The Beginning Of A Break

Had my final pre-therapy break session yesterday, and it was hard. Or, maybe hard isn’t the right word? It was emotional. Not emotional as in floods-of-tears-streaming-down-my-face-fifty-minutes-straight, but it certainly stirred things up inside of me in a big way.

So, P. and I spent most of the session talking about all the different feelings this break is bringing up for me. How it makes me feel like the abandoned, forgotten baby I once was, the distant echoes from when I was tiny and was given up by my birthmother, and how – even though I have no conscious memory of it – that must have had a profound effect on me. I also retold the story that my mother [technically adoptive mother, but it’s not a term I ever use; she’s just my mother] has told me so many times: that about two or three weeks after I was adopted my mother was downstairs doing something with my brothers, and she completely forgot about me. Not as in ‘she forgot that I was upstairs in the baby swing’, but as in ‘she utterly and completely forgot that I even existed’. My mother tells this story as a bit of an amusing anecdote, but of course, there isn’t really anything very much fun about it at all: I had already been given up once and then only a few weeks later my new mother also forgot that she had a baby to care for..

We also talked about how I simultaneously fear it will be an incredibly difficult break and that it won’t be difficult at all. That it, paradoxically, is easier to deal with the idea of finding this break an immense struggle, than to cope with the idea that it mightn’t affect me much at all. Because, if it isn’t difficult, if it doesn’t affect me, what does that say about P.’s and my relationship? Of course, it could just mean that I have simply developed better ways of self-soothing than during previous therapy breaks, but, knowing myself, I am far more likely to jump with instant certainty to the conclusion that it must be because P.’s and my relationship isn’t really all that special after all etc etc etc.

Last week P. gave me a few suggestions of things we could do to make me feel less abandoned during this break, to allow me to hold on to her even when I’m not actually seeing her. One of her suggestions was to give me a recording of her voice for me to listen to, if she started feeling too distant in my mind. I rejected that idea right away, stating that it wouldn’t be all that useful, considering how poor my hearing is, all the while knowing that that wasn’t the reason at all, but rather that something about having a voice recording felt too close and too scary for me to cope with. Another suggestion, in a similar vein, was that perhaps it would be helpful if she were to give me a photograph of herself to look at. This led to me coming clean and admitting that I already have a picture of her, and that – yes – I do find it very helpful to look at it. P. said that this photo would be different, though, because this would be a photo she had given me, which I agreed it would be, but that I needed to think about it.

What I failed to explain to her at the time, and which later came back to haunt me in the form of a number of sleepless nights, was that I said nothing about why [how?] I had a picture of her. Eventually, it got to me so much that I had to write her an email to explain that it wasn’t quite as creepy-stalkerlike as it may seem: because of the prosopagnosia I have taken to doing a quick search engine/social media scan for a pic to add to any new contact I put in my address book, including the guy who comes to fix the boiler. Just for clarity: I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong in having your therapist’s photo; most clients have a very natural, healthy curiosity about their therapist, and googling someone is hardly the crime of the century – it was more the fact that I hadn’t said anything about it to P. that was bothering me, because it filled me with anxiety that she might think I was exhibiting creepy stalkerlike behaviour. Unfortunately, the very sweet email she wrote back to reassure me that this wasn’t the case, that she didn’t feel it was either creepy or stalkerlike, for some reason didn’t make it through to my inbox, and consequently my anxiety was quadrupled over the next two days. But, we managed to talk all of that through later.

In the end I did accept P.’s offer of giving me a photograph. The actual photo is one that my prosopagnostic brain has trouble deciphering as being of her – there is something about the fact that she isn’t smiling with her eyes – as she so often does in session – that makes it hard for me to understand that it is really her in the photo, but it still means a lot to me having it. I treasure it in the same way that I might treasure a handwritten note from her, precisely because it is from her. I also showed P. the picture I already had of her, and I think she understood why that is a picture I find much easier to connect emotionally with – because in that photo she seems very relaxed and is indeed ‘smiling with her eyes.’

The final idea of how to cope with this separation was one I came up with. I had been thinking about what exactly all of those fears inside of me really are, and what different ways we had worked out to deal with each one of them, and I realised that one of my biggest fears – the one about being forgotten and left behind – could also be dealt with, with a photo. This time, I suggested to P. that maybe I could send her a photo, of me, because even though Adult Me intellectually knows that I won’t disappear from P.’s memory the second I am out of sight, her having something of me with her would make Little S. feel a lot better. [For long term followers, this idea was a modified version of the rubber duck I gave A. in our very last session together.]

So, all in all, that last pre-break session was a good one. I felt quite overwhelmed by P. saying so many kind things to me, particularly when she said that her having my photo meant that she could take me with her on her leave.. But, as I also explained to her, it was good overwhelming, not bad..

Right at the very end of the session P. asked one last time if there was anything else she could do for me, to which I said: “Just make sure that you DO come back”.

To which she replied that she wanted the exact same thing from me.

 

xx

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Identity – Being Adopted & Missing Pieces

Dayan Zhanchi, Void Cube & Core(also Dayan seen through the Void)

Dayan Zhanchi, Void Cube & Core
(also Dayan seen through the Void)

You may be wondering what the above picture has to do with identity and being adopted, you may even fear that this will be an entry entirely about cubing, rather than my usual musings about life’s twists and turns. Don’t worry. It shall all become clear. Or at least I hope so.

[By the way, if you are a ‘cuber’ and happen upon this post, what will follow are metaphors, so absolute minute accuracy isn’t what I’m aiming for. Feel free to refrain from correcting me on technicalities. ;) ].

Anyway, earlier today I decided to bring the above ‘props’ with me to my therapy session. But it wasn’t just for the fun of it, therapy isn’t fun and games; there was some thought behind it. As you may know I’ve recently had pneumonia, and being stuck in bed, I’ve consequently had even more time on my hands than I usually do, and this time has largely been spent solving my various cubes and Thinking About Things. [I find that the two go very naturally hand in hand.]

It started in an ordinary enough way, just randomly solving cube puzzles and thinking about which ones I like better. The regular 3x3x3 [commonly referred to as the “Rubik’s cube”] was a given, but the other puzzle that stood out for me was the funky one you can see in the picture above, the one with a hole in it; the Void cube. I then started thinking about why I liked that puzzle in particular and eventually came to realise that I in a somewhat odd way identify with it.

Now, to make the philosophy which is to follow make sense, I need to explain a little about the regular 3x3x3 cube. One of the keys to this cube is that the centres are fixed, meaning that no matter how much you mix it up, just by looking at the piece in the centre you will know what colour that side will be. Thus, if a side has an orange centre, that will always be the orange side, once the cube is solved.

Now, the Void cube has no centres, and so once it’s scrambled you have no way of knowing what colour any given side is going to be. In short, you are left to guess and hope for the best. And this is the reason why I feel I can relate to this cube.

You see, most people can look at themselves in the mirror and say “Oh, look! I’ve got brown eyes, just like my father” or “Those dimples definitely came from grandma.” Just like the centre square of the Rubik’s cube gives a clue as to why that specific side is a certain colour, you may be able to identify why you look the way you do. At least to some extent.

But, me, I was adopted, so just like the Void cube, I have no clues as to why I look the way I do. Of course, it’s not chance for me, any more than it is for anyone else; we all get our DNA from our parents, but because I don’t know who my birth parents were, I don’t know what they looked like, or in what ways I am similar – or indeed different – to them. I simply have nothing to go on. When I go to the doctor, and she asks “Have you got a family history of diabetes?” I usually joke that “Yes, my mother is diabetic, but that’s nothing to do with me!”, before I explain that my mum is diabetic, but I was adopted, and I simply don’t know what my biological background is.

Taking the cube metaphore one step further, something else that makes me more like the Void cube than the Rubik’s cube is this: if you were to take a Rubik’s cube apart, you would see that all the little pieces are supported by what is known as a core, and no matter how much you mix them up they always swivel around this core. As you can see in the picture above, all the centre pieces – the clues to what colours go where – are firmly attached to this core, hanging at the end of the different branches, much like pictures of family members on a family tree. This is again something, I – and the Void cube – lack. There is no central core, no known family tree to hang pictures on, nothing for all the other pieces to revolve around.

To compensate for this lack of an obvious central core, I had to develop a whole different strategy for holding my pieces together. Rather than relying on a central core to support the pieces that I am made up of, they are instead held together by one another. One might think that would make it prone to easily coming apart, but in fact, it is the exact opposite. Whereas a Rubik’s cube is both easy to take apart and put back together [because of that internal family tree], the pieces of the Void are tightly held together in a way that is very very hard to prise apart, almost as if it is defending against the possibility of falling to pieces, knowing that it will be a real challenge to put it back together again. And that is how I sometimes feel, too; there is a very real fear inside of me that were I to take a few pieces of myself out to look at, as helpful as that may be, there is always a risk that I mightn’t be able to put myself neatly back together again. And this can sometimes cause me to hold back in therapy.

Of course, with therapy and cubes alike, the main object isn’t to take it apart piece from piece, but rather to scramble it, so that you get to see things from a different angle, and can then look for a natural way to get the different pieces back into place; to temporarily mix things up, so that you ultimately get some sort of understanding of why they go together in the way they do.

But even when you just scramble the Void, you have no set starting point, and as a consequence it is that little bit harder to figure out, because if you make an incorrect assumption about those missing pieces at the centres, things simply won’t turn out the way you had expected; when you think you’ve done it, when you only have a few more pieces to go, you will discover that the side you though was meant to be orange, is really meant to be blue, and you’ll have to go back and try again.

Now, of course I know that people, myself included, are not cubes; it’s not as black and white [or orange and blue!] as that; there are people who can trace their family back hundreds of years, who are just as lost, and just as frightened as I am, of mixing things up. Whether we have a known family tree or not, the core of who we are is made up of much more than just that. And, of course, it isn’t just people who were adopted who have missing pieces and blind spots; everyone does. Also, whatever our internal structure looks like, there is something there that holds us together, despite those missing pieces.

And most importantly, for us humans there simply is no permanent ‘solved state’. We are forever scrambling and un-scrambling, and having to sometimes go back a few steps to in order to better understand something about ourselves, really isn’t such a bad thing. And although we often wish we could solve the puzzle really quickly, in reality, we have our whole lives to do it.

So, be kind to your Selves; get a Rubik’s cube.

.. or a Dayan..
.. or a Fangshi..

:)

xx

Bulletpointing My Life

I had to go see a clinical psychologist for an assessment not very long ago; I needed a statement to say something about my mental health. It’s a long and rather convoluted story why I couldn’t simply get A. to write this statement, but in short: it was An NHS Thing and for whatever reason psychotherapists simply don’t rank very highly within the NHS. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been seeing them or how well they know you, it doesn’t even matter if they are both UKCP and BACP accredited, the only letters that matter within the NHS are N, H – and you guessed it – S.

So, in the end I was given a number to call in order to book an appointment with an NHS affiliated clinical psychologist, who would clearly possess almost magical levels of insight, as she would apparently be able to conduct a full assess of my mental health in thirty minutes flat, having never met me before and knowing absolutely nothing about me, my background or my mental health history.

I had resolved to stay calm, but the second I was given the address to the place where the assessment was to happen, I realised it was where I had gone for an assessment five years earlier, where they ultimately deemed me too high risk and unsuitable to be in therapy.. [Being rejected by the NHS is the reason why I had to go private; while I agree that I was very high risk, there was no way I was going to accept that I wasn’t suited to be in therapy..]

Either way, I rolled up at the place with plenty of time to spare, giving my anxiety abundant opportunity to hit the roof and then proceed through it. This wasn’t helped by the fact that Dr NHS Clinical Psychologist was an hour [yes, an hour!] late.

But – eventually – I did get to go in for my assessment and as it turned out Dr NHS Clinical Psychologist really wasn’t too bad. It’s just that, when you meet someone for the first time and you have thirty minutes to talk about yourself, your background and your mental health history, well, what do you say? where do you start?

We covered the usual ground: I was adopted, I was sexually abused by my oldest brother for twelve years and for a year by a second person, I have a complicated relationship with my whole family, my parents are separated, my father lives with his male partner, my mother is bi-polar, etc etc etc. We then moved on to more recent times, talking about previous suicide attempts, self-harm as a coping strategy, the flashbacks, the recurrent depressions and so on. I have to give Dr NHS Clinical Psychologist some credit here, because she also allowed some space to talk about the more positive aspects of my life; my relationship with my sisters, my amazing friends, my studies, my volunteering, but, coming out of the meeting, while I felt that she had listened to all I had said, I really wasn’t sure what she would actually write in her statement.

It’s a strange thing when you are asked to summarize your whole life and your entire being in a very short space of time; it really highlights something, forces you to really think. And it’s exhausting.

So, the next session I had with A, was spent debriefing. It’s quite hard to look at the different parts of your life in this very concise way. It’s almost a bit of a shock to the system to go through it all like that. I mean, none of these aspects of my life are things I haven’t spent hours in therapy thinking and talking about, but there is something quite extraordinary when you have all these life stories mentally bullet pointed before you.

There is one part of me that thinks that considering all the things I’ve been through, all the unorthodox aspects of my life, I’ve actually done quite well to not be completely broken by it. And at the same time, there is another part that chokes and goes “It’s going to take a looooong time to make some sort of peace with all of this..”

But, thankfully, in spite of that assessment five years ago, I am in therapy and I will continue to give it my best shot to somehow make sense of it all.

xx

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

Early morning fantasy; if I could turn back time

Feel like I’m coming undone.

All this stuff that the last several sessions have brought up.. it’s hitting pretty hard, and where it hurts the most. It’s such a big thing, and it kind of challenges everything I thought I knew. I feel lost and dizzy, and – as I said in session yesterday – I wish I could just rewind the tape to that moment last Tuesday after A.’s comment and say “You’re right, I don’t talk about being given up for adoption, and I don’t think about what that really means.. but let’s keep it that way. I’m not ready to go there yet.”

I wish I could just close the door on all these thoughts and walk away. Not forever. But for now. I really don’t feel I can handle this right now. It’s making me question even the things that are most precious to me, the relationships that mean the most to me.. and it scares me like nothing else ever has. I feel like I could mess this up and lose everything.

No, I’m not really desperately down as I have been at other times. Somehow this is bigger than just a state of being – because it’s about being at all. Existential level. Something so huge I can’t even begin to explain it.

So.. erhm.. bleurgh!

xx

Thinking I Can’t Survive What’s Below..

My favourite therapy session of the week – timewise – is my Tuesday session, which doesn’t start until six thirty in the evening. In the autumn and winter this means that it will be dark already when I get there, so there is always that feeling ofnothing exists apart from me, A., the room we’re in and the things we say. And often this sets the tone for the sessions themselves; I tend to be more still within myself, more in the moment, better able to just talk freely.

So, too, this week. Talked about how it’s coming up to a year since I first saw my adoption papers which – among other things – state that my parents wanted to adopt boys and that I’ve not yet been able to talk to either of my parents about this. I have, however, spent a fair amount of time in session talking about this and how I feel about it, so it wasn’t new material per se.

And then, about five seconds before the end of session A. made the comment “..and of course, apart from telling you what your parents did and didn’t want, those papers are also an inescapable reminder that you were put up for adoption in the first place. And that is something you never talk about.”

So I left session with that comment in my head, feeling actually quite upset with A. for doing that to me; bringing something so indescribably big up at the very end of session, when all I could do was to go home and react to those words on my own, with no one to talk it through with.

Now, I have a session on Wednesday afternoon – so in reality there isn’t more than a few hours between sessions. But sometimes those hours can last an eternity.

Spent a sleepless night, basically for the first time ever really thinking about what it means to have been given up. It wasn’t nice and it wasn’t pretty. And, no, I don’t think I was really ready to go there – not like that and not on my own, but I couldn’t stop it, couldn’t change the fact that the dam had been breached.

Yes, I know, this is not A.’s fault. Things don’t come out by chance, regardless of the trigger. Whatever my mind was serving me it came from me. I know this. But, it was still scary as anything. Because I genuinely didn’t know if I’d be able to cope with it. There is a reason why people build protective walls around things that are terrifying.

Still, come Wednesday, I was determined to not repeat my habit of avoidance, of choosing to not talk about things that scare me. So I started out by saying how I felt about A. leaving me with that comment, and then went on to spend the rest of session talking about the thoughts that had been rocking my soul all night.

I’m not going to go into detail about what I said, because it’s all kind of raw, and this feels too public a forum to verbalise the deepest thoughts that I have spent so long trying to shy away from. I mean, this was, literally, the very first time I spoke about any of these things, in fact many of the thoughts and emotions were new even to me, most of them only just starting to take form, to crystallise.

But, leaving session, I kind of knew that..

I’ve spent life hovering above bottom
Thinking I can’t survive what’s below
But I’ve known through the kicking and screaming
That there was no other direction to go

That, eventually therapy.. life.. would lead me to this point.
That I’d have to touch the sorest of sores.

xx

It’s A Bitch To Grow Up by Alanis Morissette
[scroll to bottom of page for lyrics in their entirety]

It’s A Bitch To Grow Up
[from the album Flavours of Entanglement]

It’s been 10 years of investment
It’s been one foot in and one out
It’s been 4 days of watershed
And I feel snuffed out

It’s been 33 years of restraining
Of trying to control this tumult
How I did invest in such fantasy
But my nervous system has worn out

I feel done, I feel raked over coals
And all that remains is the case
That it’s a bitch to grow up

I’ve repeated this dance ad-nauseum
There’s still something to learn that I’ve not
I’m told to see this as divine perfection
But my bones don’t feel this perfection

I feel done, I feel raked over coals
And all that remains is the case
That it’s a bitch to grow up

I’ve spent life hovering above bottom
Thinking I can’t survive what’s below
But I’ve known through the kicking and screaming
That there was no other direction to go

I feel done, I feel raked over coals
And all that remains is the case
That it’s a bitch to grow up

Alanis Morissette

 

Lyrics from It's A Bitch To Grow Up © Alanis Morissette