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
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Where Do We Go From Here?

I have been meaning to upload this post for a few days now, have kept telling people that I was going to post an update in the next few days, but, for whatever reason, I just needed a little more time to think before writing it. As I wrote in a previous post, it hasn’t been my intention to turn this little therapy drama into any sort of cliff-hanger, I just simply wasn’t quite ready to write the update until just now, hence the delay. Nothing more to it.

*

A. replied very briefly to my email, acknowledging that she had received it and confirming that she was expecting me to come for session the following Wednesday. This was good; I wouldn’t have wanted her to respond to my email at length, I just wanted her to have read it and to have had some time to think about the things I was saying, so that we could talk about it in the next session.

I began that next session with a simple ‘So where do we go from here?’ thinking that that was open enough to invite some sort of mutual discussion. Instead my question was met with silence, and I felt instantly annoyed, because I had really hoped that A. would recognise the need to respond to me openly and directly, to engage in a dialogue with me, rather than to hang back and wait for me to say something for her to analyse. So, naturally, the next thing that came out of my mouth was dripping with frustration: ‘You know, it would be quite helpful if we could have an actual two-way conversation about this.’

We did have something of a conversation, eventually. Thankfully. Because, I think I would have walked out once and for all, had that not happened. My anxiety was sky high coming into that session, not knowing whether or not this would be the session where A. would tell me that she definitely couldn’t carry on working with me, regardless of whether or not I promised to not get suicidal again, because I was simply too much for her. And, also, there was tremendous fear that what I had written in the email would have a negative effect, or would be misunderstood, would have tipped things in the opposite direction of what I had hoped for. So, I really needed to be able to have a conversation with her about where we stood, what was going to happen, what the deal was going to be. I couldn’t have handled the not-knowing, the guessing, the excruciating uncertainty regarding the future of our therapeutic relationship.

A. brought something up which I had mentioned in the previous session, namely the idea that if I did go along with her request that would almost certainly mean that talking about suicidal feelings would become taboo. She told me that there were no taboos, that I was free to explore absolutely anything I wanted to in session – but – that I was not free to act.

I sat with this for a moment, because to me, this seemed quite different to what I felt she had said in the previous session. There is no way for me to know if this was what she had meant to convey in the previous session but had just expressed it in a somewhat clumsy way, resulting in me hearing something quite different, or if she had taken in what I had written in my email, and realised that what she had demanded initially was an impossible ask. All I know is that this felt different to the ultimatum-like choice she had presented me with the last time we met. So, that’s what I told her. A., of course, wanted to know in what way it felt different, and I said that this felt more doable, that while there is no way I – or anyone for that matter – can promise never to become suicidal, I can choose not to act.

I can’t say that I feel that we managed to talk it all out in that session, or even that we have in subsequent sessions. I couldn’t honestly say that this issue has been resolved. It still feels like it’s sitting there, an invisible but definite stumbling block between us. Whilst I acknowledged that I can make a choice not to act, I never made any sort of promise to A. that I won’t, nor has she pressed me for one. In some ways you could say that we have both just let it drop, allowed it to fall into that silent space between us, lost in the red pile of the Persian rug at our feet. I can’t help but feel that we are both working very hard at pretending that everything is back to normal, even though we both know that that isn’t the case at all.

As far as taboos go, do I believe what A. says, that there are no taboos? I suppose you could say that I do, or – perhaps more accurately – I believe that A. genuinely wants me to feel free to talk about absolutely anything, no matter how hard, no matter how sensitive. Have I talked about how I really feel since this happened? Have I been able to talk about suicidal feelings? About urges to act out? No. I am far too scared that I will say one thing too many and that consequently therapy will stop. In some ways I feel that all of a sudden I am doing therapy under the threat of termination.

Sharp-eared readers will have noticed that none of the discussions between A. and I have addressed the issue which felt most pressing as this whole drama unravelled; my deep-seated fear that I always end up being too much for people, and that I had pushed A. to the point where she couldn’t cope anymore. There is good reason for why I’ve not written about this; we haven’t addressed this at all. Neither my fear, nor any possible validity in my feeling that A. can’t quite cope has been talked about.

I have had a lot of comments and particularly emails about the last two posts, all of which I am grateful for, as they have offered many different angles from which to view what has been going on between A. and I. A number of readers have expressed a fair amount of anger at A.’s way of handling the situation, and as anger sadly isn’t a talent I have mastered, it has in many ways felt good to see others reacting in this way. And, at the same time, because I am a Worrier, it’s made me scrutinise what I have written, to try to ascertain if I may have unfairly painted A. in a darker shade of gray than was necessary. I would like to think that I have been reasonably fair in what I have written, yet at the same time I think it is important to remember that this blog is a stage which I share with no one, and as such only my voice gets heard, only my version of events gets told. A. has had no opportunity to put her understanding of what has been going on between us forward. Also, as I highlighted in my email to A., it is entirely possible that my assumptions about what has been going on for her are altogether incorrect.

One reader very helpfully pointed out that it may well have been that what A. was saying about not being able to work under the threat of suicide was less to do with not being able to cope with me, and more to do with the fact that a client’s suicidality can make therapeutic progress very difficult. This is something I agree with; a client’s suicidality, especially if acute, can doubtlessly make the therapeutic process suffer, may even make it impossible. I also agree that it is fair for a therapist to be clear about not finding a client’s acting out acceptable. However, I also feel that the way A. initially presented the issue to me, ie “I can’t work under the threat of suicide” suggested that it wasn’t so much that she felt that my suicidal impulses or acting out was a hindrance to the therapeutic process, as much as it was a case of her not being able to work under these circumstances, and this is what lead me to interpret her statement as indicative of her not being able to cope. She wasn’t saying that ‘The constant threat of you acting out makes it impossible for this therapy to happen, because it means your energy is focused more on the idea of being dead, than on being here with me and genuinely engaging with this process’, she was saying that she couldn’t work when things were this way.

But, of course it is very possible that I was taking her words a little too literally, maybe expecting too much of her in terms of expressing exactly what she meant in a “perfect” way, and – as I wrote in the email – there is a difference between her actual words and what I heard, and of course the things I read into those words come largely from my imagination, rather than from actual, factual knowledge or confirmation from A.

There is so much more to say about this, and I think this whole thing will take a long time to be fully resolved. But for now, this is where I will leave it.

For the time being I am still seeing A. Although, as I said earlier, there is still much left for A. and I to talk about, we have had some very good sessions lately. No, it hasn’t been addressing the stuff that is going on between the two of us, but they have still been very useful sessions.

I want to once again say thank you to everyone who has taken the time to email or comment on the last two posts. I am sorry that I haven’t been able to respond to all of you, but rest assured that I have read what you’ve written, and I very much appreciate getting your points of view. Whatever they may be.

Be kind to your Selves.

xx

In the next episode of What It Takes To Be Me: I embark on a new journey as I dive head first into the world of intensive, short term trauma-focused counselling. Stay tuned!

By the way, we’ve just passed the 55,000 hits milestone since this blog was relaunched!
So THANKS to all!

Putting Feelings Into Words

I am not someone who commonly contacts my therapist between sessions; the resentment I always felt towards those of my father’s clients who did so has heavily enhanced my desire to not be That Client. In fact, I have only done so twice before. Once after a friend of mine killed herself right before a final session before a break, and once, earlier this year, after a session where I was simply overcome with anxiety about having broken A. and feeling sure that I had finally become too much for her, because something in session had made it seem she wasn’t really coping. But, following the session I described in my previous post, in which A. had told me that she couldn’t work with me under the threat of suicide I made a very conscious decision to write her. Below is that email.

 

*

Dear A.,

It’s late Saturday evening and I find myself feeling like my head is still spinning from trying to make sense of what happened in our last session. I decided already yesterday that I would sit down and try to write down my thoughts over the next few days and send them to you on Sunday; I felt it wouldn’t be a very wise thing to do, sending off a rash email before I have had time to sit with all of this for a little bit. Also, I figure sending it on Sunday gives you two days to think about what I’m saying, should you want me to come for session on Wednesday, so it’s fair on you too.

This is what you said on Friday: ‘I can’t work with you under the threat of suicide’. This is what I heard you saying: ‘I won’t work with you if your level of distress passes a certain point. It’s now got to that stage, and I can’t handle it.’ If I allow my mind to wander a step further it would go something like this: ‘This is too much, too scary, and I don’t want the responsibility. She has become too much for me. I’m out of my depth and I don’t know what to do. I want out, but I don’t want to be the one to end therapy, so I’ll give her a ‘choice’ which is almost impossible to go along with. ‘

I know you said in session that you didn’t know how I might react to what you had to say, but you’re an intelligent person, and it seems reasonable to assume that you must have realised both that this would have a really big impact on me, and have thought of at least one or two scenarios of how I might interpret it. Considering how fear of being ‘too much’ for people and the constant worry about breaking people have been major themes running through the last four years of therapy, it doesn’t take a particularly big leap of the imagination to see that this statement of yours would be experienced as direct proof that I have once again managed to become too much for someone..

Like I said to you in session, this does feel incredibly unfair. In the last four years I have been trying to open up, to stop holding back and to overcome this fear of breaking people – to trust that you can cope, even – and now that I have taken this step, you tell me you can’t work with me. When I have asked you ‘Are you OK? Can you cope [with what I bring to session]?’ you’ve consistently opted to not answer, and then suddenly you give me what you present as a choice, but which to me feels increasingly more and more like a black or white ultimatum. ‘Either you stop being suicidal, or therapy stops’.

I do understand that you are in a very difficult situation and I can easily imagine how very stressful it must be to work with me, especially when I’m dipping like this, I really can. However, I’m not sure exactly what prompted you to make the decision to give me this ultimatum now, because I honestly can’t recall having said anything in the previous session that I haven’t said before. I remember saying that ‘it feels like everyone knows how this is going to end’, but that is something I have said many times in the past.

Were I to venture a guess I would say that it may have been my arriving late for the first session after the break that was the trigger. The fact that you commented on it, makes me think that this was possibly (and, if so, understandably) quite frightening for you, seeing as I had previously made it clear that if I ever don’t show up for a session you’d have good reason to think I’ve taken drastic action. I’m not sure if you believed me when I said that the reason for my lateness was that I used a different route (since I was staying at Drayton Park), and I simply miscalculated how long it would take to get to your place, but that really is the truth. I wouldn’t be so cruel as to be late on purpose solely to test how you’d react, and I would never play games like that with you; I have too much respect both for you as a person and for the work that we do, to do that.

I have to admit that I feel upset about your decision to tell me this on a Friday, knowing that it’s the longest possible time before the next session. I also cannot for the life of me understand why you would wait until after I had been discharged from Drayton Park to have this discussion with me, rather than doing it while I was still there, taking advantage of the fact that I wouldn’t be going home to try to deal with this on my own, but would have people around me who could offer support. This seems especially strange, seeing as I told you that my stay at Drayton Park had been extended until Monday because I knew that the first session back might leave me feeling vulnerable and unstable, since things between you and I had seemed rocky before you went on leave.

As I said before, I can absolutely understand that it must be really hard to deal with me, and it may well have left you feeling you couldn’t cope working under those circumstances, but surely there must have been other ways of doing this? Rather than, for example, making it clear that ‘If you tell me that you are intending to kill yourself, I will have to contact your GP/crisis team/have you sectioned etc..’ (thereby taking some steam off of you), you went straight to ‘If you’re suicidal, I can’t work with you’.

I have no problem with you looking after yourself; if you feel you can’t work with me when things are like this, then – absolutely – you should raise that point. Of course a therapist both needs to and should look after herself, I take no issue with that at all. But, what I do feel has been done quite poorly is the fact that you drop this bomb in my lap without doing anything at all to ensure that I am as safe as possible with it. You could have said ‘If you don’t feel you can make a promise to not kill yourself, I’m really sorry, but I won’t be able to work with you. It would be impossible to do this work. I know this will probably feel like a rejection and I am sorry about that. It’s not my intention to leave you feeling that you have become too much for me, but I do realise that it may have this effect. I may be able to refer you to a colleague, if that is something you would want.’ Or even something so simple as to pick up the phone, call the crisis team, who you knew I was still under, to let them know that you have just had a really difficult conversation with me and you want them to be aware of this as I may need extra support over the weekend.

I really don’t want our work together to end like this, and I certainly don’t want the take away message after four years to be that I’m too much even for the professionals, and that is what it would be, should we terminate therapy at this point. I know you would soon find someone else to take my slot, you’d move on and I would eventually fade and end up being a learning experience for you. I, on the other hand, would be left with the incredibly painful knowledge that I am too much even for professionals, and, really, if even my therapist can’t cope with me, what hope is there..?

I know that some of the things I am writing in this email will inevitably come across as wholly unfair, and I recognise that my assumptions of what is going on for you may well be entirely wrong, but at the end of the day, this is how I have experienced all of this.

You mentioned that I may need some time to think about what you have said and what choice I want to make, and I feel unsure of what the timescale for this is, and whether or not you are expecting me to come to session while I work it out for myself.. I don’t even know if I’m meant to show up on Wednesday or not.

I really do hope that we can talk about this soon and find a way forward, whichever direction that path takes.

xx

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!

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.

Self-Harm & Managing Difficult Feelings: Making Good Choices During Therapy Breaks

Therapy break, once again. This time for two weeks. And I’m feeling somewhat apprehensive about it. The funny thing is that up until the night before the final pre-break session I had hardly even reflected on the fact that there was going to be a break. I mean, on the whole I’m doing good. No major hitches the last few months. Nothing much to worry about, apart from the pending move, which is still a fair while away, and is also a different kind of worry. It’s more of a stress factor than something that expresses itself in an anxiety ridden can’t cope sort of way.

So, as I said before, I’d felt absolutely fine about this upcoming break. Fairly confident that it wouldn’t pose a problem. And then, suddenly, I had this huge slap of panic hit me right between my eyes.

Talked about this in my session the following day, and naturally A. wanted to know what I had been doing when this happened. So I gave it a second and then began trying to explain. It ended up being a bit complicated, but in essence it went something like this: I was thinking about something someone at work had told me. It was to do with a child acting out in a way that both my [equally upset] co-worker and I felt was an obvious cause for concern. The incident had happened at another establishment, and so I was hearing about this as a third party, but even so, this retelling really got to me. Not so much what the child in question had done, but rather that no alarm bells had gone off for the staff on duty. From what I was told the staff had been much more concerned about the nuisance the child had caused, rather than triggering any questions of why the child had a need to act out in this rather extreme way.

And it was in the middle of thinking about this that I suddenly felt panicked by the thought of not having any therapy for two weeks.

It may seem that there’s very little to connect what had happened earlier in the day at work and the sudden onset of separation-anxiety later that evening, but if you look it from another angle it may become a little more clear.

To me, the incident with the child and the staff’s reaction was about people whose job it is to look out for kids failing to do so. This got to me because it echoes off other incidents also missed by the adults who ought to have been in charge; in short all the adults who in my childhood failed to notice that something was wrong.

My party line regarding this has always been that they didn’t see anything because there was nothing to see. I was simply such a good little actress that I managed to steer peoples’ attention elsewhere.

But – and this is where it gets hot – is that really true..? Is it even possible for abuse of the kind I was subjected to truly go unnoticed by every single adult in a child’s life..? Parents, teachers, aunts, uncles, family friends..? Really? Twelve years is a very long time, and whilst I may have become a very skilled life-actress as I grew older, certainly at the very beginning, back when I was barely five, I simply can’t have had the tools or the know-how to cover up that something had happened. How would I even have known that I needed to assume the role of model child. At that age..?

So, now we’re entering dangerous territory, because that all-important party line – that no one could have seen anything because I was so darn good at concealing the truth – well, it’s a party line in the flavour of a defence mechanism. Not only has this mantra served to allow me to dissolve all the adults around me of any responsibility, but it’s also been a perfect reason for putting the blame solely on myself.

No one could help me, because I didn’t signal that I needed any help. Through acting so convincingly I am the one who made sure the boat wasn’t rocked. In short, I am to blame for not making the abuse stop. I get to take full responsibility while, at the same time, avoiding having to think of the possibility that perhaps there were some signs somewhere that the adults around me where either blind to or did not have the courage to tap into.

I’ve always been very good at blaming myself for letting the abuse go on for as long as it did. Expressing, or even experiencing, any anger directed at the adults in my life (whether founded or unfounded) has simply been too frightening to cope with. And to a large degree it still is.

So, whenever feelings along those lines surface I am astonishingly apt at turning that anger back on myself. Half a heartbeat and out come the scalpels and matches and choke-cords; I turn to self-harm in the most creative ways imaginable. I suppose it would be fair to say that I act out the way I never did as a child. Anything to avoid having to think about the possibility that, maybe – just maybe – there was something to see. That maybe all those adults did miss something, maybe they did fail to act, maybe they did lack in courage.

And this is where my anxiety about the break in therapy comes in. I have enough self-awareness to recognise this pattern of mine; to take things out on myself. And to have thoughts of this nature surfacing at a time when A. is going to be away, it’s not ideal. It is cause for concern. Because, as aware as I am of this pattern, I am equally aware of how incredibly hard it is to break it.

I battle with thoughts of self-harm on a regular basis, but having the safe haven that therapy offers I can usually make a different choice. I can choose to explore the underlying emotions, I can decide to gently prod whatever it is that has triggered the urge to self-harm in a safer way.

Therapy gives me the option to work through rather than act out.

But with thoughts like these in my head, and no therapy.. Well, it makes me worried. I hope that enough will have changed inside of me to make it possible to resist falling back into familiar patterns. In many ways I feel that enough has changed. I just don’t want to be over confident. Because, ignoring the danger signs can have very serious consequences.

Anyway, time for bed.

All the very best and more,

xx

PS. I feel obliged to point out that it hasn’t gone unnoticed that whatever anger I have about what happened is hardly ever directed at the source of it, at the abusers.. but hey.. that may be the next step.. Who knows?

Shoes, Skulls & Honesty – An Entry About Therapeutic Experience

I had an extremely delayed bing-bing experience yesterday. I was in the lounge with my housemate, talking about what it’s like to be in therapy/counselling and comparing what we each found most and least helpful.

Pretty soon we reached the conclusion that we both have the same general idea about what does and doesn’t help. One thing we agreed on was the fact that although interpretations can sometimes be helpful, more often than not they don’t really add much value to the experience. Also we both said that there is nothing more frustrating than to have a question answered with a question. Especially if it’s concerning something that has taken some courage to ask about in the first place.

To use a more concrete example: Let’s say that you’re in a session and you get the feeling that your therapist is in a bad mood and seems annoyed with you. This is clearly something that will bother you, but it’s not the easiest thing in the world to confront your therapist about, especially since you may not be entirely sure that your reading is correct. So, you let fifteen of your precious fifty-minute hour pass, because you’re unsure how to ask about this without making your therapist even more upset with you. You may even consider not asking at all. But, in the end you do ask the question: “Are you upset with me?” You ask because you really want to know.

There are now two main routes for the therapist to take: The first one – which has been used for years by therapist as a means of turning the focus back on the client – would be to reply with “What makes you ask that?” and although I understand the idea behind responding in this way, I don’t really see in which way this would be therapeutic for the client.

The other route – the one that would seem more obvious, and also more closely related to how things work in the world outside of the therapy setting, would be for the therapist to simply answer the question. Just a simple “Yes, actually, I am a bit upset with you because you’re doing something I have repeatedly asked you not to do. How do you feel about me being upset with you?” (Or, “No, I’m not upset with you, but I do have a cold coming on, and maybe that’s why I seem a bit off?”).

My housemate and I also talked about the fact that quite often it isn’t necessarily what is actually being said in a session that brings about a change in you, but what happens. (Not really a huge newsflash, but still.) Although it is helpful to be able to talk about things that are on your mind, the talking itself doesn’t really change anything. It’s more like a symptom relief. (Like taking a painkiller – it takes away your headache, but it isn’t likely to take away the cause for it).

On to my little bing-bing moment, which followed this part of our discussion: Last year I came to one of my sessions with D. wearing a pair of new trainers. At the beginning of the session D. commented on them, saying that she quite liked them. I have no idea what we talked about in that session, to be honest, but as I was getting ready to leave and I started putting my trainers back on again she realised that they weren’t all black as she had initially thought, but that they actually have skulls and bones printed on the side. She then made a comment about that and asked why – out of all the trainers in the world – did I have to choose the ones with skulls on them? I said something back about liking them and that that particular brand of shoes nearly always came with skulls printed on them. We went back and forth for a bit in a very parent/child sort of way, and in the end I blurted out an incredibly teenagey “Well, it’s lucky you don’t have to wear them then!” (At which I think D. may actually have smiled).

Now, I’ve re-told this little store to quite a few of my friends, but I don’t think I had realised until just yesterday why I have been doing it. I think I probably just put it down to me thinking it was a bit amusing that someone could react so strongly to a pair of trainers and that it was more about D.’s reaction than mine. But, having this discussion with my housemate and again repeating this story to her it suddenly dawned on me that the reason why I’ve held on to that tiny little detail is that it really changed something for me.

As I’ve mentioned before I grew up in a house where disagreements weren’t really accepted at all, and so as a result I was probably the most well behaved kid around throughout my teenage years. I never called my parents names or even shouted at them, in fact I hardly displayed any of the behaviour typical of a teenager. Because I was afraid what would happen if I did.
And now, years later, having had the above exchange with my counsellor, well, it was incredibly liberating. It showed me that it’s ok to get annoyed with someone, or to disagree, and even to express it in a less than thought-through way. The world didn’t stop, nothing bad happened – and it certainly didn’t ruin my relationship with D.

So there you go! A perfect example of how the smallest things can sometimes bring about the biggest changes.

All the very best and more,

xx

PS. I now have red Skullcandy earphones to go with my skull adorned trainers. :þ

BLATANT PLUG: Check out my brand new online store Earthprint Organic Clothing where I sell organic clothes with my own designs printed on them!

It’s Not You, It’s Me? – An Entry About Positive & Negative Influences

I stayed at the crisis centre today after counselling since I had made plans to see a friend of mine who is currently staying there. I hadn’t seen her in quite a few weeks, so it was great to finally manage to find a day when we were both in a good enough place emotionally to be able to meet up.

See, that’s one of the things about depression, that it makes it incredibly hard to plan things. Not only because the task of making a plan to do something in itself is quite difficult, but also because there is simply no guarantee that you’ll feel well enough to venture out of isolation to socialise. Owing to this P., my friend, and I hadn’t been able to see each other. We’ve kept in touch through phone calls and texts, but that’s about it. So, seeing her today was really really good.

She was in the process of transferring her things from her old room to another room further down when I found her, so I gave her a hand with that. Sweaty work, if you’re unfit like me, so when we were done we made our way downstairs to the communal lunch room.

We’d only just entered the room when another woman who’s staying at the centre commented that I must be a very good friend’s of P.’s because it was the first time she’d seen P. smile since she’d been there.

I’m not sure if it is entirely possible to deem whether or not people are good friends based on a smile, but it did make me think. It made me wonder about what effect I have on people. I mean, I was very flattered by the comment, and I’d like to think that I generally have a positive effect on the people around me. But, looking a bit deeper, and at people who are very close to me – how do I influence them? And how is my behaviour influenced by them?

It’s probably fair to say that Dev is just about the only person who ever gets to see me in a really bad mood; the only person I’ll snap at or shoot unfair comments at in the heat of the moment. I’m incredibly adept at holding negative emotions back, but, I guess, with him I feel safe enough to allow myself to let my less good qualities show, too. I know he loves me for all that I am, not just the pretty bits.

I grew up in a family where negative emotions and acting out wes simply unacceptable. Anger, harsh words, shouting – it just wasn’t tolerated. I remember that I would, in my early teens, very very occasionally stomp up to my room and slam the door behind me, and that this was seen as highly inappropriate behaviour. I was never actually told outright that it was, but the message was sent through in very clear non-verbal communication. I also remember my mother once or twice, when she was arguing with me ask “Are you going to go slam the door now?” in a tone bordering on ridicule, as if this was behaviour I displayed every other day, as opposed to once or twice, in all of my teen years.

So I learned to control any impulse to act out. Not in a biting my tongue kind of way, but to the point where I repressed the very impulse so far that it would never even enter my mind that I could voice any negative feelings. I can count the number of times I’ve lost my temper on the fingers of one hand. I used to say that with pride, but after many hours of talking about my inability to allow myself to stay with negative feelings for long enough to even identify them I’ve come to see how unnatural this way of acting is.

The problem is of course that it’s not easy to un-learn a behaviour I have been working so hard at perfecting for the better part of my life.

In April I made a decision to take a break from my immediate family. There were many reasons for this, and one of them was that I wanted to find a way to change my emotional response patterns, and I felt that it would be too difficult for me to do that with my family still in my life, trying to – probably to a large extent both unintentionally and unknowingly – keep me from doing this, since what is familiar tends also to be what is the most comfortable, and change, on the other hand, is often both frightening and worrisome.

Since the last time I was in contact with my family I have been working incredibly hard to alter my way of relating to many things. I don’t know how long it will be before I get back in touch with my family, but I genuinely hope it won’t be too long, and I want to make the most of this time I have bought myself, I want to feel I have made good use of it. And I definitely don’t want to feel that this break from my family has been for nothing.

I guess that my behaviour – like everybody else’s – has been tailored to fit in with the environment I grew up in. Darwinism in a speeded up microcosm.

But have I had the same impact on the other members of my family? Have I manipulated them to act in a certain way towards me? Well, yes and no, I suspect. The same way that not all of me (thoughts, behaviour, ways of relating) has been directly moulded by my family will all of their characteristics have been influenced by me. Some things, like the abuse one of my brothers put me through, had absolutely nothing to do with the way I was. But, on the other hand, I’m sure that some things – like the way my mother would turn to me with her worries was perpetuated, at least to some extent, by my own wish to feel needed and special in a family of six, with tons of other people constantly coming and going in our home.

I also know that I have had a huge impact on my extended family, my More Than Family. My youngest sister, for example listened almost without exception to the music I had fed her, and I’m sure that it’s not pure chance that some years ago my other sister and I ended up buying the same dress, the same camera, the same sandals and so on. Also, I can easily see that they both are a lot like me, when it comes to what I consider to be my better traits, like being open and fair-minded for example. Whether that is definitely down to me is, of course, impossible to say. I have learned a lot from them, too, and it’s not entirely unviable that I am all of those thingsbecause of them.

It’s a constant give and take, I suppose.
And what’s more, it’s an absolutely natural process and it will occur whether you want it to or not. The key is, however – at least in my mind – to be able to see when the influence you have goes from being on a normal, healthy learn-from-one-another level to a dangerously personality altering level.

Well, there you are; my rambling thoughts of the day.

Be good to yourselves and others around you who deserve it,

xx