I Survived A Therapy Break

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be good to your Selfs.

xx

IMG_3885

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

 

Advertisements

Every Part Of You Needs Therapy : Baby S.’s Story

impossible shapes

“Looking Back At My Younger Self” – An ‘impossible’ drawing I did, inspired by Reuterswärd, Escher and Penrose

Whenever I think about who I am, I always reach the conclusion that there is more than one answer to that question. I have written about the concept of every person having different parts to them before [the baby self, the child self, the inner teenager, the adult etc], but I have been wanting to write more about each individual part for a while now, so that is what I am planning to do in the next few posts. [Emphasis on planning here – no promises, plans sometimes don’t pan out]. I have no idea how interesting this will be to anyone else, but as it is something P. and I do a lot of in our therapy [exploring, defining, trying to understand the different parts and how they work – and sometimes don’t work – together in my internal system], I know that it will be a useful exercise for me. So, I am going to be a selfish blogger for a little while. And I use the word ‘selfish’ here in the purely positive sense of allowing myself and my needs to come first. That said, I know from the emails I have been receiving from you over the years, that many of you share similar stories to mine, and I hope that you, too, will get something from this exercise – maybe even take a little time to think about your own internal system?

I am going to start with Baby S., because that is where the person I am now begun. Baby S. is simultaneously the very oldest and the very youngest part of me. She is the part of me who was there from the beginning, the tiny pre-verbal part of myself. She is the one who was around when I was living at the Indian orphanage in the first seven months of my life, she is the one who first experienced being abandoned, first experienced loss. When this happened, I don’t know, because I don’t know if I was born at the orphanage or if I was brought there. And if I wasn’t born at the orphanage, then I don’t know whether a stranger found me somewhere on the streets of Calcutta and handed me in, or if my birth parent made the decision to take me there themselves, because it was what they believed would be best for me. In fact, I don’t even know if my separation from my birth parents was forced upon them or if it was a choice they made. All I know is that at a very early age I experienced the extreme trauma of being abandoned. 

Baby S. is also the part of me who for the first seven months of my life experienced a serious lack of human-to-human [or rather adult-to-child] contact and care. This I do know for a fact. I know this, not from having a conscious memory of this lack of close contact, but because I have been back to the orphanage I came from, and I have seen the little metal cots shared between two or three babies [hence correcting myself earlier; there was most certainly human-to-human contact, but not adequate adult-to-child care]. This inadequacy was not because I came from a particularly bad orphanage, it is simply down to the fact that I come from an exceptionally busy and over-crowded one. [Actually, scratch ‘exceptionally‘ – it is probably no more busy or over-crowded than any given orphanage in India]. The nuns working at this orphanage no doubt tirelessly do so because they care very deeply about all these abandoned babies and children, and are passionately wanting to do what they can to provide for their tiny little charges, but there are simply not enough of them going around, and – sadly – their job becomes never ending rounds of nappy changes and bottle feeds – conveyor belt style – to ensure that no child is missed. So, in spite of these heroic efforts, precious little time is spent with each individual child, and the opportunity to form any kind of meaningful attachment is virtually nil. 
I was ten years old when I went back to visits the orphanage I came from, and even as a child of that age I was acutely aware of the Baby S.-part inside, and I didn’t need an adult to explain to me how lonely and frightening it must have been for me as a baby to be in that environment. It is hot, crowded and noisy, with little colour or comfort. No toys, no safety blankets, no dummies [that’s British for pacifiers], no cuddly teddy bears.. Bleak, bare and loud, with hardly any Big People to care for you; a very sad environment for anyone to be in, no matter what the age. Needless to say, visiting that orphanage had a big impact on me, and it has played a huge part in why I have always been so much more interested in understanding the effects of starting out in an environment like that – void of significant caregivers to form attachments to – than wanting to find my birth parents. 

Anyone who has been adopted will be more than familiar with Everyone Else’s two compulsive-intrusive questions: “Do you know who your real parents are?” and “Would you like to find your real parents?” My answer is invariably: “Of course I know who my real parents are – I grew up with them, and, no, I’m not hugely interested in finding my birth parents.” An answer, which is more often than not, met with disappointment. It is as if, being adopted, one ought to have a strong desire to trace one’s biological roots, and if you haven’t got that desire, well, you must be lying to yourself. I genuinely don’t feel I am lying to myself; I just haven’t a strong desire to trace those roots. That isn’t to say that I won’t ever feel that desire, merely that – as of now – it’s not played a big part in my life. Yes, of course I have at times wondered about them, but – somehow – I have always had a really strong sense of who my parents were and what they were like – even though I couldn’t possibly have any conscious memory of them. Maybe it is a biological imprint that we are born with..? I don’t know. All I know is that I’ve always been far more interested in understanding how my early life experiences have shaped me, than finding out who the people I came from were. So, let’s go back to exploring that: 

Apart from being abandoned, Baby S. is also the one who had to deal with the most extreme life change out of all of the parts that make up my internal system. At seven months old her whole life was turned upside down and inside out when she was brought from the orphanage in the loud and crowded city of Calcutta, to a tiny coastal town in the very north of Sweden. I don’t think the climate or cultural change could have been greater. This was a new life, in a whole new world, with strange new smells and sounds and ways of doing things. And a whole new set of people. A mother and a father and two older brothers, one of whom was also a deeply traumatised young child [2.5 years old on the papers, in reality closer to four] brought over from an entirely different part of India, at the same time. 

One of the things that is always said about me as a baby, post adoption, is that I was “such a good little baby”, meaning that I was a very quiet baby; I rarely fussed and I slept more than most. I was also out of nappies before I was a year old. Every time another story gets retold for the umpteenth time of what a good baby I were, I always have an urge to scream that “Of course I didn’t fuss! Why would I?” and I can feel that it is the Baby S. part of me having this reaction. By the time I was seven months old and came to Sweden I had already learned that there was no point in crying if I needed something, whether it be food, a new nappy or a cuddle, because no one would come, no matter how desperately I cried.. I simply had to wait my turn, whether I understood the concept of waiting or not. So, I stopped crying, stopped fussing, stopped trying to get the attention, care, and love that I so desperately needed. Because I knew that it was pointless. And the sleeping? Well, I’m no expert – but it sounds to me like either a stress relieving coping mechanism kicking in, or early depression. Or, more than likely, both.  

Because of Baby S. inside of me, I experience intense anger whenever I hear people asking new parents “Is he a good baby?”. What’s the answer to that? “No, she’s an absolutely terrible baby, she demands feeding and changing and she won’t let us sleep for more than half an hour at a time!” To me, good does not equal quiet – and I know that my sensitivity to this kind of talk is really Baby S. having an emotional respons. She can’t help but to kick off when someone starts talking in those terms. Which is great – finally she is able to express herself, be it through emotions rather than words. 

That brings us to one of the challenges of allowing Baby S. space in our therapy. Baby S. is pre-verbal, she doesn’t have language – or rather, she hasn’t got words. So, how can she be part of the therapy? I haven’t got a definitive answer to that. I mean how do you get a pre-verbal part to speak? My solution so far is to work on getting Adult Me to become more attuned to Baby S.’s emotional signals, so that she can verbalise on Baby S.’s behalf. It’s not an ideal solution, because dressing a baby’s emotional world in adult vocabulary requires translation, but it is a starting point in terms involving Baby S. in our therapy. The first step to giving Baby S. a voice in the outside world is to listen for it. So, I try to get Adult Me to actively listen to what Baby S. is communicating. It’s sometimes – often, actually – rather a difficult thing to do, especially if what Baby S. is desperately wanting to say, happens to be the exact same thing that Adult Me is wanting to hide from, and still needs to defend agains.

I believe that Baby S. only ever communicates truths – she has not learned that truth can be manipulated to suit one’s needs – and conflict can occur when Adult Me is not yet ready to face that truth. Still, it is work in progress. Through Adult Me’s active listening, and through her translation into spoken word, Baby S.’s feelings can be brought into the open in the space I share with P., and together we can work with it. 

And there is a lot of stuff to work with. Trust me. 

There is an excellent blog called Everyone Needs Therapy – a sentiment I share. Only I would take it one step further and say that Every Part Of You Needs Therapy.



Take good care of your Selfs,

xx 

From Swan Lake to Daft Punk – A Post About Psychotherapy Breaks

Every time I upload a new post I do so with the intention of posting another update soon thereafter, but it just never seems to happen that way.. I suppose I will have to own that this happens in part because I slightly lack the discipline to stick to a set publishing schedule, but, also, it happens because – well – life happens. I’m sure you know what I mean. It is hard to write about your life at the same time as you are experiencing it. Especially when the going is tough.

So, what has been going on in my life since my last post? Quite a lot, it feels like, and at the same it is rather a lot of the same that is pretty much always going on; flashbacks, crises, therapy breaks, family stuff.
I’ve been under the care of the crisis resolution team six or seven times already this year and had one stay at Drayton Park. That’s a lot, considering we are only in the eight month of the year.. And I have a feeling that another stay at Drayton Park may be on the cards in the near future. I am actually seeing the crisis resolution team later today, and my guess is that they will suggest to start a referral for some residential care. To keep me safe from myself. Without going into too much detail, the going has been exceptionally tough this year in general, and recently in particular.

*

P. has been on annual leave for about two weeks now, with another two still to go. I know that I have written about therapy breaks many many times in the past, but it is for good reason: they really are that difficult to cope with.

And I know for a fact that I am not the only one who experiences breaks in therapy as major triggers for all manner of extreme abandonment, attachment and separation issues. A quick look at the stats for how people find this blog tells me that some of the most commonly used search terms are variations on the theme of How To Cope During Therapy Breaks. This is also a topic that people frequently email me about. [Much appreciated, and – as always – apologies if I’ve not been able to respond to your email yet]. 

So, this is clearly not something I alone struggle with.  

I think part of the reason why it is so hard to manage while one’s therapist is away is that Everyone Else [friends, workmates, family, even mental health workers] find it seemingly impossible to grasp just how important and intimate a therapeutic relationship is, and what huge emotional waves the absence of your therapy partner sets in motion. So, we are left feeling that the pain we experience because of our therapist’s absence goes unheard, thus redoubling the pain.

I have some absolutely wonderful friends, I am very very close to my sisters [by golly I love them more than I could ever express!] and I really wouldn’t describe myself as a lonely person per se [although I do perhaps crave more alone time than most] – but my relationship with P. is different to every single one of my other relationships, no matter how good, close and meaningful they are, and it takes up a huge amount of emotional spacetime in my day-to-day life. Even on the days between sessions. 

So, when P. goes away for any length of time, that is going to be hard to cope with. I am used to being able to voice thoughts I don’t share with anyone else three times a week. I have 150 solid minutes every week that are there for only me, to express whatever I want to or need to. 9,000 seconds a week to experience being heard and seen by a pseudo-parent who genuinely wants to understand and help find ways to ease the pain. And that’s not even counting the email and text contact P. is encouraging me to maintain in between sessions and over weekends. So, of course her absence is going to be massively felt.

It isn’t a case of my being needier than most, it is simply that this is a big change to the structure of my week – and I think that most anyone who had that kind of drastic change to their life [even if it is temporary], would find it quite challenging to get used to. 

And – of course – we are none of us in therapy for the sheer fun of it. Something has brought us there. There are Issues to be worked through. Usually more than one, and hardly ever the easy-to-resolve variety. [If, indeed, such a variety exists.. I have my doubts..]

During a break the therapeutic process gets put on hold. Or – perhaps more accurately – the format of the therapeutic process changes during a break. Of course we don’t go into a period of zero growth during a therapist’s absence [in fact, in my experience breaks more often than not bring growth in its wake, both for me personally and in my relationship with P.], but the rhythm is upset. There are no two ways about it. It’s like listening to Swan Lake for a solid month and then suddenly having that musical loop switched to Daft Punk. It’s not bad for us [I would never call Daft Punk bad!], but it IS vastly different. And even if we know that the switch is going to happen [having bravely attempted to talk about the upcoming break and the feelings it brings to surface], going from Swan Lake to Daft Punk is going to affect us. Different feelings will be stirred up, often difficult, deep-seated ones. And we will be on our own to cope with them. 

Or, as in my case, you’ll end up working with the crisis resolution team for the umpteenth time.. ;)
So, that’s where I am at right now.

Getting used to Daft Punk. 

xx

Found Some Words..

OK, so I’ll admit it; I wrote that heading in the hope that I will find some words now that I start writing.. There are no guarantees at this stage, especially regarding the quality of said words..but, I’ll give it a whirl just the same.. [Bear with, bear with..]

So, I made it though The Break. It was a lot tougher than I thought it would be. In the past I have generally found that the beginning of a break is harder, because it is as if my body clock is telling me “today is a therapy day” and my whole being is expecting a solid fifty-minute-hour to release tension. The longer the break goes on, the less loudly my internal therapy clock ticks, because it is getting used to not having that thrice weekly outlet and is slowly finding alternative ways of managing in its absence. This time, however, was different – and I can’t really say why, because I don’t know why. If I were to venture a guess, I would say that it is to do with the fact that I am far more attached to P. than I ever was to A. [or even D.], and the longer we were apart, the more panicked I became that the connection P. and I have formed was beginning to disintegrate. I did find alternative ways of managing this time too, but it didn’t really alleviate the panic. In simple terms: I missed P. terribly – not just the service she provides, but I missed her, I missed us. And, again quite differently to past breaks, I allowed myself to admit that I was missing her. I made no attempts to try to convince myself that she’s not that important, or that it’s really just the structure of my week that I miss. And, as much as that made the break more difficult, I also know that this is real progress. This is me genuinely allowing someone in, allowing myself to become attached, taking a risk I usually wouldn’t take. So, definitely progress.

So, what did I do during my break? Well, in part I did what you could see in my previous post: tons of art. I also did some tie dying and some bleach printing and some shoe painting – all of which was very enjoyable and helped the hours and days pass in a positive way. Some samples below – feel free to scroll past, to read the rest of this post..

 

Tie-dye project
No children were harmed in the making of this collage!

 
 

Bleach print project
Again – No children were harmed. However, one tee was a complete fail and consequently got randomly squirted with fabric paint!

 

Still with me? Ok. Back to the tale of “How I Survived My Therapy Break”..

So, the arty-crafty stuff definitely helped a lot, but no matter how busy I tried to keep myself there was always going to be times when I really really really missed therapy – and P. I knew this was going to happen before the break, and – again unlike other times – it was something P. and I had talked about beforehand. In the year we have been working together, forging this relationship, therapy breaks have always been very tough. They just bring out so much Stuff [paradoxically, this is also one of the reasons why breaks are useful]. At times, even weekends have been torturous, so we’ve had to come up with things to help me feel close to P. even between single sessions. 

One of the things we do is that P. will lend me her pen – the one she always has in her ridiculously big handbag. This idea with the pen was actually a suggestion from one of you readers a while back, in a comment after another post about therapy breaks. This – having P.’s pen – has really been great for me; I use her pen to write in my journal, and it makes me feel a little like we are having a session. [By now I know P. well enough to be able to predict what her response might be to the things I say/write]. So, for me, a pen is great. P. did once offer to lend me one of her scarves [we are both Scarf Wearing People – it’s a thing!], but at the time that felt way too much for me, far too overwhelming, and I declined her offer. A pen, on the other hand, was just right. Small and emotionally manageable. 

Apart from the pen P. has also sent me photos of herself. This has been especially useful if we have had a particularly rough session and I’ve been worried that I’ve become too much for her – because that way I can look at the photo she’s just taken and I can see for myself that she is still OK, that, in spite of the things I have told her, she hasn’t broken down or disappeared. I have also sent her a picture of me, so she can carry me with her when she is on leave. P. often uses the phrase “I carry you in my heart” and, for me, her having a photo of me, is an extension of that. 

Prior to both this break and the previous one, apart from P. lending me her pen, I lent her a bottle of nail varnish. I’m very into nail art [the only sort-of girly thing about me], so her wearing/having my nail polish makes me feel more connected to her. I don’t really think that P. would forget me without these physical reminders – after all she ‘carries me in her heart‘ –  but the Little S. part of me finds this very reassuring, and since that is the part of me that generally struggles the most in P.’s absence [because she is the one who has experienced the most abandonment] it makes sense to pay extra attention to her needs. Especially when Adult Me finds it difficult to fully own those feelings herself..

Finally, the thing that probably helps me the most during breaks:  writing letters. Real, physical, handwritten, old skool letters. I let any part of me [Little S., Adult Me, bob..] write P. whenever they want, and they can decorate the letters and envelopes in any way they want, so P. can see who it is from. I will then hand deliver the letters, because that means I get to go to the place where I see P., and it’s another step towards reassuring the different parts of me that even though P. is away, our therapy space still exists. So, that is something I would really recommend.

Wow! Looks like I found rather a lot of words in the end! Hope that’s OK.

Be kind to your Selves.

xx