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.

 

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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

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I Solemnly Swear Never To Be Suicidal Again? – An Entry About Fears, Promises & Honesty

When I uploaded the previous post twenty days ago, I was fully intent on posting the next one the following day. As you can see, this didn’t happen. Instead I have been telling myself every day since then that ‘You really must get around to writing That Post today’, each day finding conscious and unconscious reasons not to do so.

I’m not always good with feelings, with dealing with them, I mean. Especially pain. I have a tendency to shut down, to frantically try and get away from anything that may make me experience emotional pain. And I do this even more so if I perceive that the pain is being inflicted by someone I respect and care about. In some ways I suppose this behaviour makes perfect sense. Who wants to feel pain? Who wants to feel hurt by someone they hold important in their lives? And, yet, looking at it from another angle, it is sort of strange, particularly from someone who has spent so much time doing therapy, where much of the work centres around exploring and examining pain, past and present, often inflicted by those we find hardest to blame.

So.. this will be a hard one to write. But, I felt that I owed it to myself to be brave, to not hold back, to be honest and let it all out. After all, that is why I have this blog..

The week I had been discharged from Drayton Park I arrived for my usual Friday session with A. I had a very specific question on my mind, one which had been eating at me for a while, and I felt I really needed to pluck up the courage to ask A. about it, in light of what had been going on both with me separately and in our mutual relationship lately. I never got a chance to ask the question, because once I had sat down, A. turned to me and said ‘There is something I need to say to you.’ Alarm bells went off all around my body. Last time she started a session that way was when she told me she was pregnant, and I could tell that this time it would be something possibly even harder to deal with.

‘I can’t work with you under the threat of suicide.’

Ten words. Like bullets to my heart.

I must have sat quiet for ten minutes, my world stopping in its tracks. I felt cold, nauseous, struggling to breathe. Thoughts were spinning in my head so fast it was impossible for me to grasp any of them for what seemed like forever. For a second I contemplated just getting up and leaving, something I have never done in my life, to anyone. But, the pain was excruciating, and I felt that I couldn’t take it.

When I finally spoke, the words that came out, as I was trying to blink away tears that weren’t even there, were a mere whisper; ‘I guess that makes one more person who can’t cope with me, one more person who I’ve become too much for, who I have pushed too far’. I couldn’t look at A. as I said it, because I was too scared of the force of my own emotions.

This fear of becoming too much for people, it’s been central to my therapy from day one. It’s been a ridiculously regularly recurring theme, something many hours have been spent turning inside out. I know where it stems from: that pivotal moment when I was seven and told my mother about what my brother was making me do, when I broke her, when I discovered that there was no one who could help, no one I could tell without running the risk of breaking. And ever since then, that fear has remained, has evolved into this enormous ball of anxiety that now encompasses a million different things that I believe I do, which ultimately drive people away.

Having said that first thing, suddenly there were lots of other things I wanted to say, thoughts I wanted to share, because apart from fear and pain a plethora of other emotions were descending on me at breakneck speed. I took a minute or two to try to pick them out, to separate them. The most urgent one was the feeling that this was incredibly unfair, because in the past several months I had more than once felt unsure of whether or not A. could truly cope with what I was bringing to session, and more than once had I openly asked her if she could. And each time she had opted not to answer. So I said exactly that, adding that it felt like she was going from zero to a hundred with no steps in between. Silence, silence, silence and then ‘I can’t work with you’.

After a few more moments of silence, from both of us, I asked her how she had imagined I might respond to what she had just told me. A. said that she didn’t know how I would respond. In frustration I said that that wasn’t what I asked, I asked how she had imagined I might respond, because in my mind, she is an intelligent person, and it didn’t seem that far-fetched that she might have pictured me hearing what she said as a form of rejection and as further proof that there is no-one who can cope with me, and that it would take me down the path of ‘If even my therapist can’t cope with me, then what hope is there..?’

Later she said, in her very gentlest voice ‘I’m giving you a choice’ and because I wanted to be fair to her and to the reality of the situation, I said that I could see that, and that I can absolutely understand that it must be incredibly difficult – frightening, even – to work with me when I am suicidal. Especially in light of what had happened only a few short weeks ago. And, yet, at the same time I couldn’t help thinking How is this a choice?’ She was saying that she couldn’t work with me under the threat of suicide, but how could I possibly promise to not be suicidal? It’s not something which can be switched on and off with the push of a button. It felt more like an ultimatum; ‘Either you stop being suicidal, or therapy stops’. I was going through the options in my head, thinking that I would be willing to say almost anything – even if it was a lie – if only she would carry on working with me. But, I also knew that I really didn’t want to have to go down that road, because it’s perilous in nature; one which would inevitable and seriously impact whatever work we might do in the future.

I said to A. that if I did make a promise like that, wouldn’t that by default make the whole subject of suicide and suicidal feelings taboo? Because, how could I ever trust that I wouldn’t accidentally step over the line of what A. felt was too much, now that she had shown me that such a line did exist, not only in the realm of my fears, but tangibly right there in that room? Wasn’t it exceedingly likely to have the effect that if things got to the stage where suicide felt like an option, I might not be honest with her, might not share these feelings, for fear of what the consequences might be for my therapy? To this A. said that of course I would also need to think about whether or not I could work with her. This may have been meant to make me feel that this was a two-way street, but it only left me with the feeling that perhaps she was hoping that I would come to the conclusion that I couldn’t, thereby giving her an ‘out’. So, I said exactly what I was thinking: ‘I feel like I am being pushed towards terminating this therapy. And that is not what I want.’ To which A. said that I may need to take some time to think about all of this.

I was silent for a while, trying to come up with something – anything – that may be used to bridge the gap between what I felt A. was asking of me and where I felt I was truly at, and suddenly I remembered something D. – the counsellor I worked with before I started seeing A. – and I used to do when things were very difficult. We would make an agreement that I wouldn’t act out in any way between sessions, that I would always come to the next session to talk things through with her. And, because I had a huge amount of respect for her, I knew that if I did make that promise, there was no way I would break it. It’s just how I am. And, if I felt that I couldn’t make an honest promise, it wasn’t a case of ‘Well, then I can’t work with you’ but we would instead find some sort of middle ground, acceptable to both, and which, crucially, didn’t entail making false promises. I might admit that I felt unable to promise that I wouldn’t act out, but that I could promise that before acting out I would do X, Y and Z (ie call the Samaritans, speak to three different friends, do my nails, make a painting, write a chapter on my book, contact the crisis team etc).

Having explained this set-up to A. she initially wanted to know how that had made me feel and I told her that it made me feel contained, that it was a positive thing, this process of coming to a reasonable agreement, because it made me feel that I had some control. And also, that not only did I know that I wouldn’t break a promise I had made to D., I also felt confident that she knew I wouldn’t.

After a short pause A. said that she felt she had made her position very clear and that any promise would have to be for as long as we worked together, however long that may be.

It felt like she was pulling the rug from under my feet, like she was responding to my tentative suggestion of a possible solution, by immediately raising the bar, to make it impossible for me to make the promise she was after.

So, I left that session in a daze, feeling unsure if that was it, if that was the end of the road for our work together, not at all knowing whether her earlier ‘You may need to take some time to think about this’ extended only to this particular session, if she was expecting me to show up for session the following Wednesday, or if she wanted me to do my thinking at home, so she wouldn’t have to deal with my suicidality, which clearly could not be dissolved from one session to the next.

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I am not meaning to make this storyline of my life into any sort of cliff-hanger, but I am exhausted and I need a break. There is a lot more to say about what has been going on in my relationship with A. and what has happened since this session, and I hope that in the next few days, I will be able to post an update of some sort.

Until then,

Be kind to your Selves,

xx

Safety, Anxiety, Boundary Blurring & Progress

 

An Implosion of Emotion

An Implosion of Emotion

I know this update is long overdue – in fact, there may well be enough in my head for two separate posts – but, let’s begin where my last post ended, and we’ll see where it takes us.

Following my near lethal excess intake of ethylene glycol and subsequent hospitalisation I was finally discharged a few days later. Sort of. I was discharged back into the care of the crisis resolution team, pending an assessment at the Drayton Park Women’s Crisis Centre.

The assessment was conducted a few days later, by two members of staff who I knew from previous stays there. This was probably a good thing, not only because they were already aware of my background, but also because they knew that I have found stays there in the past very helpful by way of turning a negative trend. In other words, they knew that if offered a place I was reasonably likely to make good use of my time there. So, having asked me if I wanted to come there, I was told they would offer me a one-to-two-week stay, with a review at the end to see whether or not the stay should be extended.

So, on Wednesday 5th of June I took up residence at the crisis house. I have to admit that it felt a little like taking a trip back in time. The last time I stayed there was in 2011 and before then it was in 2008, if memory serves, but in many ways the place hasn’t changed at all. My artwork and poetry was still on the walls in various places around the house, in fact, even a little note I’d written and stuck on one of the doors during my first stay, asking people to please not slam the door, was still there. Other things that very soon clicked into place was the very special rhythm of life that exists in this place: house meeting, one-to-one, lunch, massage/therapy/art/going out, one-to-one, dinner. Also, just as during all of my other stays there, save the first one, I had to agree to allow staff to look through my bags each time I entered the house. This is not a general rule for everyone who stays there, but something specific to me, because during my very first stay there, back in 2008, I brought a bottle of anti-freeze in and then proceeded to drink from it at carefully planned intervals in a bid to end my life. Thus, as a result any subsequent stay at Drayton Park has been conditional upon my agreeing to have my bags searched. And, ever since then, I have always gone along with this, as I genuinely want to use my stay there in a positive way. Also, in fairness, there is quite a lot of give and take, even with this condition; some staff would definitely ask to have a look in my bags, but some would be happy to just ask me to tell them what I had brought back, and others still simply asked ‘Have you brought anything back that you shouldn’t’?

I ended up staying at Drayton Park for three weeks. It was extended by a few days past the original leaving date, because of something which happened between A. and myself in my final therapy session before she was due to go on leave and which created a bit of a crisis on top of the original crisis. Having spent the session talking about how near I got to dying, and the fear that it’s not quite enough to nearly die, but that I would have to actually die for it to make a difference to my parents, and battling it out with myself whether or not they truly care about me, I finally turned to A. and asked herDo you care?’

At this point A., rather than to answer my question, opted to abruptly end session. Yes, we were out of time [although I didn’t know that when I asked the question], but the way she ended it felt very different to how she normally ends sessions, and it is also not unheard of for her to allow a session to overrun by a minute or two, to ensure a better ending to a session.

I left session feeling very upset and unstable with a single thought pounding in my head; that it was more important to A. to stick to the rule of not answering a direct question than to ensure I was in an as safe as possible place, going into a break which she knew would likely be very difficult, given what had been happening in the last few weeks, coupled with the fact that I had in that session expressed that I was feeling very anxious about how I would manage during the upcoming break. Needless to say, it was an incredibly painful thought to be stuck with..

In my one-to-one back at Drayton Park I managed to voice some of my thoughts about the way the session had ended, how I had interpreted it and alternative ways as to how A. might have responded to me which would have felt better [without her being unfairly pushed to give an extensive answer right then and there, at the end of the session]. All this made me question my and A.’s relationship and also made me realise that there was a lot of disappointment stuck inside of me about the fact that she hadn’t contacted me while I was in hospital to find out how I was doing [or if I was even still alive].

Because of this, my keyworker at Drayton Park and I, made the decision that rather than me going home on the day before therapy was due to resume, my stay would be extended until the Monday after, so as to give me some time to stabilise, should the first session back go very badly.

There was another incident while I was staying at Drayton Park, which had quite a big impact on me: in one of my one-to-ones a member of staff disclosed to me that she, too, had suffered abuse. This may seem quite an alarming thing to disclose, given that she was staff and I was staying there to deal with a crisis, but in the context, I can definitely understand why it was made and I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that the intentions were good, that it was meant to be helpful. But, as I said, it did have an impact on me. Not so much what I was actually told – I have heard stories like that before, have even done some volunteering on a sexual abuse helpline and I can deal with it – but it was more my own reaction to the boundary blurring that caused a lot of anxiety. It made me second-guess myself, in much the same way I used to do during the abuse I suffered: was this OK or not? Was I overreacting? Ought I tell someone? What would happen if I did? Would I even be believed? What if I had just misunderstood what had been said? All of these questions were bouncing around inside of me, as I struggled to decide what – if anything – to do with it all.

Just by chance the social worker from my shul happened to ring as I came out of the one-to-one, and I told her what had just happened. She wasn’t particularly impressed by the self-disclosure, and immediately got it that, while in many ways not that difficult to handle, it had triggered a lot of other feelings and fears, among them the very acute sense that no one can really cope with hearing my story. She said that of course it was up to me to make the decision, but she thought it might be a good idea to talk to the manager at Drayton Park about this incident.

I thought about it for a while, had another one-to-one with the person during this time, but just felt entirely unable to act; the echo of fears from the past and the wish to not get anyone into trouble were simply too strong. So, at first I said nothing, in spite of ever growing anxiety and also feeling worried that this person might end up making similar disclosures to other women coming to the project, some of whom might not be able to handle it.

A few days later, someone from the CRT came to meet with me and the person who was assigned to work with me that day. It was just a normal review, as the plan was that – unlike other times I have stayed at Drayton Park – rather than to just go home and have no formal support in place, I would be discharged back into the care of the crisis team. At the very end of the meeting the person from the crisis team asked if there was anything else I wanted to talk about, and I made the decision then and there that this was a good chance to get to talk it over. I asked the person from Drayton Park could I please have a word alone with the crisis team, and once she had left the room, I explained what had been disclosed to me and the anxiety it had evoked. I made a point of not telling her who the person was, as it seemed irrelevant at that point; I mainly just wanted to get it off my chest and perhaps get some insight into what self-disclosure policies were generally at work within the NHS. She said – in that oh-so-typical-NHS-way – that she would need to bring this up with her own supervisor and that she would get back to me about it, but also encouraged me to have a word with the manager of Drayton Park, who I know reasonably well and have decent rapport with.

A few more days passed and I heard nothing from the CRT. The anxiety was still very present and I began worrying about having to work with this person again, because, even though I didn’t feel burdened by the factual things she had disclosed, I knew I would always feel aware of the risk of triggering things for her etc etc. I still didn’t feel sure about going to the manager, but in the end brought it up – still without mentioning the name of the member of staff in question or when this had happened – with the worker at Drayton Park I felt most comfortable with.

Two days later there was a knock on my door. It was the manager wanting to talk to me, so we went into a meeting room. She explained that the CRT had been in touch with her, as well as the person I had talked to two days earlier, and she just wanted to talk it all through with me and see how we could best resolve this. I asked her if she knew the specifics of what had been disclosed, and she said that she had assumed that it was to do with a staff member’s own experience of sexual abuse, so I confirmed that that was it and also told her who the person was. I then went on to explain that I really didn’t want anyone getting into trouble over this, that I could cope with the actual disclosure and that I could absolutely see that it had been well-meaning, but also that it had set in motion a lot of left-over feelings about ‘telling on someone’ stemming from my childhood and feeling unsure whether or not I could trust my own ability to judge what was and wasn’t a boundary crossing. She reassured me that this type of self-disclosure should not be made, that even if it was done with the very best intentions at heart, staff members should know not to cross that line. She then suggested that the three of us have a meeting to make it possible to move forward. I agreed to this, thinking in secret that I wasn’t at all sure if I would be able to do it.

By the time we were due for our meeting my anxiety about it was through the roof, feeling intensely worried that the person would for whatever reason deny having told me what she had, or say that I had completely misunderstood, that it hadn’t happened the way I said etc etc. Of course, I can easily see that this wasn’t in any way congruent with the knowledge I have of this person – she’s someone who I have always found to be exceptionally straight and fair, but that this was really more of a transferential re-experiencing of what I went through when the abuse I was subjected to came to light and social services made the decision to press charges against my brother whether or not I wanted them to.

The meeting in itself was.. well, truth be told, awkward and uncomfortable for all present, but – ultimately – a good thing. And, as much as I would rather not have had this experience, one very positive thing did emerge: the knowledge that I acted differently to how I did as a child. In spite of not feeling entirely sure that what had happened was wrong, the fact that it didn’t feel quite right was enough for me to speak up.

And,THAT, I think, is very very valuable.

xx

I am aware that quite a few readers arrive at this blog having googled ‘Drayton Park Women’s Crisis Centre’, and so I want to once again re-iterate that in the interest of protecting other people’s identity I use creative licence. Thus, if you for whatever reason feel you know who this member of staff is, I can assure you that you are more than likely going to be wrong, as enough details have been changed or omitted to protect that person’s identity.

Always end up doing a lot of art when staying at Drayton Park

Always end up doing a lot of art when staying at Drayton Park

Psychotherapy, Facebook & Minor Boundary Blurring

It’s been a long time since my last post. A number of very sweet people appear to have noticed this, and I feel genuinely touched by that. So, today I sat down to write an update. It ended up being about six (yes, six!) pages long, and when I read through it, I didn’t like most of what I had written. So, below is an extract of what I wrote, taken “as is” and just pasted into this post. I know there will be some lose ends, both at the beginning and at the end. But loose ends are not our enemy, they are simply the places where we can start our explorations..

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But, we live in a fast-moving world where things are not always so clear-cut. I know I’ve written before about googling our therapists, that there is a natural curiousity about who they are, a curiousity which I believe most clients have, and it is borne out of the fact that they know so much about us, yet we are let in on so very little when it comes to them. Some things we can gather from being with them, like their rough age, maybe something about their sense of humour, or how they react when something we say is a bit close to the bone, [A. has a very definite “tell” when it comes to this!] – other things may be discerned from the way their counselling room has been decked out. Although many therapists favour reasonably neutral rooms, few would choose to hang a picture they really dislike in the room they spend most of their days, there may be a book shelf or little figurines that tell you something, or at least gets your fantasies going. But all in all, the fact is that your therapist will always know more about you than you do about them.

In my case – and I didn’t know this when I first started seeing A. – there is some minor overlap in our semi-social circles. To my knowledge we don’t have any close friends in common, but, as it turns out we do move in similar secondary circles on occasion. I only realised this a few months into seeing A. when her name began popping up a here and there. It was almost by chance that I connected the dots, and when I did it turned into a bit of a crisis for me, because I didn’t feel ready to talk about this discovery, because I worried that she might feel I was stepping onto her turf, and even though there really wasn’t anything I could do about it, the longer I didn’t talk about it, the more I felt that my motives for not doing so might be called into question. It took me a very long time to open up and talk about this with A. Once I did A. very helpfully pointed out that although I may think of it as her turf, it could also be seen as her standing in the way of what is just as much my turf. And still, despite having had this conversation, I feel that we both more often than not steer clear of things that could bring these over-laps up. Not sure A. would agree, or admit it, but I definitely feel that this doesn’t just come from me.

When A. went on maternity leave, I felt very aware that even though I would not be seeing her, I would likely hear about her baby being born through these over-lapping circles. I didn’t talk to A. about it, partly because I still have that sense of it being her turf, and I shouldn’t really be there and I find it hard to talk about these feelings, and partly because there was some sort of acceptance that there really is nothing I can do about this over-lap, anyway.

When the baby was born I did eventually hear about it, but not through the route which I might have expected – and had slightly prepared for – but through a much more personal link.

The culprit? Modern technology by the name of Facebook. My Facebook account is completely private, can’t be found in a search unless you have my personal email address, which most people haven’t, and even if you do have it, you wouldn’t have any form of access to photos, status updates or info until I have accepted the friendship request. (This is, incidentally, not because of extreme social paranoia – although I do think it is important to take charge of and be careful with your online presence – but because the place where I occasionally work happens to be one of those place where you simply cannot allow any of your personal details to be disclosed, and any contact outside of that place is strictly prohibited in any way shape or form.)

However, Facebook being Facebook, it does its darndest to connect people whether you want it to or not, and one morning a picture of a very vaguely familiar man holding a tiny black-haired baby popped up on my screen as a “person you might know”.

A.’s husband.
Presumably a combination of having a number of mutual friends and us both having A.’s email address in our address books had caused him to appear on my screen. I felt quite shaken by this. Didn’t know what to do with it. Had a whole host of feelings about it. Still do.

But have I talked to A. about it? No. And I feel I am now repeating the exact same cycle of avoidance that I did when I first realised A. and I have some common turf outside of therapy. It’s not good, because it is becoming something of a barrier for me, this holding back. I know I need to overcome it, somehow, but I don’t feel brave enough to deal with it just yet..

*

xx

An Uneasy Dwelling – Delayed Reflections On Living In A Therapeutic Community

It’s been a year now since I moved out of the therapeutic community I used to live in. And I’m still processing it. The ups and the downs, pondering what I took from my time there, what more I could have got from it, what I’m glad to have left behind.

I can say without hesitation that I don’t regret moving in there. I can also say that it is the most stressful living situation I’ve every voluntarily put myself in. With three group meetings a week [on top of my individual therapy sessions outside of the house] it’s a pretty full on experience. Even though I often made the decision to stand on the sidelines, to keep myself at a distance, it was a pretty intense way of living.

Would I have got more out of living there, had I been more invested in it? I don’t know. Maybe. I don’t rule it out. Certainly it made a difference to the sense of community within the house that I chose to not engage as much as I could have, to not push for communal meals, to not easily join in with the household. Yet, at the same time, it just never made sense to me to bring my worries and desperation to the house meetings, to be looked at by people, who – although I liked many of them – didn’t feel particularly safe with. [This, incidentally, is solely a reflection on me, – not on them.] To me, it always seemed like the natural thing to do, to turn to my sisters and the friends I have always been fortunate to have when things got tough, to turn to them for extra support. And for the things I felt I couldn’t necessarily share with them [for whatever reason], well, I had my individual therapy with A. for that. Bringing it to the group sessions, it just seemed a bit odd.

That is not to say that I never shared anything in the meetings. I did. But not on a regular basis. It tended to be only when things were really really bad and I just couldn’t hold my tears back.

So, what was it that I found stressful? Well, in part what I have just written about; the expectation to involve myself, to engage and to share, and the feelings brought up by the fact that it was an expectation which I always felt I would never be able to live up to. Part of that was, as I said before, down to the fact that it didn’t quite make sense to me to share difficult things in a group of people I didn’t really know that well. But, of course, there were more deep rooted trust issues at work, holding me back. Other people, who may also have had friends and family they were close to, didn’t feel the same level of reluctance to take the plunge in the group meetings, and were much better able to let others see their vulnerability.

Another thing that was probably more stressful than I even realised at the time, was the constant stream of visitors to the house. Visitors who came to our meetings with a view to possibly join our household. This was a part of life in the house that I never got used to and always felt distinctly uncomfortable with. It was one of those things that made the place feel a lot less like it was my home as opposed to only being the place where I happened to be living.

People would come, share their story, share of themselves, [or in some cases not share] and we were, I suppose, meant to get a feel for whether or not this was a person who could fit into our house, who might benefit from moving in. It probably doesn’t sound particularly stressful, but it really was. Especially the decision making process, where – in theory – residents were said to have a big say in whether or not someone was invited to join, but which in reality often felt like a humongous and never-ending pressure to get new people in. Often at a time when all you really wanted was to find some headspace for yourself, to settle in the group you were already living with. I remember more than one meeting where one of the house therapists would say something along the lines of the process being about all of us reaching some sort of consensus about whether or not a person was suitable for our house, and in the next breath would not-so-casually mention how we needed to be X number of people living in the house for it to be financially viable. No pressure, right. :þ Also, I always took issue with the fact that the question “Is this someone I can live with?” seemed to be second priority to “Could this person gain something from moving in?”, which, it could be argued, sent the message that the gain of a person joining far outweighed the potential rise in stress level of those already in the house.

Clearly, there were times when the reluctance to accept new housemates were motivated less by worries about how a new person might impact the household negatively, and more about a strong wish to hold on to what was familiar. But, then, is that so strange? For a person to build a home, there arguably needs to be a level of familiarity and stability. A stream of new introductions allows little space for that.

Stressful was also the particular mix of people in the house at any given time. Without going into detail about any one individual, the people staying in the house – at least for most of my stay there – could be broadly grouped into either dealing with depressive and/or anxiety related issues, or difficulties which fell somewhere along the more psychotic end of the mental health spectrum. And, as housemates were supposed to support one another [rather than relying on the house therapists – who only come to the house for the meetings – to sort things out] it at points felt very much like the first group was responsible for the latter group.

It isn’t easy walking through the door, never knowing what you might be walking in to. I’m not going to say that I was in any way the person who most often ended up keeping track of others – I wasn’t – but, there were absolutely times when I had to drop what I was doing in order to help settle a very agitated housemate or, once or twice, call the police because someone had taken off, stating they were going to kill themselves. And I think this way of always being on the ready to put fires out, to some degree stopped me from being able to explore my own issues more. [Not the only reason for this, of course, but one of them.]

One of the really invaluable, yet hard bought, lessons from my time in the house, was having to seriously think and feel through what boundaries meant to me. Which ones were important to me, which ones did I feel able to be more flexible about? I had to work at asserting myself, when I felt the boundaries were being stretched beyond what was OK for me. Regular readers will remember that my decisions to ultimately leave the community came down to – in part – feeling that I needed to make a stand for myself, to not just go along with boundaries being pushed, but to recognise that what I feel OK with, or not, is important and worth holding on to. But of course, this was an ongoing battle, this getting a feel for when it was important to hold on to my way of living my life, yet at the same time question my reasons and motivations for doing so. When was there a valid reason, and when was I simply being stubborn and resisting change? When was it a case of me being the rebellious teenager I never got to be in my own family, when was it the adult me refusing to see things from another person’s perspective?

While I was staying at the house, one of the house therapists published a book about the community houses run by the Philadelphia Association. I made the conscious decision at the time not to read it while I was still living there.

Having now lived away from the house for nearly a year, I have read it, and I have to say that it’s a book well worth reading. I found it very interesting to read about the history of the houses [which I had some idea of, even before moving in, but, again had chosen to not explore too extensively], and how the philosophy behind the houses has altered and varied at different points.

I think it’s an honest book, even though I at times found myself smiling at the discrepancy between the idea of the community houses and the reality of them. At least from my point of view.

Anyway, if you are interested in reading the book for yourself, click the link or picture below.

If you would like to read about my time in The House: entries written between January 2009 and July 2011 were written while I was staying in The House. The first post I wrote having moved in is called “On My Own – An Entry About Finding New Ways To Cope“.

xx

An Uneasy Dwelling by Paul Gordon

An Uneasy Dwelling
by Paul Gordon

Help! My Therapist Is Pregnant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the very best and more,

xx

Massive Attack – Teardrop

Powerlessness, Asthma & Echoes From The Past

Feel like I ought to be given some sort of medal or badge today. It’s been one week since my last therapy session, and so far it’s been manageable. Moments of feeling somewhat lower than usual, but absolutely within the range of what I can cope with without freaking out.

That aside, today I feel like a prisoner in my own home.

The last few Fridays I’ve not been attending our Friday meetings, because B. – a former therapist of mine, whom I chose to terminate therapy with – is doing a student placement as part of her training at those meetings. I have been trying to explain both to others and to myself why I feel so strongly about her coming here, but it’s really hard to put it into words, aside from stating the obvious, that I chose to end therapy with her for a reason, and to not want to have to see her again, even in a group setting, seems – at least to me – a not unreasonable request. I would have thought that most people would not be particularly keen on having to see an ex-therapist once they have terminated therapy with that person. No?

But, of course, it goes deeper than that. It’s not just having to see her; at a stretch I could possibly, maaaayyyybeee, cope with that. No, I think this is tied in to the fact that I’d not just be seeing her anywhere, but actually in my home. And I have a feeling that this is a large part of what is getting to me; that living in this therapeutic community I ultimately have no choice in who to let in or not into my own home.

Now, let’s put this into context of my own background.
I grew up in a house where I was put through some pretty severe abuse by people living in my home; my oldest brother and also, for a time, by a foster child placed in my family. At the time I didn’t feel able to stop it, didn’t know how to speak up [lots of complex issues, as anyone having experienced abuse will know]. In the end, the only way out I could find – and not before having already suffered through twelve long years of abuse – was to kill myself. It was the only control I felt I had over the situation; the option to live or to not live. So, at the age of 17, I opted to take a cocktail of painkillers and my mother’s various medications.

Needless to say, I didn’t succeed, and – in fairness – looking back, I can see that this was probably a cry for help, for someone to see that something wasn’t right.

To an extent it worked; the abuse came to light and it stopped. Would I call this a happy ending? No. Absolutely not. While the abuse stopped and things came to light; even went to court, I couldn’t call it a happy ending.

You see, even after all of this came to light, after by brother was convicted for what he had done, and despite the fact that everyone believed what I said had happened, I was still expected to carry on seeing him at family dinners and holidays, essentially giving the message that what happened to me didn’t really matter, and his place in the family was still more important than mine.

Me being me, having spent my whole life acting as if everything was fine, of course reverted back to that old habit of acting as if I was OK, as if these messages did me no harm. Not good.

Going back to the present situation, with B. coming into my home [even though this time I have expressly stated that I don’t want her here] it evokes in me the same feelings of being helpless, of having no power over who is let into my life; that what I want doesn’t matter.

Realising that the situation wasn’t going to change, that whether I felt OK with it or not, D. would be doing her placement with us, I was faced with a choice. A) To go to the meetings, reverting to the old pattern of pretending that things are fine, putting a brave face on it. Or, B) Not go to the meetings, feeling somewhat driven out of my home, as I don’t want to be around when she’s there, even if I don’t actually attend the meeting.

So far I’ve chosen option B. I say so far, because, of course, there is an option C) Going to the meeting, and not pretend that things are OK, but to speak up with her in the room.

Now, I can certainly see that there would be some value in option C), but – and this is a big but – I honestly don’t feel I am at a place yet where I would be able to do that. And as long as I feel that way, as long as I feel that going to the meeting would make me go back to acting OK, I simply don’t see how that would be a healthy choice. And so, for now, I do the second best; I preserve the boundaries I have set up by choosing not to attend the meeting. I accept that I can’t change B. coming to my house, but I don’t need to be around when that happens.

Except today.

Today is a beautiful, hot, sunny day here in London. Gorgeous, really. It is also the perfect weather for death-by-asthma. The government has even gone so far as to issue a smog alert for this bank holiday weekend.

Despite this, not wanting to be in the house when B. is here, I still tried to brave it this morning and went out. Unfortunately, I had to turn around and head back to the house, because I just couldn’t get enough air in my lunges; the weather and the pollution was simply too much.

So at the moment, I’m in my room, using my inhaler, feeling more than ever as a prisoner in my own home.

Oh well, at least I have the internet here, and I can spend my time exploring where my feelings stem from, and then plague the world with my findings in the form of a blog entry!

Happy Easter, Passover or Spring – whatever floats your boat!

All the very best and much much more,

xx

PS. The trick is to keep breathing.

In Treatment, Richard Long & Fear of Real Emotion

It’s reasonably early morning. And once again anxiety has me up and about. Well, about is a bit of a stretch, but up, at the very least.

Been spending a lot of time writing in my journal this past week. It seems the best way to control this rising anxiety, this fear of all the emotions that are bouncing around inside of me. That and distracting.

I know I wrote in a post not long ago about trying to stay with the emotions, to allow them to break through my defences. And I was. But now, suddenly, it feels too much. So I distract. But, since a big part of me wants to feel, I do it through watching In Treatment, this American version of an Israeli show which rarely fails to get me to respond emotionally. It follows a therapist and his clients through the weeks, and also the therapist’s own therapy/supervision/marriage counselling sessions. The last part is, well, a bit unclear, really. As the therapist/supervisor/friend/colleague Gina frequently says:“Some lines have been blurred”. Understatement of the century! Anyway, I’m getting sidetracked.

Those who know me and my family background will probably understand why this show really gets to me, why it’s the show of choice for conjuring up a controlled emotional response. Anyway, maybe the reason for my choosing this particular show over other shows is of lesser importance than the fact that I choose to watch a show at all. Instead of allowing my real feelings room to roam I distract, so that I can – not switch off entirely – but can experience emotions once removed, if that makes sense. It reminds me of going to see the Richard Long exhibition at the Tate last year. How I felt that looking at photographs – beautiful as they were – were still merely watered down versions of these amazing works of arts, which he had created on a large scale in nature. In that particular case, it felt like it was lacking in flavour, left me wanting something stronger – but in the case of In Treatment, well, I think it provides me with just about the amount of emotion I can handle right now.

That said, I do hope – and also believe – that sometime soon, I’ll feel able to return to experiencing the real feelings in the moment, rather than half-way-but-not-quite retreating to something which feels safer.

I stand firm in the belief that true emotion is what brings about change. But, for now – maybe this way of feeling is an adequate apéritif? A taster of what is to come.

Enjoy your day.

xx

Under The Influence Of Music – An Entry About Setting Boundaries

Withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy“.

That’s a line from the track “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?” by R.E.M. which has been playing very nearly non-stop on my computer today. It’s one of my “listen and forget the world”-songs along with The Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane”, Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Walk This World” by Heather Nova. My I haven’t a clue what I’m feeling but whatever it is it’s too much for me to deal with right now-songs. The kind of music that allows you to just melt away from the world, if even for a moment. The sort that offers you a safe haven in the midst of all its noisiness. No need to think, no need to feel – just sink into oblivion and let it wash over you, sound wave after sound wave crashing over your head.

I’m not consciously trying to numb myself, I’m really not, I’m just so frustrated with things that I don’t know what to do with myself. I feel stuck and tied down and at the same time so spun out of control I don’t know how to rein myself in, how to find my feet again. That feeling you get when you start out spinning round and round because you want to, but then when you stop the world carries on spinning around you whether you want it to or not and there is nothing you can do about it other than to wait for the world to slow down to a manageable pace.

I’ve been thinking a lot about love and life and death and everything in between lately, trying to figure myself out, trying to make sense of it all and coming up with very few, if any, answers.

I haven’t succumbed to self-harm, not really. Not since that time when I tested the scalpels. But I’ve been doing other things I shouldn’t be doing. Like researching suicide methods, for example. Not because I necessarily feel any more, or indeed less, suicidal than I have in the last week, but because it works something like a drug for me.

I could probably give you a detailed run-down of up to ten fail-proof ways of ending my life without even having to leave the flat. So it’s not a case of actually needing to find new and exciting ways of offing myself (if there is such a thing as needing suicide methods). D. suggested that it is similar to the way some people get addicted to pornography, and I guess there is some grotesque truth to that.

But even more than that I think it’s about control. Akin to how a person with an eating disorder may gain a sense of control from being able to decide when to eat and when to throw up, knowing all these methods allows me to feel that I have at least some sort of control over my life. Or my death, at least.

I am fully aware that this is not a good way to deal with things, but much like you start craving that drug high after the first few innocently experimental hits I get a craving for new information. I can’t just know a little bit about this method or that, I need to know everything about it, and so, what was meant to be a quick checking up on a fact turns into hours of research.

Thankfully D. is now back and at the end of my session today we made a deal; to try not to do any research at all for the coming week. And I intend to stick to that. Hence listening to my safe-music.

I know, I know – it’s hardly a unique or hard-to-come-up-with idea this Just-knock-it-on-the-head-technique (to use one of D.’s favourite expressions), but this is exactly what I mean when I say that I need direction and guidance in order to cope. Without someone to check up on me, someone to help me re-focus week on week – I just seem incapable of sticking to the healthier option, even when I know what it is.

Having lived the better part of my life without many rules to follow owing to the, at least partially, self-imposed big sister/good girl/self-sufficient reliable daughter-syndrome I find it incredibly soothing to be given some set rules to stick by. Adult supervision. It makes me feel cared for. Looked after. Safe.

I suppose that is the reason why I find my sessions with D. and Drayton Park as a whole so comforting. A sense of home, of something steady and clear and – yes – containing, where I can let go of the responsibility for a moment. Because, as much as I like having all of the above qualities attributed to me, if there is no let-up ever, it can easily become incredibly over-powering and I lose track of what is reasonable and what is over-doing it, and I end up thinking that those things are all that I am. I lose sight of what is me and what are merely aspects of the person that I am.

I forget that the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

xx