we resumed therapy.

During that first session, I was very shaky. Not just emotionally, but physically, too. I was fidgety and struggled to settle. I had my Rubik’s cube in my hands, as a means to keep my hands steady. Speaking was difficult, and I sat in silence for a good while, trying to figure out where to start.

I can’t even remember clearly where I did start in the end. I do recall talking about the break. How hard it’s been. Even admitting to overdosing, early on; something which I hadn’t decided whether or not I wanted to talk about in that first session. A. asked some questions about that, and I remember feeling that I wasn’t at all ready to look into it properly just then, that I was still trying to get used to being back in this shared space with her, that I needed more time to test that we were OK before launching any major investigation into anything significant. I mean, I did end up trying to explain to her about that overdose, but without really connecting to what I was talking about. In contrast to the second session, where I spent quite a lot of time trying to talk about the emotional side of what really happened that night, what I was feeling before, during and after, and how I look at it now.

I managed to talk a little about my combined fears and hopes regarding resuming therapy; the hope that I will find the courage to talk openly about my feelings surrounding A.’s leave, the experience of once again being abandoned by someone who isn’t supposed to abandon you, and the anger that it triggers deep inside of me, as well as the worry that I may find that I haven’t got what it takes to face it head on. That I will yet again find a way to not have to express these feelings of anger, in order to avoid the risk of that much-feared rejection, which I have come to expect whenever I express negative emotions towards those close to me. I spoke about the knowledge that there is some potentially substantial gain in it, if I do find a way to talk about all of this, as I recognise that whatever anger I have towards A. is also an echo of what has gone unexpressed previously, in similar situation, in other relationships.

So, yes, A. is back and in theory therapy has resumed. But, although it may seem, from my summary here, that I’m well underway and going places, it still very much feels like I am only just testing the waters with A. and our relationship.

Maybe I’m not exactly back to square one, but, I also feel very aware, that I am nowhere near where I was when we left off, and that it will take time to truly open up again, to truly trust in our relationship.

But it’s a start.

xx

Abandonment, Anger & Expressing Negative Emotions

As if by magic, following my previous post about wanting my therapist back, I received a two-line email from A. on Wednesday “to confirm that we are meeting on July Xth” and asking could I come at a slightly different time to my usual slot? Very formal and to the point, complete with a “Dear..” at the beginning and ending with “Best wishes,” in typical A. style. She does the same thing in texts, which I always find both amusing and somewhat incongruous to the kind of relationship we have and the way we communicate. It’s the text message equivalent of suddenly calling me Ms Y in session. :)

Anyway, having received said email I instantaneously found myself regressing into some sort of teenage state where my immediate reaction was I’ve spent months not knowing when my therapy will resume, weeks and weeks in limbo. If you think I’m going to reply to your stupid little email straight away, you’re wrong! You can sit there and wonder whether or not I can do the time you asked about. So THERE!

Not many points for maturity, as you can see, and of course entirely irrational; it’s not as if A. will have been anxiously awaiting our work to resume or has struggled to make it through this break. Nor is it likely that she will be particularly concerned about my holding back on replying to her email, but it still felt kind of good to allow myself to act out in this obviously infantile fashion.

Thus, it wasn’t until Friday I emailed her back. And when I did, I made sure to be decidedly less formal than she had been, writing in a way similar to how we speak, starting with a simple Hi A., and ending with a casual Shabbat Shalom for later. [Although, in hindsight, I realise that I actually don’t usually wish her Shabbat Shalom at the end of our Friday afternoon session, but more generally a good weekend. Stuff to ponder in another post, methinks.]

Clearly this need to act out stems from a place of anger at having been abandoned, and not wanting to make things easy for her. There is a part of me who wants to punish her for having put me through this separation, for having put me on hold while she carried on with her real life, and I have a feeling that it may well be a bumpy and challenging time to come once therapy starts over, while we work through this anger, which I genuinely hope I will allow myself to express.

This anger is, of course, not only about A.’s maternity leave, but also a deeply buried echo of all other times when I have felt left behind and uncared for, beginning with my birth mother giving me up for adoption and followed on by similar feelings towards my parents and other adults in my life, growing up. A person doesn’t need to be physically abandoned in order to experience the very powerful feelings associated with it..

And this – rather than just wanting to put A. through a bit of a rough time upon her return – is the reason why I say I hope I’ll be able to give myself licence to let this anger out. It has been trapped for a long time. Maybe the time has come to let it surface? Perhaps a chance for a much needed corrective emotional experience; being accepted even when expressing negative emotions?

xx

PS. Ever wondered how your therapist really feels about you blogging about your therapy? I think my lovely fellow blogging tweetist Therapy Tales has it right. Click the link for a spot on cartoon strip!

I Want My Therapist Back!

I’ve been meaning to write about what it has been like trying to cope with A.’s absence for a while now, but I’ve just not really got round to it. Or maybe I’ve even avoided it a little. Then, recently, someone asked me whether or not it has got any easier to deal with this break, and I had to really think about it. Not that I hadn’t thought about it before, but it’s different when you’re answering someone’s question, isn’t it? I mean, has it got any easier..?

Well, the truth is that in some ways it has, and in others it hasn’t at all. I will try to explain that.. It has got easier in the sense that my internal clock doesn’t automatically go “Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday = therapy”, and so it has become easier to cope with waking up on those days, realising that there is no therapy to go to, and won’t be for quite some time.

Another change that I’ve noticed is that where I would normally find myself thinking “I really want to explore THIS in my next session”, or, “I can’t wait to talk THIS through with A.”, [almost having pre-therapy sessions in my head], that doesn’t really seem to happen anymore.

And I suppose that’s where it gets a bit more complicated, because on the one hand, yes, it does make things easier to not be constantly brought back to the harsh reality that my next therapy session is veeeery far away, but on the other it also makes me a little concerned. Is this a healthy sign that I am coping fairly well with this break or is it in fact a case of having switched my thoughts and emotions off? And if so – what will happen when I switch them back on? Will I even be able to switch them back on?

You see, it seems to me that it isn’t only thoughts along the lines of “I’d like to share XYZ with A.” that have stopped, but also a lot of what I’ve always considered to be my natural way of thinking about feeling, and feeling about thinking, and any combination of the two.

Am I just shielding myself like most people do when things get hard, or have I actually taken a few steps back on the work I’ve been doing in my last three years of therapy?

Also, of course, this break will test our therapeutic relationship, not just during the break, but also after A. is back. How much of a blow has my trust in A. suffered as a consequence of this perceived abandonment? Will I dare trust that she won’t just disappear again? Will I feel it worth taking the risk of starting over, knowing that sooner or later she will in all likelihood abandon me again, in favour of a second child? That trust was extremely hard-earned in the first place, took nearly two years of testing the waters.. will we be back to square one..?

And how in the world will I be able to cope with the reality of this pseudo-sibling which A.’s baby represents in the transferential universe of my mind and soul? This little pseudo-brother or sister, which I never asked for and never really wanted?

I feel I have to point out at this stage that this is not a comment on whether or not I’m happy for A. and her husband, but merely an expression of wanting to be The Only One, not wanting to share A. with another needy being. This, incidentally, goes for all of A.’s other clients, too, whose existence I have also done my darndest to ignore. [And occasionally failed miserably at].

So, as I told you at the beginning of this post, in some minor ways, yes it has got easier to deal with not having therapy, but, paradoxically [hm..that’s probably not the word I’m searching for] with each passing day of things getting easier, I am also getting a day closer to A.’s return, and my anxiety surrounding what that will be like is rising incrementally.

So, I suppose the heading of this post; I Want My Therapist Back, isn’t simply about wanting A. to return to work so we can resume therapy, but a much deeper – and obviously unattainable – desire to have my therapist back the way she was.

Yes I am fully aware that I made that wish about her rather than the therapy, or our relationship. There is of course lots and lots to be read into my choice of words; interpretations to be made, issues to be explored and questions to be asked, but at least it’s an honest statement.

I am equally aware that I have throughout this entire post stayed away from the other MAJOR issue surrounding A. returning to work; that she isn’t just returning from annual leave, but from maternity leave, and will now be a mother, while I’m still not..

But that – my friends – is a big’un, and it possibly warrants its own post.. Just not today.

This break was never going to be easy, and I don’t expect returning to therapy, and re-connecting, will be either.

I just hope I will be brave enough to bring this to the table once A. is back.

xx

PS. Having long since passed the goal post of my target of solving the Rubik’s cube in less than two minutes before the end of this therapy break, I have now turned my hands to a new little hobby; carving crayons. Made my very first attempt this evening, the [rather sorry] result of which can be seen below. But, just like with the cube, there is plenty of room for improvement!

Faceless Stranger With Hat And Hoodie [front and back]
– my very first attempt at carving a crayon

Three Key Rules For Surviving The Present

*

“..when all I really want, I said to myself, is to survive the present..”

*

Sitting here, alone. Trying to somehow keep it together. And failing miserably. I feel like I’m a prisoner in my own life, and while there may well be a key to the lock, it seems impossible to find. Or maybe I’m just looking in all the wrong places?

I haven’t been able to attend service for weeks, owing to flashbacks. Haven’t even had enough head space to follow them online. Still, as my therapy is on now on hold, I know that it will be important to find other, non-destructive, ways to cope, so this morning I decided to brave it and just push myself that little bit extra to get there. Which I did.

I now regret that bitterly. As lovely as the service was, I was struggling throughout it, trying to stave off the flashbacks that insisted on popping up, and it took all I had to somehow stay in my seat and not just rush out. I tried to focus on the music, on the words, the prayers, and to a degree I suppose you could say that I succeeded, but what is normally something that feels naturally easy and enjoyable, today took a lot of hard work. By the time service was over and it was time to exchange the customary Shabbat shaloms [“have a peaceful day of rest”] I was exhausted, and I only barely scraped by during kiddush. Feel very bad about it, because I know I probably came across as a bit off to others, but it was the best I could do. Having greeted the people I know, I made my excuses and left as quickly as possible. The second I got on the bus home I just broke down in tears.

Of course, tears are not the enemy, if anything they are an entirely appropriate response to the difficulties I’m facing, and they’ve been waiting to fall since I left my final session with A. But it’s not nice when it happens in public. It just isn’t.

It was hard saying goodbye to A. The session in itself was reasonably OK. I managed to talk about the extreme separation anxiety I was [and still am] experiencing, and I think that was important. To be able to say how hard and frightening this long break feels, to be honest about how uncertain I feel about whether or not I have what it takes to make it through to the other side of it. To talk openly about why it’s so hard, this effective re-experiencing of every other time I have felt abandoned, neglected, second-best and left behind, with no one to care for me. To feel that there is no one I can truly trust to see me through.

Of course – and I said that, too – in my final session, I know that I’m not really all alone. I know that there are lots of people in my life who care about me and who want to see me make it through, people who are more than willing to offer me support. But, at the same time, as I’ve described many times in the past, a therapist is in many ways a pseudo-parent, and so, having a break – especially a big one like this – is bound to cut pretty deep. And when you cut deep, you bleed, and it inevitably leaves a scar. It’s impossible to just pick up where we left off, as if nothing’s happened. So there is a fear of that, too. Of what it will be like once A. is back. Will I ever feel able to trust her in the way I was? Because, unlike other breaks, at the end of this one her whole world will have changed. That moment when she goes from being a pseudo-parent to her clients, to being an actual parent will be unlike anything else. And even if we manage to reach that Winnicottian good enough place together again, the fear of another abandonment will linger, as it’s likely that in due time she will want to have another child. In fact, whether or not she does, the fear will be there, regardless.

So things are distinctly uphill right now. I keep thinking Oh, I’ll talk about this in my next session, and then I crash with the realisation that that next session is so desperately far away.

I told A. that I would do my very best to stick to my usual 3-rule therapy break survival plan:

1: No matter what; keep breathing in and out
2: Try to find ways of coping other that resorting to self-harm
3: Even if I fail on number two, stick to number one!

That made A. smile, and I will try to keep that in my mind and in my heart, because I do want to make it through.
I just don’t entirely trust it that I will.

xx

The quote at the top is from the book Are You Somebody? © Nuala O'Faolain

Maternity Leave, Eternity Leave & Lessons From A Goldfish

Some of you will know that I recently moved. I did a straight room swap with someone, and when this someone else moved, she – let’s call her K. – left behind a great big goldfish bowl with accompanying goldfish. Now, I told her straight off that I didn’t want it; I could never keep fish like that, in an un-oxygenated bowl with no black-out sides and nothing inside the bowl for the poor fish to hide behind. She told me she was going to get a smaller tank to fit in her room and come back for her fish. Being the friendly [if somewhat horrified] person that I am, I told her fine, just put it in the hallway for now, but make sure to come get it as soon as possible. No worries, K. replied and went on her way.

A week passed. Nothing. I started googling to find out what the heck to feed my un-invited flat mate [finely chopped spinach and orange, apparently] as I couldn’t just let it starve. I texted K. Nothing. I put a tea mug in the tank so the fish would have somewhere to hide from the world. Another week went by. Another text. Met by even more silence. And then, yesterday morning, a text from K. saying “Sorry about the late reply, I was busy with exams until Friday and now I’ve gone abroad. Won’t be back until January”. What the flying BEEEP..!?

Needless to say, I wasn’t much pleased with this development, so I texted her back saying that I understand she’s been busy, but really, sending a text takes seconds – anyone can fit that in no matter how busy – and wouldn’t it have been a good idea to check that someone was actually going to be in the flat over Chrismukah & New Year to look after her fish? Apologised in case I sounded harsh, but honestly I wasn’t very impressed.

Now, I’m not someone who habitually sends out even remotely angry sounding texts, so having sent off the text I sat down to reflect, realising that this was probably about something bigger than just the poor goldfish. I mean, I’m not actually going away, and feeding a fish isn’t exactly hard labour. So what was it about all of this that was really upsetting me?

Seems pretty obvious from a distance, right? What was really bugging me was – of course – the fact that she could so easily leave this living being behind without a thought, without making sure someone was going to be there to make sure that it was OK.

Fast forward to later in the day, still thinking about the fish, feeling genuinely upset by it being abandoned like that, I realised that I was very much identifying with this poor fish, and that my anger with K. was probably more accurately a misplaced expression of anger with A. leaving me behind, with no one to look after me.

So that’s what yesterday’s session – the final one before a two week Chrismukah break – was spent on. Trying to explore the feelings I have, not only around this break, but also about A.’s maternity leave – which I feel, ought really be re-named eternity leave. How I feel, much like this little fish, left to my own device in this not-great-but-won’t-kill-me place, where all I can do is to swim round and round in circles.

I feel that being in therapy gives me a sense of direction, like – although progress is often excruciatingly slow – I’m going somewhere, I’m moving. But with this massive break coming up, well, I’m not sure what to do with it, what to do in that huge expanse of time. Do I retreat into the tea cup of my mind? Do I try to move forward on my own, risking getting myself into territory I’m not at all ready to cope with outside of the safety of the therapeutic setting? Or do I just stand still? I genuinely don’t know, and that makes me feel lost and frightened.

A. gave me the breakdown of her plan for her maternity leave on Tuesday. She’s planning to keep working until the fourth week of February [but, naturally, there is no guarantee that that will happen] and then she’ll be off until some time in July when she will go back on a part time basis, meaning I will have only one session a week, in contrast to the three I’m currently having. And, of course that makes perfect sense, from her point of view, to start over slowly. But for me, I’m not really so sure. Going from thrice weekly therapy to weekly sessions, it’s one heck of a drop, even if it is temporary.

I’ve been in weekly therapy before [albeit not with A.], and it is incredibly different to having more sessions in a week. My experience of weekly therapy is that, although it is helpful – and certainly better than nothing – it’s very.. hm.. choppy. Because so much can happen in the week between sessions, there is both a sense of wanting to cram as much as possible into that one session, and also there is very little flow between sessions. What you started talking about last week can easily be pushed to the side, in favour of new exciting events and thoughts, and deeper exploration often suffer as a consequence. And if you are, as I am, prone towards avoiding digging too deep, this can be used as a way to get away with not looking below the surface of things. So, that worries me.

Towards the end of last session I was really finding it difficult to speak, feeling very emotional and tearful. I just felt utterly overwhelmed by this feeling of being left completely on my own, and feeling that I really haven’t got the tools to stay above water. Like I said to A.: Forget about that nice sturdy IKEA bag I was hoping to find, right now I’d settle for the flimsiest of Morrisons carrier bags to help somehow contain my emotions. I feel really worried that, lacking a time and place to express what’s going on inside of me, those horrendous flashbacks will start coming back again, in the way they did earlier this year. I just don’t feel I’d be able to cope with that. Not without resorting to self-harm again.

A. pointed out that despite things being difficult, I was still managing to look after that goldfish and taking steps to make things as comfortable as I can for it, given the situation, to which I had to admit that I had, in all honesty, thought that I really ought to put that poor fish out of its misery, as I can’t bear watching it live out its life in this depressing little tank. I realised then that this could easily be interpreted as my expressing thoughts of wanting to end my own life, because it just feels too miserable and closed in, and so I felt I had to reassure A. that this wasn’t my plan, that I simply wouldn’t have been able to kill the fish, or myself. I’m not entirely sure if this is true, but metaphoric suicide didn’t feel like a very good note to end the session on, and after all, the woman is pregnant, so I felt I needed to smooth things over.

Don’t worry, I’m not saying I’m suicidal, only that it’s kind of hard to know with me. Even for me.

At points in this final session I felt very strongly that I needed A. to reassure me, to play the good, nurturing therapy mother, and tell me that things would be OK, but, for whatever reason A. didn’t seem to pick up on that, and said very little when I felt I needed it most. [Yes, I do recognise that this is the child in me being angry at not getting instant gratification]. But then, at the very end of session, as we said our goodbyes, she gave me this very warm smile [which, for all I know she may have been giving me all through session, but since I rarely look at A. during session I wouldn’t know] which made me feel so much better, and I wished her a good break. And I meant it.

All the very best and more,

xx

PS. Once again, thanks to all of you who have voted for my blog in the TWIM Awards. The polling station is still open, so if you haven’t but would like to register your vote there’s still a little bit of time left.  Just click here. :) Voting closes at mid-day on December 31st.

Boxes, Bin Liners & A Pregnant Therapist – An Entry About Preparing For A Major Therapy Break

Last week was a big week, therapywise.

Started a bit shakey on Tuesday, feeling very anxious, and stepping into a mode of not wanting to engage, not wanting to connect and deliberately steering clear of potentially explosive material. There was a definite wish to keep it simple, to not touch on anything that could be even remotely emotionally triggering.

Then, on Wednesday, my second session of the week, the second I sat down I was overcome by this very intense need to retreat into myself, to shut everyone and everything out, to protect myself from making myself vulnerable. To, in essence, stop all processes and just deep-freeze everything. A. responded to this information by stating that that’s quite alarming, and I went on to spend the rest of the session trying to explain this reaction, to dress in words what this fear looks like. Did a bit of waltzing around, but eventually, in my own unique roundabout way, I arrived at the fairly obvious conclusion that a lot of this wish to cut and run comes from the worry about what will happen once A. goes on maternity leave.

I used the analogy of unpacking my moving boxes to try to illustrate what the worry is; how, as long as all my things are still in the boxes there is a certain order to things. I know exactly what’s in each of the boxes, and although the contents may not be immediately accessible, I can get to them, with a little work. On the other hand, were I to empty all the boxes, even if I arranged the contents neatly on my bookshelves and in my wardrobe, well – the contents wouldn’t change, but in an emergency situation, it’d be that much harder to grab everything and run for cover. That, yes, in day-to-day life it’s easier to have things within reach and in the line of vision, but, having spent so much of my life in survival mode, it’s really hard to trust that a fight or flight inducing situation isn’t forever lurking just around the nearest corner. I keep hearing the voice of Little S desperately urging me to not lower my guard, to make sure that I have a clear escape route at all times. And although Adult Me is trying hard to keep hold of Little S’s hand, to steady her and to show her that things are different now, it’s hard. It’s a fine balance to allow Little S’s voice to be heard, to exist, without giving into it – because, after all, she speaks from years of experience and from a place of almost unimaginable pain, and her voice is in no way trying to halter progress, but simply wanting to make sure that I don’t get hurt again. It’s a kind of poorly calibrated and somewhat mis-directed self-protective impulse.

Now, Adult Me knows that in order to move forward I have to somehow find the courage to keep at it, to keep sharing, to keep expressing, keep unpacking those boxes – even now when things feel so very fragile – knowing that, should things come crashing down around me, I can always grab a couple of bin liners and chuck my stuff into them to make possible my escape. It won’t be as neat, precise or efficient as if all of my things were still boxed up, but it would still work as a temporary measure. The only problem is that, as I explained to A., unlike with my actual, material possessions, when it comes to my emotional property, I don’t feel that I have that bin liner to hand; the fear is that I lack that quick-fix temporary container to make things manageable. I can have things out, look at my emotions, experience them, especially in the safe environment that therapy offers, or I can keep them in the box for now, until I feel ready to un-box, but, once they’re out – it’s not very easy to re-package. That, although I do have some practical outside tools, should things get really bad in A.’s absence; Drayton Park, the crisis team, shul, Samaritans, my friends and family, I just don’t trust it that I have the inner means to keep myself safe without shutting down. And that leaves me feeling very frightened and vulnerable.

With this in mind, it makes perfect sense that Little S pipes up, reacting strongly to thinly veiled abandonment issues popping up in the face of A.’s impending leave, pushing for me to keep on the well-beaten path of trusting no-one but me, to rely on myself and myself alone, to let no-one in and let nothing out.

History shows that I often find myself struggling to keep things together during therapy breaks, that flashbacks and nightmares tend to increase at a maddening rate when I haven’t got that safe space to unload my emotions in, that the risk of self-harming behaviour sky-rockets, and so, with a break of this proportion on the horizon, well, it’s bound to drive my fears to boiling point. In some ways it would be more worrying if they didn’t.

A. reassured me that she has no interest in making this break any harder than it needs to be, and although it felt really good to hear her say that and I genuinely appreciate her wanting me to know this, it’s still incredibly daunting to know that I have such a big break ahead of me. And finding that courage, well, it’s something only I can do.

This week’s final session – Friday – was spent doing some further exploration into the constant internal struggle between Little S and Adult Me. We looked at how Adult Me very much wants to do everything in her power to ensure that I don’t start going back on the progress I’ve made thus far in my therapy, while – at the same time – Little S is deeply invested in that tried and tested path, pulling in the opposite direction, wanting to go for what is known and what feels safe.

The conclusion is, of course, that what we need to focus on in the next few months, is to find not only a bin liner, but preferably a nice sturdy IKEA bag, to ensure I have what I need get me through once A. does go on her leave. To find that something which will allow me to resist listening too much to Little S – without completely ignoring or silencing her – and to not give in to the temptation of going down that comfortably familiar path of keeping myself safe through shutting down.

So, I’ve definitely got my work cut out for me. But – hopefully – I’ll find that I have what it takes.

To carry on.
Being me.

All the very best and more,

xx

IN OTHER NEWS

I was utterly surprised to find out, earlier in the week, that my blog has been nominated in two categories of the TWIM Awards this year. The TWIM Awards is an annual award given to blogs focusing on mental health issues. My blog is nominated in the categories “Best PTSD/Extreme Emotional Stress Disorder Blog”, and “Best Therapy Blog”. Feel honoured to have been nominated (especially considering how incredible some of the other nominees are) and would like to send out an absolutely massive thank you to those of you who have voted for me. I’m chuffed beyond words! Truly.

If you would like to support me, or any other blog, you can do so by casting your vote here.

Winners will be announced on January 1st, 2012.

Help! My Therapist Is Pregnant

Ever since I began seeing A. about two and a half years ago the fact that she is very obviously of child bearing age and would thus in all likelihood at some point want to have children has been brewing at the back of my mind. It’s one of those worries that has been there from the get go, and on more than one occasion I have actually talked myself into believing A. was pregnant when she wasn’t. Rather unsurprisingly, this has usually been at times when I myself have been particularly worried about the possibility that I may never get to experience motherhood.

The one thing I’ve always said is that when it does happens, well, I won’t deal well with it. I will hate it.

Now that it has happened, it feels very different to how I imagined it would. I can’t really say whether I’m dealing with it in a good or a bad way, I’m simply dealing with it on a day-to-day, session-to-session basis. Some days it all feels very OK, and on other days not at all. Sometimes the way I feel about A.’s pregnancy will even shift within a single session! And whether my feelings are positive or negative is definitely more random than cyclic.

As I mentioned in my previous post, prior to A. actually telling me she’s pregnant, I had already somehow worked it out, but decided to push it aside. Even though I on almost all levels knew this wasn’t the case, I tried very hard to convince myself that it was just another one of those false alarms, that it was all in my head, all to do with me, nothing to do with reality. I was working very hard at pushing myself into denial, until A. burst the bubble.

The way she broke it to me was something along the lines of “There’s something I need to talk to you about. I think you may already know..” at the very beginning of a session. She then told me she wasn’t exactly sure how it was going to work, in terms of her having time off, but that she thought she’d have three months off. My instant reaction to that was “That’s not very long” failing to explain that by that I meant that it wasn’t very long for the baby. For me, any break longer than a week is an absolute eternity, and fills me with out-of this-world anxiety.

Child-related themes have always been fairly frequent in my therapy, as having children has been my number one dream since I was a kid myself, so it’s hard to say if A. being pregnant has pushed those issues more to the forefront or not – it’s never particularly far off my mind – but I can say one thing for sure: having someone sitting across from you looking very pregnant will inevitably be a bit in your face; it’s not exactly something which can be readily ignored. [Although I have read case studies of clients apparently doing just that right up until the baby was born].

There are so many different aspects to all of this. There’s the outrageously jealous she’s having what I want most of all aspect, there’s the classic but I want to be your baby aspect, the I don’t want to share you with anyone sibling-rivalry perspective and – of course – the I really don’t want to think about it but you’ve been having sex borderline Oedipal side to it. There is also feelings of wow I’m so unbelievably happy for you and the somewhat odd I feel really sad that I won’t get to know this child I see growing before me.

There are moments when I really wish A. wasn’t pregnant, and other times I’m genuinely panicking at the thought of anything going wrong with the pregnancy.

I guess in a way you could say that A.’s being pregnant is one of those boundary blurrings that can’t really be avoided, and as I have said to A. more than once, I have a feeling that the next few months will be a bit of a roller coaster in terms of how I’ll respond to it all. Some days I feel completely freaked out by the huge unknowable factor which comes naturally with something like this: there is no way of knowing exactly from when A. will need to be off, there is no way of knowing when she’ll be back [in my mind I am mentally preparing for a much longer break than three months], there is also no knowing where I’ll be at when the break does happen, and there is no knowing where I’ll be at the end of it. What if things just plummet? What do I do? And, oddly just as frightening; what if I deal really well with the break, cope in a way I hadn’t expected? What would that say about the work we have been doing? About our relationship?

Scary stuff, all of it, let me tell you.

So.. watch this space and brace yourself for more than one serious freak-out.

All the very best and more,

xx

Massive Attack – Teardrop

Anchorlessness, Flashbacks & Change

It’s been nearly a month since my last entry. A few pretty difficult weeks have gone by. Went through a phase of feeling completely anchorless – like there was nothing but nothing holding me down, in terms of who I am and where I come from. And that’s a lot to deal with. That feeling of not knowing anything about my heritage.

I’ve spent the best part of my life trying to desperately tell myself that it really doesn’t matter, that I’m not interested in who my parents are. And, in some ways, I still hold true to that; this journey into Who Am I isn’t really about knowing who my parents were. What it is about, however, is which parts of them are recognisable in me? What qualities, good and bad, did I get from them? Or even those people who came before them. What has been passed down through the generations? Things that most other people have the luxury of knowing.

Another crucial aspect of this search for who I am is, of course, that just as the ups and sometimes very severe downs of my childhood has shaped the person I am today, so, too, have the choices my parents made. No matter which angle you look at it, the bottom line is that – as hard as it may have been – my mother did decide to give me up. Yes, there may very well have been reasons – good reasons – for this decisions; I’m  fairly sure that no mother would easily give their child up.

But that doesn’t change that simple fact; that that decisionwas made.

And it’s had a huge effect on me.

Having struggled with these questions, and the feelings they stir, spending a lot of time talking about it in session, I think I got to a point where I couldn’t quite handle it any more. This constant drumming of I have no idea where I come from, it got too much. And I think I needed to distance myself from it.

The issue didn’t come up naturally in therapy; it was introduced. And although I know that this is absolutely something I need to be dealing with, need to work through, I think it was a little too much a little too soon. I don’t think I was ready to work all the way through it just yet. I know that, with time, I will eventually make my way through all of these huge and existentially fundamental questions. But, for now, I think I just needed a break.

Unfortunately a break from one thing doesn’t necessarily mean that everything goes back to being nice and neat. There is always a bit of an emotional hang-over.

Also, in the last two weeks I’ve started having flashbacks again. It hasn’t gone into a full-blown, all-consuming and seemingly endless period of flashbacks, but I have had a few evenings where there has been quite a lot of them, and it makes things difficult, because – apart from the flashbacks in themselves being pretty horrendous – it makes it very hard to commit to things. And so these last two weeks I’ve had to miss out on things that I’d really wanted to do, because having a flashback in public isn’t really ideal.

I do believe that these flashbacks happen for a reason; maybe as a sign that I’m psychologically more ready to look at what actually happened when I was a child. I mean, as far as the abuse goes, I haven’t really got any repressed memories; I remember pretty much all of it – but the flashbacks brings them to life in a way that memories don’t. Firstly you have absolutely no control over when a flashback will happen, and therefore you also have no way of shielding yourself from the impact of the experience. It’s like – for a moment – existing in complete simultaneous reality. [To see a drawing I made last year trying to illustrate what that’s like, check out my entry What Words Can’t Express – A Visual Explanation of Flashbacks].

I have been able to talk about the flashbacks in detail with A., and I think that’s a really big step. Some of the incidents that have come up as flashbacks have been some of the most difficult memories of the abuse. Some of them I have talked about before in therapy. But, as I was explaining to A. the other day, even though I’ve talked about a specific incident before, each time feels like the first time, because in between each time I’ve become more able to stay connected emotionally with the memory. The first times I talked about it; in the police interview and in court it was easy; I was completely and utterly emotionally detached from it, and therefore I could retell things in graphic detail without skipping a beat. The first time I talked about it in therapy I was still switching off emotionally to a degree, and although it wasn’t by any means easy to talk about it, I could do it, because the emotional impact was limited.

This time around I feel that I have been able to stay much more connected. It’s a pretty big deal for me, seeing as my chief defence mechanism has always been the ability to switch off all feelings at will. I still fall into that trap every now and then, but I do work hard at noticing when I’m doing it, and trying to find my way back to that emotional place, because, painful as it is –that’s where change happens.

Anyway, good people of the blog-reading world, I’d best stop there. Time for evening prayers and settling down time.

Be good to your Selfs.

xx